Since When Did We Become A Community Of Beta Testers?

So I actually started to write this article a couple of months back but it eventually fell into my already massive backlog. Then I read something on that there interwebs that irked me slightly and got me back into finishing this article. That thing that irked me was this…

SoD2 Post

But before I get into my problems with this seemingly innocent post and why I got annoyed by it. Back to the main thrust of this rant and my initial aim of the article. So I wanted to take a look at the past and present in terms of gaming and ask why is it that games these days are released with numerous bugs and glitches then the developers/publishers of said game(s) expect us to report the bugs for them to fix.

The Present

One of the most eagerly awaited games of 2017 was Red Dead Redemption II…of course in true Rockstar fashion – it was delayed…more than once. So now we won’t be getting our hands on the game until October this year instead, that’s a full twelve months of delay from its original “Fall 2017” date. I really have no problem with this is it proves that Rockstar really care about what they are doing and want to give us, the punter a damn good gaming experience by ensuring the game is as polished and perfect as it can be (despite the pre-order shenanigans). Now I’m not suggesting that once Red Dead Redemption II is finally in our hands that it’ll be 100% bug and glitch free (it won’t) but what I am saying is that the game will be polished to a pretty damn high standard.

Red Dead Redemption II Shadows

I suppose my point is that most developers don’t share the same mind set that Rockstar do. Other developers/publishers are more than happy to hastily force out a clearly under-cooked game with bugs and glitches everywhere (I’ll be getting you you Undead Labs/State of Decay 2 soon) then use the ‘safety net’ of the post-launch patch to attempt to fix the problems instead of delaying the game to work on it some more and fix the known issues.

The post-launch patch can become a bit of a joke at times, especially if its a day one patch. You get your hands on the game you’ve been looking forward to the last few months (twelve of them in Red Dead Redemption II‘s case), you thrust it into your console of choice and are hit with an update before you can even install the game. Its day one and needs fixing already?

This isn’t something we have to suffer in other forms of media is it? You don’t go to the cinema, ticket in hand for the big summer blockbuster. Pay a small fortune for some popcorn and a drink that’s 60% ice before settling yourself into a seat complete with a nice sticky floor your footwear adheres to – your eyes transfixed to the big screen. The film begins and as you watch, you notice that some of the effects are not complete or the green screen backgrounds have yet to be applied, etc. After watching the obviously unfinished product, you are not told to come back to the cinema in a few weeks when its finished to view it properly. No, you watch a film that had been completed on a technical level to perfection with faultless CGI…unless you just watched Justice League of course.

Superman

So why do we put up with a clearly unfinished product when it comes to gaming? Why are we expected to do the do the job of the quality assurance department that are paid to find and report bugs and glitches? Going back to my film analogy just for a second, they do have test screenings where an unfinished film is shown to a select group of the public to get feedback to help change the film and fix its possible problems. You know what the difference is? These test screenings are FREE and those who get to see the film are not expected to pay for the ‘privilege’ of helping to make the film better. With games, we pay full price for a product that is unfinished…and then asked to help identify and report on the issues, then have to wait while the problems are fixed. Again, we pay to do this. We spend out hard earned cash to do the job of the play-testers and QA department. Is that fair?

Games tend to go through multiple milestones before they’re released.

First Playable is when the game is in its infancy, but still features functional gameplay elements and assets. Its nowhere near a releasable game, but the basics are there and the game is shaping up to what it will eventually become.

Alpha is the next stage and by now, the game contains a lot of the assets that will be in the finished product. Its still very rough but the core gameplay in now in place and things can still be altered, added and even removed. But the coders tend to concentrate on polishing the codebase to ensure the game is stable.

Beta is pretty much the final hurdle. The game is 99% done and this stage is mainly used to work out the bugs and glitches. Some developers will invite the public to take part in Open Beta Testing where they can get direct feedback from the gamers themselves to iron out any last minute issues, kind of like the test screenings films have. But basically, this Beta stage is the final stretch before the game is released and used to iron out small creases.

Code Release is where all the bugs are supposedly fixed after being reported by the QA department and the game is weeks away from release.

Gold Master and that it. The game is ready for release. The final build of the game that is used for the mass production.

Game Designer.jpg

That’s the basics as game development is different for every developer. But that up there is pretty much the industry standard cycle for a game release and as you can see – they go through pretty extensive tests before being sold to the public…so why are games still being released with numerous bugs and glitches? Even more to the point, why are we expected to do the job of the QA department and report on the bugs that should’ve been picked up by the months and sometimes even years of pre-testing?

