We Are Not Go For Launch: Broken & Problematic Launches Are One of 2014's Worst Gaming Trends
My excitement upon receiving Halo: The Master Chief Collection was unfathomable. I could not wait to jump in and frag some noobs across 4 games and hundreds of maps. (Realistically, I would be the one getting fragged.) However, this fantasy was crushed after it took more than 20 minutes for me to find a lobby.
I was placed in a match, a 4v3. (Luckily I was on the larger team.) I played one game. I performed decently and was ready to play another round. Once my lobby emptied and the waiting continued, I was so frustrated that I didn't feel like trying any longer. One of my most anticipated games of 2014 had launched in a poor, broken state. We've seen this far too often this year, and it has raised questions about how thoroughly multiplayer servers are tested before launch, and whether or not a game is truly complete when it's released.
Poor launches were also an issue last year, and perhaps those were an omen of the issues we're experiencing now. The first problems came from EA. When 2013's Simcity launched, many players were angered by the game's mandatory internet connection for a multiplayer feature most wouldn't even be using. This was worsened when the mass number of players connecting to Origin caused network outages, rendering the game completely unplayable.
This wasn't the end of EA's troubles. Battlefield 4's launch was plagued with horrible ping and a variety of game-breaking bugs that angered those who were excited to play it. The launch was so bad that DICE put all their future projects on hold in order to fix the game. One more time in 2013 launch problems reared their head towards a major release.
When the highly-anticipated multiplayer component of the acclaimed Grand Theft Auto V, GTA Online, launched, the number of players attempting to connect was so large that the majority of players could not take part in the first race, which was required to start their experience. Understandably, Rockstar was not prepared for the massive playerbase, and quickly fixed this problem, but other issues such as small lobbies for jobs and the loss of characters, vehicles, and property continued to persist for much longer. These launch problems surprised many, but what happened in 2014 was far worse.
2014 was a year in which many massively hyped games release. One of these was Watch Dogs, Ubisoft's own twist on the open-world crime genre, with an interesting hacking mechanic to boot. Unfortunately, many PC gamers who had built or upgraded a rig just for this title experienced poor optimization and framerates, especially those with AMD cards. Not only did the game have technical issues, but many were also shocked to see a severe graphical downgrade from builds of the game seen at tradeshows. Watch Dogs did look reasonably presentable at release, but was a far cry from what blew everyone away at E3 2012. Imagining what the game would have been if it had released during the console launch in 2013 gives me chills.
Assassin's Creed Unity, another major Ubisoft title, had its fair share of issues, from the creepy yet hilarious "no face glitch" to random dips in framerates, and a poor port on the PC side.
Driveclub, a major racing title exclusive to PS4, had a number of annoying glitches and connection issues that resulted in the free edition for PS+ owners being delayed.
Far Cry 4 had issues with connecting to multiplayer matches, continuing Ubisoft's lackluster launch record.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare angered players with bad spawning and basing matchmaking off of skill and not ping, resulting in matches with poor connection and lots of lag.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection, as mentioned before, was released with ridiculously long matchmaking times, and connection issues, as well as ranking, UI, and hitbox problems that resulted in the removal of 2 playlists and detracted from what should have been a celebration of one of gaming's greatest franchises.
LittleBigPlanet 3 shipped with game breaking bugs, GTA Online didn't work any better on next-gen consoles, and Nintendo's struggle to implement a successful online system into their games was obvious with both versions of the new Smash Brothers.
Why are so many games launching with broken online features?
That question is hard to answer. In some situations, the game isn't prepared for the size of its playerbase (like GTA Online), and that's a more acceptable (albeit equally frustrating) reason for a broken launch. Sometimes, it can be because of a lack of sufficient play-testing or server testing. Sometimes it's because of players connecting from far areas, creating inconsistent ping and lag.
As much as we want to blame it on something, launch issues can be inexplicable and random. Unfortunately, many of these problems result in the developers rushing the game to "completion" in order to get it out by a specific date - perhaps before the release of another rival game or before the holiday season. The developers often view the problem as unfixable before release date, and would rather release the game sooner (and fix issues through patches and DLC) than delay it and risk suffering marginally smaller profits.
I hope this doesn't occur often, but thanks to the massive hype and pre-order numbers we see piling up for major AAA releases, it could be true. I hope developers learn from this year and decide that "we're not going to fix it in time, let's release it now, we're going to make a lot of money, and we'll fix it later" is not an acceptable option. I have hope, though, becomes some companies are taking their time with their games. EA delayed Battlefield: Hardline into 2015. Turtle Rock took Evolve out of the holiday lineup and pushed it into February. In addition, Rocksteady pushed back Arkham Knight and Bloodbourne was delayed by From Software.
With the power and potential that the new generation of consoles hold, I hope to see a complete game release without a large number of bugs and server issues. It's not a very unreasonable thing to expect, at least in most cases.