Joey Sack ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Glitches and bugs are nothing new in video games. Since the very early days of video gaming, there have been hilarious, frustrating, and game-breaking holes and problems in games’ coding that can be amusing or control-smashingly annoying. And it’s completely expected that big video games would have their fair share of bugs in them, as video games are a very sensitive industry. There are concepts to be proposed, deadlines to be met, and—somehow—it all has to come together to become an experience that gamers will actually enjoy. In that rush, there are bound to be bugs that slip through the cracks.
That’s where patches come in. We’ve all been there before, right? We’ve bought a game we hear is going to be really good like Assassin’s Creed Unity. You pop it into your console or PC, you sit down, ready to play, and a notice comes up: update needed. This can be anything from game data that the disc downloads onto the console to speed up subsequent playthroughs to a patch to solve a game-breaking glitch or bug. Now, one or two patches to fix a game over the course of a month or two are understandable, as people report problems that the programmers may have missed. But then there’s the problem with Assassin’s Creed Unity, where they had a huge day-one patch and then several more patches over the course of only two weeks.
If you’ve been online at any point within the last few months, you’ve seen them: glitches that caused the main character, Arno, to become stuck on a chair, fall through the map, or for various characters to lack certain important features … like a face. It’s all well and good for Internet meme creators, who chomp at the bit for this kind of stuff, but this is a big-budget video game in a yearly franchise that has been, at its worst, moderately enjoyable and at its best, fun and tough to put down.
The first sign of trouble was when Ubisoft announced that Unity was going to be delayed from October to November 2014. It’s not a good sign if people are more inclined to play Assassin’s Creed Rogue, a last-gen Assassin’s Creed game released the same day as Unity and which featured fewer bugs, if any. Worse still, it’s a problem if people are more inclined to go back and play Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and not because these games had better story, better exploration, or more interesting characters (which, by the way, they do). Players know that these games won’t break on them, they know that the characters will have faces, they know that these games will have fewer drops in their framerates, and they know that Edward Kenway and Shay Cormac won’t stand on top of a chair while they’re trying to be sneaky.
So that’s patches and bugs that we’ve discussed here, but what’s the solution to these problems? There’s one option that may or may not be the best answer: delay the game until it’s ready. Nowadays, gamers bemoan the idea of having to wait any longer than promised to play their games, but there are also some good things that can come from delaying a game. Most notably, game developers can work out the bugs in their games so they don’t have to put out as many patches. Ubisoft was heading in the right direction when they delayed the release of Unity from October to November, but in that lay the problem: the amount of time given to iron out the kinks was not enough. If the developers knew that their game was going to have so many glitches and bugs on the launch date, delaying longer will spare them a lot of headaches later on. And Ubisoft has definitely had to atone for this mistake, releasing the first round of DLC for the game for free and offering users digital copies of other titles, also free of charge. It’s a blunder that may have tarnished the reputation of Ubisoft and one of its most intriguing and acclaimed franchises.
For an example of a delay not actually being too much of a problem, consider Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight, the third and final installment in their Batman: Arkham series; this game was originally given the release date of October 14th, 2014, but as the release date drew closer, Rocksteady announced that the game was being delayed until June 2nd, 2015, almost eight months after the originally-planned launch. But really think about it for a minute: if Rocksteady, for whatever reason, had been forced to release Arkham Knight before it was ready, we’d have the same problem that we have with Assassin’s Creed Unity. The best course of action for everyone involved was to delay the game’s release, to make sure that Rocksteady could deliver on its promise of the ultimate Batman gaming experience. If a company or game developer’s name carries enough weight, fans won’t mind a delay. There are some people online suggesting that Ubisoft take their time with the next Assassin’s Creed game, Assassin’s Creed Victory, as they don’t want a repeat of Unity’s rushed launch, and perhaps Ubisoft will have learned their lesson and can restore their reputation for good games.
But, again, we have to consider that video games are not just for gamers’ enjoyment. The video game industry is a business, and they have to make money, or nobody is going to have big-budget games. They need to meet deadlines, or they can lose money. Developers and others, depending on the release of these games, have to weigh their options: they can delay the game and risk losing money from a lack of interest or other factors. Or they can release the game on time and release patches later. Or they can delay it far enough in advance that it’s not a huge blow to them or the games they’re trying to sell.
It seems that in the case of delays, bugs, and patches, like with most things in life, a balance has to be reached: if a game needs to be delayed to fix bugs and to make sure that the gamers who buy it are happy, delay it. If developers do it far enough in advance, it won’t be as big of a deal. If there are one or two glaring issues with a game only a few weeks before launch, developers should do what they can with the actual games and spend some time coming up with patches to fix other problems as soon as possible. And if there is a need for more than one patch, they should be patches that encompass as much as possible so that gamers can get to doing what they love: playing the game. It’s a fine line between losing and gaining money, and losing and gaining favor with gamers. It’s a tricky thing to figure out, but if there’s anything that recent games have shown us, it’s that delaying a game to work out all the bugs may be the best course of action; better late than glitchy.