Whatever Happened to Quality Assurance?
2015 has been a pretty decent year for games so far. Most people I know have at least one or two titles each that have blown them away, which is a great thing. The Witcher 3, Dying Light, Bloodborne and many more have held gamer’s attention during the first half of the year. Unfortunately though there has been some disturbing issues. One less than desirable trend has reared its ugly head again and again and it needs to be stopped. That issue? Broken releases.
Games have been getting more and more complex for years, and with that complexity comes more opportunity for things to go wrong. That’s just the way things work. What that means, though, is there needs to be more of a concerted effort to make sure these things are up to scratch, and despite a number of high profile releases with issues in the past, this trend has continued for some time now. It’s time for a change.
I studied audio engineering at university. Something that was hammered into me from the outset was that you should always record the best possible source material, that way you have far less work to do in post-production in terms of mixing the sounds together. In layman’s terms, get it right the first time and you save yourself a bunch of work down the line. The ‘fix it in Post’ attitude doesn’t work for a reason, because you inevitably end up chasing your tail. Ignoring a problem in order to solve it later inevitably leads to more things ending up broken. Alarm bells start ringing.
Assassins Creed: Unity, F1 2015, Project CARS, Batman: Arkham Knight, Mortal Kombat X, Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Battlefield 4. A collection of high profile releases, all from different studios, each backed by publishers with the money and resources to put out quality, and all with a common theme. They all required significant patching in order to bring up to an acceptable standard after initial release.
In the case of Batman: Arkham Knight, it’s well known that Iron Galaxy, a studio made up of around a dozen people, was responsible for the PC port. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for a few weeks, you’ve probably heard about the issues that game faced upon launch, with players complaining of severe slow down and crashing to the blue screen of death after 10 minutes of gameplay, even on systems with specs powerful enough to control a space station.
As a result, the game was not only pulled from digital shelves, but retail shelves as well. While WB and Rocksteady have accepted responsibility in part for the broken release, at some point there has to be a line drawn. I cannot think, for one second, that someone internally wasn’t jumping up and down and trying to raise warning flags. Contrary to what seems a popular belief, developers usually have a pretty good idea of what they are working with and whether or not it’s going to be any good. This makes problem releases an even harder pill to swallow. So why are we seeing so many games continue to drop with problems?
Well, for starters, the studio needs to make money to survive. For a game studio, this means they need to release games, or else there is no more studio. Simple, right? When backed in to a corner and faced with the ultimatum that says ‘release this game or be put out of business’, studios understandably take the path of least resistance. They release the game with the full knowledge that there is more work to be done. Whilst this results in an initial drop in consumer confidence, it also can give the studio the cash injection it needs to survive longer, thus allowing them the opportunity to not only patch the game, but hopefully bring it up to a point where the community forgets the initial release problems, and all that’s left are people enjoying the game as it should’ve been released.
Secondly, we are still in the infant stages of this development cycle. The new generation of consoles haven’t been around for a great deal of time yet, not in development terms any way. We may still be a good 12 to 18 months away from seeing anything that truly feels like we’re being propelled into a new generation, and while this transition continues, developers are going to keep running into problems that not only they have never faced before, but that NO ONE has faced before. These problems take time to solve, and if you think about this as well as the point I made previously about money, it starts to make a bit of sense.
That doesn’t make it ok, though. In the current system, it’s the consumer paying the price and that’s not really how it should be. Sure, the creation of consumer protections like Steam Refunds are good and go some way towards taking the sting out of consumers’ pockets, but it’s not really up to Valve to fix this problem, is it? It’s more of a band-aid solution to a larger issue.
As someone who has done a lot of work in QA, I have to ask ‘where is the pride?’
When you spend a lot of time working on any project, you inherently want it to be good, because otherwise you’ve completely wasted your time. So I can only surmise that somewhere along the line, someone decided that quality comes second to profit. This isn’t to imply that most developers don’t care about their work; I very much doubt that is the case. But it’s obvious that somewhere along the production line, something needs to change. Consumer confidence is a stick that can only bend so far, and I get the distinct impression that it’s reaching its breaking point.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.