Digital game releases are failing the player

By Matt Martin, Tuesday, 4 November 2014 13:17 GMT

Alpha tests don’t work, promised content is shelved and preloads have to be deleted. Console digital distribution is a mess, says Matt Martin.

evolve

“Do we just have to accept the fact that a significant proportion of our digital games will come with dreaded error messages, uncomfortably large downloads, clunky work-arounds and a fog of disappointment?”

I embrace the era of digital downloads with a big friendly hug and in return it knees me in the balls.

Where to begin? The Evolve alpha cock-up on PS4. Driveclub’s PS Plus Edition shelved indefinitely. The latest PlayStation firmware grumbles. Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s ridiculous 20GB day-one update. And now pre-downloads of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare are screwing up. “Delete the game and restart the download,” say Microsoft and Sony.

That’s the helpful consumer advice of the companies you give hundreds of pounds to: delete it and start again.

I want to live in a digital future. I’m not one of those players who’s precious about boxed games and collecting special editions. The format doesn’t bother me so long as the game is good.

I also live in the middle of nowhere. There are no video game shops near me. There’s a handful of supermarkets with a very limited charts section, but no variety. I can order from tax-dodgers like Amazon but I’m not comfortable doing so. On top of that I have a terrible internet connection speed. It crawls like a crippled dog. And yet I still want to believe digital downloads are my future.

call_of_duty_advanced_warfare

Where I live is my choice and I accept that to download games I’m going to have to be patient. For a game like Sunset Overdrive I’ll need to download over three nights solid, pausing it in the day so I can actually do some work on VG247. I’m not complaining about that at all. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I’ll put up with all of that for the convenience of turning my console on and downloading directly from PSN or Xbox Live while I sleep.

I’m trying to embrace it and I’m sure a lot of our readers are too. We’re willing to accept the digital future that Microsoft and Sony are so keen for us to adopt. We’re unashamedly consumers – it’s the basis of our entire hobby. Digital delivery is meant to be the next step in convenience. It’s meant to be about reducing friction. But it’s becoming a weekly hurdle with each big release.

In Evolve’s case the alpha test needed its own alpha test. In Halo’s case we get the worst of both worlds – discs and downloads. The promises of Driveclub’s PS Plus Edition have been shattered and shelved. Advanced Warfare’s preloading didn’t preload at all. If anything, we had to pre-delete it, making the service entirely redundant.

“In Evolve’s case the alpha test should have got an alpha test before going live. Advanced Warfare’s preloading didn’t preload at all. If anything, we had to pre-delete it.”

A year on from the launch of new consoles and the digital dream is stuttering and throwing up error messages on a daily basis. Where’s the convenience in any of this? The digital infrastructure for both consoles is shonky beyond belief. There’s no point having faster download speeds if the game doesn’t work. It’s a mockery of digital distribution.

driveclub

I’m nervous when I download games and updates now. I should be spending 48 hours in giddy anticipation of playing as soon as a game goes live at midnight. Instead I’m holding the control pad with fingers crossed. I’m on edge for all the wrong reasons.

Is this it? Do we just have to accept the fact that a significant proportion of our digital games will come with dreaded error messages, uncomfortably large downloads, clunky work-arounds and a fog of disappointment?

I wrote a similar thing about the release of Driveclub and I think it’s worth repeating. The honeymoon period is over. This isn’t one game that’s having a few teething issues. This is games, alphas, demos, DLC and updates that are falling over as soon as they go live. A year after release the Xbox One and the PS4 still need to prove they can handle the basics – delivering a consistent and reliable game experience for your £40 – before continuing with all the lofty promises.

I don’t know if I have any useful advice for Microsoft and Sony other than “delete it and start again.” But that’s not a real solution, is it?

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