2014: The year online console games soiled themselves in public

By Matt Martin, Monday, 29 December 2014 09:00 GMT

We can’t play your online games because they don’t work online. Well done, everyone!

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“Day One excitement has turned into Week One abstinence. I’m not queuing at midnight any more, I’m waiting a week (at least) to see if the server issues have settled.”

If it feels like I’ve written about this before it’s because I have. But I think it’s important to hammer this home because in 2014 a lot of us bought games that just didn’t work as promised. We paid good money for broken games.

You know the names by now but I’m going to highlight the Hall of Shame; Driveclub, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Grand Theft Auto Online, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, The Crew, even a little bit of Far Cry 4. All fundamentally designed and sold as online experiences. All completely fell on their asses during launch.

What an embarrassment.

(At this point I want to make it clear that Assassin’s Creed Unity was also one of the worst releases this year, but for the purpose of this article I’m focusing on online gameplay. Assassin’s Creed Unity wasn’t finished and even now patches for it need patching. Ubisoft’s attitude to releasing games will haunt it for years to come, and quite rightly).

There are many reasons as a consumer to be angry about all of this but it boils down to one thing: that game you’ve paid $60 for doesn’t work. This isn’t a case of not liking the game you bought, or feeling let down with the end content. It’s not even about failing to live up to hype or having a ridiculous sense of entitlement as a consumer.

This is about the game not working in the first place. Actually not working. Hindsight shows all of the games listed have good games behind them, somewhere, but the problem is we can’t even get to the game at launch because the online service is broken. Am I making the point clear enough?

It does so much damage that I feel a list is in order to help spell it out.

  • There’s no need to pre-order any more. Why pre-order a game when you don’t know that it’s going to work? There goes a publisher’s projected sales, a developer’s encouragement to push for gold master excellence and a retailer’s reason to increase stock before release.
  • The concept of launch day becomes nonsense. Day One excitement has turned into Week One abstinence. I’m not queuing at midnight any more, I’m waiting a week (at least) to see if the server issues have settled.
  • The specialist press can’t review the game ahead of release. Whatever your thoughts on reviews and reviewers, losing impressions of how a game plays before it’s released is not good for the consumer. Now the only way to find out is to play it, which means buying it, which means paying for something that you’re not sure is going to work at all… it’s a downward spiral.
  • The mainstream media pick up on yet another negative games story. The BBC, Forbes, CNN etc are all pointing at the funny game that doesn’t work and makes everyone angry. The giant corporate publisher blushes in the face of the cameras. Everyone looks like an idiot.
  • The fans are stung for supporting the very game franchises they love. The core fans are loyal and they come back every year because they get so much escapist enjoyment out of the series. But then their favourite game doesn’t work and all the years they have invested in the franchise turns sour so quickly. Why should they come back again next year? It’s the ultimate betrayal.

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“Your favourite game doesn’t work and all the years you’ve invested in the franchise turns sour so quickly. It’s the ultimate betrayal.”

The most important thing is that the fans are being turned away by the people who make the games. They invest money and time in a new game and get knocked back by the developers and publishers who can’t support them. At the risk of banging the drum again, we can’t play your bloody games! It’s a farce.

I’m a believer in online play, as I think many of you are. Look at the number of players behind Destiny or GTAO or Titanfall and you’ll see people do want to play online with friends, with strangers, against each other or cooperatively. It’s a positive trend for the future of games (as is the return of single-players experiences), and it’s to be encouraged.

But 2014 has been a risible year for connected, online play. Great games have been irreparably harmed. By what? The greed of a publisher rushing out unfinished product to hit the key sales period. Inexperienced developers unable to cope with online services and infrastructure. Lofty ambitions that far outweigh skill and capabilities.

Online play should be a vital part of the future of games, but it won’t be if it’s not fixed, and fixed quickly. We can’t stand another year of broken matchmaking, knackered netcode and barren lobbies. Online play has crashed. Let’s hope the console business doesn’t crash with it.

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