When Does A Game Become Unplayable?

Unless you’ve been living without the internet for the last few weeks, it’s almost certain now that you’ve at least seen gifs of Mass Effect: Andromeda’s laughable facial and character animations. Almost any mention of the game online is now followed by some mocking comment or jab at the title’s lack of quality. And it’s not just that. Criticism has also been levelled at the game’s writing and dialogue, which, when paired with the terrible facial animations, created a final product that looks and feels poor. The situation regarding Mass Effect: Andromeda has already received widespread media coverage, with mostly all of it revolving around these main points of contention. But while on a technical level, the game is indeed a mess, outside of that, reviews and gamer impressions appear to be mostly positive. In Andromeda’s case, for many but not all, gameplay and overall story has been able to overshadow some of those shortcomings. However, with other games, that’s not always the case. There eventually comes a point where players are unable to look past the technical flaws. 

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The concept of ‘broken’ games is one that is primarily unique to the gaming industry. Never would you hear widespread reports about broken movies failing to project or music ceasing to play. Entertainment usually works. Sure, video games are far more complicated, but that doesn’t exactly excuse not being able to properly use a product that you bought. When Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s multiplayer was down for months or when Assassin’s Creed Unity was practically dead at launch, nobody merely put it aside as a small goof. It was a genuine problem that still persists with other games years later. 

A lack of diligent testing appears to be the problem for most of these cases. Often a game is ‘broken’ because of lax quality assurance. Andromeda‘s issues have been universally clear, and it’s hard to imagine that no one came across the game in its current, glitchy state. The likely explanation is that either EA or BioWare Montreal just didn’t care or tried to remain ignorant. The advent of patches and updates has made it easy for developers and publishers to do this. They rush their product out first, get back some of or all of its budget, and then work on resolving the issues. Even now, BioWare is just getting to patching problems that should’ve been resolved before release, and it’s one of many patches to come. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would’ve rather they delay the game beforehand than tarnish its reputation now and fix the known problems later. 

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Andromeda is nowhere near being completely unplayable in its current state—people are still playing and enjoying it—but as the gaming industry progresses and standards go up, players will gradually become less willing to overlook glaring issues in regards to a game’s presentation and functionality. Not often are video games nowadays actually ‘unplayable’, as in they won’t turn on, but eventually, titles that are not up to snuff with quality standards will no longer be tolerated by the gaming public. 

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12 thoughts on “When Does A Game Become Unplayable?

  1. Here’s a read for you that addresses some, but not all of the stuff you mentioned: http://www.polygon.com/2016/8/7/12399170/no-mans-sky-day-one-patch-certification-launch-dates

    That said, I understand other issues hit MEA hard, but it’s coming to be a thing where big games are going to fall into the day one patch state for the foreseeable future, which is sad. Most of my indies don’t let me down or if they do, it’s usually a smaller fix or a set of user feedback fixes that come post-launch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is quite true. Nowadays, it seems like indie devs care more about the initial product they’re putting out because, for them, there’s only once chance at a good first impression.

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  2. Sometimes I think the gaming industry has grown so rapidly it hasn’t had time to optimise the development process – the last 10-15 years especially have seen huge technological advancements followed by a huge shift in production values on games – games nowadays are bigger and more ambitious than games even 20 years ago.
    Compare that to the movie industry, where the standards haven’t changed much (seriously – there’s films from the 1920s that look almost as good as some of today’s films, if you ignore the black-and-white aspect), so the industry has had time to figure out the most efficient process to make a film.
    But with games, I think technology moves forward at such a rate that its impossible for developers to optimise their processes – any changes they make will be obsolete in 3 years, and for some of those bigger companies, those changes would take a while to implement. Consider that Mass Effect: Andromeda began development in 2012, before the PS4 and Xbox One were even announced, and now in its year of release, we have yet another console (The Nintendo Switch) and two improvements on Sony and Microsoft’s consoles. That’s a massive change over just 5 years, and that makes me think that maybe if technology stagnated a bit, we wouldn’t have games with performance issues.
    Compounding this problem is fast development cycles (the Assassin’s Creed series was just a 2 year cycle off the top of my head, which isn’t much longer than a film’s development cycle, and yet games need more content than films), but I feel like my comment’s long enough as it is without going on another tangent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You took the words out of my mouth! The only thing I would add is that if we’re so focused on graphics making a game, why are so many people still devoted to old NES and Sega games? At their core, games are about the actual experience of playing the game, not whether the people look lifelike or not.

