From Crash to Day One Patch: The Future of Gaming is Broken
Is it wrong to ask for a game that, from launch to rolling credits, just works? I would say no generally but more specifically I would also say that games are complex beasts made up of multiple systems that clash more often than they cooperate. Getting these systems like mechanics and models and environments to cooperate takes years of work and over the last several years it’s become clear that a lot of games are not fit for purpose on the day of release. They often require multiple patches over several months and in worst case scenarios are rendered unplayable. This isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
I’m talking of course about Cyberpunk 2077 which received Patch 1.5 just a few weeks ago and after over a year was at last upgraded to a next-gen game playable on next-gen consoles. Graphical improvements like ray tracing became standard on the PS5 and Xbox Series X as well as a whole host of quality of life improvements like new weapons, new character customization options and more detailed interactions with your in-game romantic partner. It was a long time coming and it’s not the end of the road for Cyberpunk 2077 as CD Projekt Red have plans to continue to revamp and slowly improve the hot mess of a game they released in late 2020.
But why are they like this? Why don’t games, in the immortal words of Todd Howard, just work? The simple answer is: time and money. In order to build a game into a state where it works fluidly and all its systems interact with rather than fight against each other the developers need time to design these systems and iron out flaws in the code. In order to get that time the company needs money. It sounds simple but while in the games industry having an abundance of money is often a reality for those at the top having an abundance of time is often not. Having both is a miracle.
Cyberpunk 2077 was in development for almost a full decade before its release. So long that it outlasted a whole console generation before it came out. It was a project that was admirable in its ambition if not its execution. Rough works of the game were built and torn down before the release version was decided upon. Even then it wasn’t finished. The mere idea of a AAA budget cyberpunk-set RPG was an exciting concept and still is but the decade long development time and resulting hype was poison to it. Cyberpunk 2077 was a pretty good, if still really buggy, game when I played it about seven months after release. It looked great and played really well. The story took me by surprise with it being one more about found family and self-preservation through a series of elaborate heists rather than the ‘Smash the System with Keanu Reeves’ odyssey I thought it was going to be. But it wasn’t a game changer.
Few are though. The true game changers take something absurdly simple and refine it into a pure, diamond-like form. Super Mario Bros., Doom, Metal Gear Solid and Demon’s Souls are all game changers. Cyberpunk 2077 is not but many of its facets still shine bright even if the whole thing needed a decent polish long after it was available to the public. But Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the lucky ones. Remember Battlefield 2042? No? Well you should because it came out only five months ago. Though with that said it launched about as well as a space shuttle that exploded on takeoff. As of the latest update the amount of Battlefield 2042 players on Steam numbers around 2000. Regardless of how well or not the game is doing on consoles it’s pretty shocking that EA just left its PC version of the game so unsupported. That’s worse than Farming Simulator 2 and Battlefield V, the previous game in the Battlefield series. But where Cyberpunk’s problems can be narrowed down to overhype and a lack of time Battlefield 2042’s woes can be summed up in one word: Frostbite.
The Frostbite engine has been a thorn in the side of EA since Battlefield developer DICE put out its third iteration of the engine in 2014. A game development engine notorious for its complexity Frostbite has tanked two out of three of BioWare’s most recent games. Though Dragon Age Inquisition emerged relatively unscathed games like Mass Affect Andromeda and Anthem were dead on arrival thanks to Frostbite’s difficult to use systems. In addition Battlefield 2042 spent only 15 months in development with a new version of Frostbite as the engine which was a huge factor in the game’s apparently unplayable status at launch. There’s a solution here no one wants to see and that is time.
All games benefit from a long time spent in development. You know what else they’d benefit from? Even more time spent in development. I especially mean AAA budget games. It’s fine to spend years in pre-production like The Last of Us Part II did when it came to writing, animating and performance capture but in order to ensure quality of life for its developers and quality of play for its audience there should be just as much time spent on development. Or at least a decent work/life balance policy should be maintained by the company and the responsibility for that policy should rest with management. Happy, well-rested developers are happy, well-rested people and happy, well-rested people word harder, faster and better at what they love to do. It’s a basic principle: give people time to work, time to live and time to play and the world will be a better place.
Cyberpunk 2077 and Battlefield 2042 are only two examples of what shouldn’t be happening. We should be able to rely on games to work on launch day especially a single player game with no online connectivity required like Cyberpunk 2077. We should also be able to rely on the fact that these games were made in an ethical manner in a safe and secure working environment. These two things are not mutually exclusive and we should be able to hold both ideals in our heads without one conflicting with the other. The solutions exist already but it’s up to the companies to implement them and for employees and players to push for them where necessary. Games are supposed to be fun to play, they should be fun to make too.