[Revisited] Rushing to an Early Ruin

The following is a re-post of a piece from last year. Now that BioWare has finally admitted that the game needs a major overhaul and is going back to the drawing board, I felt it was important to remember that it was their attitude and approach that made this mess in the first place.

I’ve said this in many other ways before, but I’ll say it plainly here: there’s a lot about modern gaming that I absolutely hate. I hate how the games with the biggest budgets and biggest studios behind them are growing ever more similar to each other. I hate that pre-order culture is still a thing despite how bad it is for the average gamer. I hate that most large publishers are now run by people who don’t seem to give a care about games or those that play them. I could easily go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. There’s at least as much bad to modern gaming as there is good, and the bad that I want to talk about today is the near-universal practice of rushing games to release before they’re ready. It’s just…stupid.

This practice affects all big-budget games to some degree, but the practice is and has always been at its worst in the case of “live-service” games. Destiny, The Division, Rainbow Six: Siege, Fallout 76, and now Anthem have all suffered from the same problems despite being released many years apart. They’ve all suffered from technical issues, lack of content, shaky fundamentals, loot problems, sparse endgames and so on. They’ve all introduced microtransaction shops (heretofore referred to as “MTX) despite being sold as “premium” experiences and some even threw them in before the bare minimum of content was even there. Far from learning from all these mistakes, the newer games like Anthem and especially Fallout 76 have launched in even sorrier states than their predecessors.  It’s not getting any better, and that’s a big problem.

Anthem’s the newest kid on the block right now, so let’s focus in on it. This is a game made by the one-time-king of video game storytelling: BioWare. It’s premise: flying around a half-created world in various Iron Man suits; Iron Man suits that come in 4 different flavors and can be customized by the player. Something like this should have been a slam-dunk. It should have, but it absolutely isn’t. Not because the core gameplay is bad (it’s great actually, flying around in those suits feels awesome!), but because the game just isn’t fully cooked.

Go to any traditional review or YouTube critique and you’ll largely hear the same things: bland story, characters with no impact, fake choices, repetitive mission design, boring loot, brain-dead enemies, lack of content and technical glitches galore.  Both BioWare and EA have a lot riding on this game, yet they still shipped it in an obviously unfinished form. Why was this allowed to happen? The simplest answer is that it’s been deemed acceptable. And we’re all at least partially to blame.

Despite doing absolutely nothing beneficial for gamers, many still buy pre-orders. This allows publishers like EA to make their money without shipping a good or complete game. In their minds, most of those who will buy it will do it via pre-order. It happened with Star Wars: BattleFront II (2017), it happened with Destiny 2, it happened with Fallout 76, and it could easily be happening with Anthem too. When most of the money is made up front, what incentive do they have to ship a good product?

Futhermore, even once it becomes crystal clear that the game has major problems and should not have been released in such a state, there’s always a legion of fans that inexplicably and invariably ride to the game’s rescue even though they know full well that it doesn’t deserve their support. The game can be an utterly broken mess like Fallout 76 was (and still is) and they’ll still do their utmost to justify it. The result: the people responsible for shipping inferior and even broken products never see any repercussion for doing so. They never suffer a major monetary hit and they can always count on their horde of blind die-hards to shout down any criticism that might arise. There’s no consequences for them and therefore there’s no reason for them not to ship their “top-tier” games in a barely playable state.

So here we are once again, with yet another potentially awesome game ruined because the publisher thought they could get away with putting it out before it was ready. Anthem could have been great, and with a year or two’s worth of updates it might eventually be the game we though we were going to get this month. How many people are going to wait for that game though? How many are going to get to eventually play the game they paid for today? How many are going to experience Anthem as it was meant to be played? The answer is not many. EA won’t care though, so long as they make their money now, they’ll be fine with that, and so will every other publisher who pays attention to Anthem’s first couple of months.

What’s your take on the state of modern gaming? What do you dislike most about it? How would you fix it?