Post-launch patches are fucking annoying and yet they now seem to be an industry standard. We have now become a community of Beta testers. But there is a flip side to all of this. What if post-launch patches never existed, what if bugs and glitches never were fixed? Here is where I need to travel to the past of gaming…

The Past

Bugs and glitches are not new and have been around pretty much since gaming began. Only back then, they were hardly fixed and we just had to put up with them. I could list a few of the more infamous bugs that any gamer will recognise…and there’s a lot of them.  But I’m just going to highlight a handful of the more notorious ones.

Pac-Man Kill Screen

Yes it’s the infamous Pac-Man Kill Screen. This glitch appears if/when the player gets to level 256 of the arcade classic Pac-Man and its impossible to avoid and came about due to an error in the formula used in the programming, it was never fixed either. You get to level 256 and its game over no matter ho many lives you have left as the right side of the screen is totally glitched out making it impossible to complete. So well known this glitch is that another game was made from its infamy with Pac-Man 256. An endless runner game where you have to try to outrun the glitchy, corrupt graphics. Donkey Kong featured a similar glitch where if the player got the level twenty two, an error in the formula of the programming would only give you seven seconds to beat the level…which was impossible.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is one of my all time favorite games. I love the setting, the music, the characters and most importantly – the gameplay. Best GTA game ever! But this beaut of a game held a game breaking bug. It was during the mission called The Ice Cream Factory where you had to sell errrr , lets call it “ice cream” out of an ice cream truck, simple enough. But the first run copies of the game had a major bug where if you saved your game while on this mission, your save file would become corrupt and you’d find that you could no longer load your game – all of your progress was lost and all you could do was restart the game from the start. Now in fairness, the later releases of the game fixed this bug, but if you had one of the earlier copies? Well you were fucked.

GTA Vice City

Jet Set Willy is a game anyone who owned a home computer in the early/mid 80s would have had a copy of. It helped shape the platforming genre in gaming and was quintessentially British. But it also had numerous bugs and glitches, the most infamous being “The Attic Bug”. For those not in the know, this was a bug so bad it meant the game could not be completed. Publisher, Software Projects actually tried to pass the bug off as being intentional to make the game harder. Eventually they had to fess up after complaints and admit it was a problem so they issued some POKEs to rectify the problems. Don’t know what a POKE is/was? Well they were essentially adjustments to the basic programming which would fix bugs. Yes, we had post launch patches back then too and Jet Set Willy was one of the first examples of what is now a very common practice. Jet Set Willy also had the greatest gaming cover art ever, a bloke throwing up into a toilet after a heavy drinking session while still clutching a bottle of booze…

Jet Set Willy Cover.jpg

So to answer the question of this whole article – since when did we become a community of beta testers? Well the truth is that we have always been a community of beta testers. Games have always had bugs and glitches in them since the dawn of gaming and games have been updated with fixes to the problems for decades now. Of course there are differences between today’s gaming climate to thirty odd years ago.

Gaming is a much more acceptable pastime, back in the 80s, it was always seen as something more underground and niche. Today gaming is a bigger industry than Hollywood movies. More people play games today than they used to, so understandably we gamers have a bigger voice and influence. If a bug was spotted in a game in the early 80s, it would often just be ignored and we couldn’t really communicate our frustration over the bug. But now we have the interwebs where we can tell the people who made the games about a discovered bug instantly and directly.

Also back then, games were made by very small teams and sometimes by people flying solo as the games were much smaller. Today and games are huge productions with hundreds of people working on them providing rich and textured game worlds. A game would take a few weeks/months to make from scratch in the 80s, today they take years to develop. So spotting a bug back in the 80s was just shrugged off as we were more forgiving of a smaller team working on a game – of course they’re liable to miss and mess up something if you only have one or two pairs of eyes to use. But now with a team of hundreds of people working on a game with a dedicated QA department, surely someone on the team would have spotted and rectified the problems? We just tend to notice bugs and glitches more now than we used to.

Skyrim Bug.jpg

Lastly there is the issue of fixing the games after launch. It was much harder back in the good ole’ days as Jet Set Willy proved with its POKEs as you would have to break into the game-code yourself and manually change/insert the new lines of coding. It was a lot of work and each person would have to re-code the game themselves individually. Most of the time it was more trouble than it was worth, so we just played and put up with the bugs. Modern patches can be rolled out over the interwebs to millions of people around the world instantly, making the process a lot easier and more “acceptable” I guess. Speaking of patches, that leads me nicely into that irking I mentioned at the start…

So yeah, one of my most eagerly awaited games of the year was released a week or two ago. State of Decay 2. I did a quick first impressions where I looked at the first couple of hours of gameplay. I did mention the bugs, but at that stage I had not witnessed anything serious. I played the game over the weekend and did a more in-depth look at the game. I mentioned more of the bugs and glitches but I still didn’t let them get to me, I even said how I hope that Undead Labs will fix the problems…and they did…kind of.