      I wouldn’t mind technology stagnating a bit – it will give folks a chance to acclimate to the tech and figure out the best way to optimize, as you said, instead of always throwing lines forward, trying desperately to snag what may or may not come next.

      With that in mind, the mechanics, gameplay, and story of a game should be ready to go upon release (not saying MEA did or didn’t do that, just an observation), without having to rely on day one patches.

      Liked by 1 person

      • http://www.polygon.com/2016/8/7/12399170/no-mans-sky-day-one-patch-certification-launch-dates Read this article please, as it shows that your last sentence is a tiny bit incorrect in the case of more open world titles.

        The only games that are indeed “ready to go” when they ship (but still need fixes post-release based on user feedback) are going to be casual games where you’re locked to playing as the dev intends with no deviation and/or digital releases where the dev team has tested to death every possible situation, system configuration and possible player interaction with the game. That number of games outside the casual space is going to be very low (zero) as feedback comes in from users who may have issues the team didn’t consider while making the game.

        The bigger the game, the bigger the QA team is needed and it seems deadlines are hurting some big AAA games that need more time in testing. For the record, no game is truly ever “bug free.” If you say that you played a game with none in front of a developer… they’ll thank you before probably telling you that you weren’t looking hard enough (or they’ll thank you and stay silent on that matter). Even old computer and console games have interesting bugs or unfinished bits that people can find with a little knowledge.

        I’ve been round long enough (gaming since 1972, writing since 1998) and have had some interesting conversations with some devs who’ll point out stuff in their games or look back at something that got loads of praise and chuckle because much hell was gone through making those games and they never got to squash every pesky issue.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for taking the time to respond. I’ve actually read this article before, and I’m not sure how it negates my last sentence. Although it’s possible I wasn’t clear in my intention.

        Of course no game is going to be “bug free” or “perfect.” But the game should be playable and workable on launch without having to rely on a day one patch. I didn’t have any game in mind when I wrote that. Personally, if you patch a game later for “XYZ” reason because all of a sudden thousands of people are playing it and they’ve been able to “test” all the parts, that’s fine. But the moment people pick the game up, the dev shouldn’t be at their door saying, “Hey, we shipped this while knowing there were serious problems.” Sorry if that wasn’t clear!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I had Master Chief Collection from launch, and because of the problems with it, anyone who had it and played it before December of the year it was released, was gifted a copy of ODST when it was made backward compatible on the XBOX One.

    Unity was – and still is – a joke. I hid in a bush and fell through the floor. Some areas of roof tops are just empty spaces.

    You’ve read my post on Andromeda on my gaming blog.

    Ghost recon Wildlands has some serious glitches where people are dead, but other people in the team don’t realise it, because they seem them driving around in coircles in a car or on a bike.

    Assassin’s Creed Ezio Collection with the eyes.

    Fallout 4 and all of those glitches.

    Destiny just for being Destiny.

    There are some companies that just won’t bother fixing broken stuff if it is of no interest to them. Ubisoft being the worst.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s sad how steadily Ubisoft has declined in their care for quality over the years. However, it seems they are beginning to slightly make changes for the better, with them ending Assassin’s Creed’s yearly release schedule in order to rethink the series.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am looking forward to the next Assassin’s Creed. I enjoyed Syndicate. I know with Wildlands they have recently released a statement saying they are going to fix it. Although whether they door not remains to be seen. They are gearing Division for more and more PvP by adding more Dark Zones. I’m not a PvP player – I’m not overly good at most games (all really) so the last thing I want to do is play a game where you are having to fight other players for what you need.

        Liked by 1 person

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