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Gamers or Gamma testers? The continued development of games out at retail.


For those of you not already in the know, there are typically two stages of "testing" a game is required to go through before it is considered ready for retail. The first stage is called "Alpha testing" which is usually performed by the dev team programmers themselves, to ensure the basic mechanics are coming along and to eliminate any signs of early bugs in the programming. The second stage is called "Beta testing" which is usually done by offering users who are willing to be "Beta testers" a trial version of the game in order for them to test it for bugs, glitches, and other such various errors. Often Beta testers will suggest various changes be made in order to fix balancing issues and/or other gameplay mechanics that could negatively impact the game in it's final form.

Once the testing is finished and the bugs, glitches and various other changes are fixed and finalised, a game is now considered to be ready for retail, although how finished the game is, is debatable at times... As many of you here are probably all too aware of, too often a game hits retail while still needing a few things "ironed out" this can be for any number of reasons but a good example would be. The dev team ran out of time and/or money so the publishers push the game out anyway in order to recoup their losses. Actually, I have my own theory for why many games are pushed out prematurely these days, I believe that often publishers force a game out before it's ready in order to use the profits generated through sales, to pay for the inevitable patches the game will require instead of dipping into their own pockets in order to keep a long overdue project going. Day one patches and DLC, along with drawn out weekly/monthly patches and DLC, seem like a intelligent (if not a little underhanded) way for a company to continue development of their game while consumers are already playing it.

This is of course a purely presumptive theory, but never the less it got me thinking. If we are knowinlgy being sold unfinished, bug riddled games, and we are often the ones who take it open ourselves to report those bugs to the developers, then are we not "Gamma testers"? Only instead of having the privilege of playing an early build of an up and coming game, we get to pay full price for what may in fact be a game that is still in development?

I honestly don't want this "theory" of mine to come across as some kind of "conspiracy theory" my conclusions here are merely presumptions based off of speculation, and as far as such underhanded activities pubs/devs may find themselves involved in goes, that's anybody's guess.

Now, obviously not all publishers or dev teams are underhanded and are up to no good, many development studios do a great job of pushing out worth while titles even if their games may have a few minor bugs here and there, also we have seen many cases of DLC coming out that does actually add something truly great to a game, instead of only attempting to capitalise on the IP's current popularity. Far Cry 3 had great DLC in the form of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and the same can be said for some of the Dead Space 3 and Borderland 2 DLC, also the Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea DLC looks to be another promising and worth while purchase that adds to the original game instead of just adding cut content, and fixing issues present in the original.

However, more and more these days it seems that many games are being put out at retail that have either glaring bugs and glitches, broken gameplay mechanics, serious balancing issues or any and all of the above, needless to say the overall quality of many current gen releases is questionable at bet. So What happened during testing? Were the Aplha or Beta testers not doing their jobs? or did the programmers on the development team responsible simply not get around to fixing the issues before development time ran out?.

You have to admit that certain bugs, especially the blatantly apparent ones almost seem as if they were left in intentionally (not that any self respecting dev team would want that) Take Skyrim for example, are we honestly supposed to believe that all those glaring bugs, glitches and other such issues were just over looked? If you want to argue that it's an open world MMO then fair enough I suppose, but what excuse does a primarily offline game like Tomb Raider, The Last Of Us, Assassins creed and DmC: Devil may cry have when they have glaringly noticeable bugs and glitches? Before I go on I'll give credit where credit is due, Naughty Dog did an incredible job with The Last Of Us, so any criticism I have towards the game in regards to bugs and glitches, is diminished somewhat by the shear effort and polish that went into developing such a game like The Last Of Us, but I would be lying to you if I were to say that such instances, like when enemies aren't alerted by Ellie, or other AI members in your party when they blatantly walk (or run) out in front of them while you are sneaking, didn't take me out of the experience at times. However, I do agree that such "errors" aren't "game breaking" and if recent reports are to be believed, they probably weren't "errors" at all, and most likely came about due to needing to get the game out on time and not wanting to have the AI characters constantly alerting the enemy.

But then there are games like DMC: Devil may cry, that have textures still loading 10 seconds after the cutscenes have started, events not being triggered after boss fights due to buggy coding, and the game completely locking up during gameplay. But let us not forget the bug fest that was Aliens: Colonial marines (pre-patches) I think we've all heard enough jokes by now about there being more bugs in the coding than there were in the actual game.

All I ever ask for when I purchase a game is for it to be functional, but what is "functional"? Well, probably a great many different things depending on who you ask, but as for me. Functional is when a games "core mechanics" work without being inhibited by bugs or other such glitches. If you have glitches in the combat, platforming, environment and/or physics mechanics, depending on the type of game you are playing it may make playing the game a chore.

Nobody likes bad hit detection, having the game freeze, getting caught on the walls or other parts of the environment you're in, and nobody wants to see enemies or allies disappearing through walls due to poor collision detection. So long as these few issues aren't present I'm willing to forgive, poor framerate, choppy animations and even pop in textures.

I'll never fully accept the argument that says, games today being broader in scope, more technical and therefore more difficult to create, means that glaring bugs, glitches and other such issues should be expected. The priority devs should have (above all else) is to make their games functional, pretty much everything else should be considered secondary as far as I'm concerned. As I've discussed before, the spectacle many games use as the focus to draw gamers in today, eventually wears off after a while, so if the games core mechanics have glitches or are poorly implemented then it will become apparent sooner or later. The time to fix such issues is not when the game is already in a consumers console, from having been purchased at full retail price, along with day one DLC most likely.

Consumers aren't "Gamma testers" any glaring issues a game has should be dealt with before it hits retail, not after the publishers have accumulated enough revenue from sales to start fixing the bugs and glitches, now that they know their game is profitable enough to make it worth while. Even if this theory of mine is wrong for the most part, if you're expecting consumers to purchase a game then you damn well better make their game worth the price. The leniency shown towards certain companies like Gearbox and Ninja Theory, that seems to come from consumers who think only of the work involved in developing the games they happen to enjoy, extends only so far. When all is said and done, a game being sold at full retail price needs to be of a certain standard, lest we lower the bar in regards to "quality control" and "gameplay functionality" any further.

Thanks for reading my blog, if you have something to add or disagree with any of the points I've made, then please feel free to leave a comment.
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About zerocrossingone of us since 8:30 AM on 07.12.2013