SoD2 Post Edit

The image I used where the official State of Decay 2 Facebook page announced the patch was live was pretty innocent and not something to get annoyed about right? I mean, all they are doing is letting the fans know the patch is out. Except that was not their original announcement at all. Before the editing of that Facebook post, the announcement looked more like this…

SoD2 Original

I will never understand why at first people asked us to fix the game so we went to work and released this big juicy 20Gb of bug-fixed patch and now you guys are complaining over why the patch is 20GB smh.

Now is it just me or does that post not come across as a bit…well “bitchy”? When I first read it, I thought it was a joke, a bit of trolling by a 14 year old with nothing better to do – but no, this was from the official State of Decay 2 Facebook page, so this was put up by someone connected to the game and possibly the development team, a (supposedly) professional.

Well allow me to retort. You were asked to fix the game because it was clearly released unfinished. The bugs I encountered for my first impressions article were not that major, the ones I found when I played it over the weekend stood out more and I found even more bugs and glitches after I played it further and after I had written that second article too. I chose not to go back and edit my article to highlight more and more bugs as I felt it would be unfair on Undead Labs – but with that Facebook post up there that just flat out insults the fans? Well, you just done rattled my cage there.

How the fuck dare you have a go at the very people who are putting money in your pockets. The people who have been loyal to your game over the years, the ones who waited patiently since its announcement and even accepted the delay from last year, who put up with all the bugs, glitches and rough edges of the first game. The ones who believed that they would be getting a better and more polished game with the sequel as the development team should have learned from the previous experience. State of Decay 2 is a good game despite the numerous bugs…but to have the cheek to have a pop at the people who are supporting you is just insane.

You want to know what would’ve been a better response?

The patch for State of Decay 2 is now live. We at Undead Labs would like to thank the fans for their continued support and patience as we fix the bugs.

But no, you chose to insult us instead.

You really want to know why some people complained about a 20gb patch? Because State of Decay 2 as a game in its entirety is a relatively small game, a 20 gb patch would be sizable for a 65gb game – but State of Decay 2 is only 20.31gb. So yeah a 20gb patch for a game that itself is only a shade over 20gb is not so much a patch but more of a complete game overhaul. Its painfully clear that State of Decay 2 was released too early (despite already being delayed) and needed more time to fix the issues. Not only that, you had an open Beta test and invited the general public to take part to highlight problems…and yet the game was still released with dozens of easily noticeable bugs and you moan at the fans?

Then there is that little stinger at the end of the original comment, that “smh” bit. As the often used definition of smh is:

Acronym for ‘shake my head’ or ‘shaking my head.’ Usually used when someone finds something so stupid, no words can do it justice.

You are actually calling the people who paid money to play your game “stupid”? Fucking hell Undead Labs, do you want there to be an State of Decay 3?

But do you know what the icing on the cake is? There are still a lot of bugs and glitches even post 20gb patch. There are people posting screen shots and videos of numerous bugs and glitches on those social medias even AFTER the 20gb patch. Yeah they fixed some of the issues but not all of them, bearing in mind its a 20gb patch for a 20gb game and its still not fixed properly.

Its a damn good job they did edit the original patch announcement post, just imagine what it would be like if someone screen grabbed the original and featured it in an article and then tagged Undead Labs and State of Decay 2 when sharing it on social media?

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Since When Did We Become A Community Of Beta Testers?

    1. Steve Perrin Post author

      That’s a good read.

      I’m not against patches in games at all, they are now a necessity in gaming. As I said in the article, we have always been a community of beta testers. Games have always had bugs in them and some of them never got fixed due to the constraints at the time. In that regard, we’re pretty lucky to be in an age where games can be fixed post launch instead of just having to put up with the bugs like we used to.

      But I do wish developers/publishers would delay games more often if they clearly need more time to cook instead of relying on the post launch patch to get them out of trouble. State of Decay 2 is a perfect example. Its a damn good game, but all the bugs and glitches d lidet it down at launch. A lot (not all) of the bugs were cleared up with the recent 60gb patch…but that was only a little over a week after launch. So it was pretty clear the game needed more work, I doubt they quickly knocked up a 60gb patch in a week, that was something thy’d been working on for a while. I think SoD2 would’ve come off better if it had been delayed by another month or two.

      That’s the main reason I praise Rockstar with the handling of Red Dead Redemption II. They’re not 100% happy with it, so delay it as many times as it takes to get it up to standard. I’d much rather that happen than we had RDR II last year as planned and it was a buggy mess.

      Like

      Reply

Please leave a reply/comment.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s