Ask a Dork: Release Day Problems

“What do you think are good and terrible examples of a company dealing with release day problems/hiccups at launch?”

Oh, the bad examples are plentiful. Considering the topic though, let’s differ to a few of the most recent examples of terrible decisions made by publishers which have affected the launch of high-profile games. To be specific, we will look at Assassin’s Creed Unity (obviously), SimCity 2013, and Battlefield 4. Two of these games were released by a company labeled “Worst in America” twice, and the other by a company that seems to be earnestly vying for that title.

The Bad

SimCity. What a debacle. Like Diablo 3, the new SimCity came with a controversial DRM technology that requires you to have a persistent online connection in order to play the game. There was a weak excuse that the game is multiplayer only, but that’s simply not true –it was purely to prevent piracy. I would argue that Destiny is in the same boat, now that we are on the topic. As is the case with all of these nonsensical “online only” games, you couldn’t play your $60 purchase offline or when EA’s servers are down. That was a problem. Hilariously enough, it wasn’t the only one.

You see, EA wasn’t prepared on launch day. The game didn’t work on day one. In fact, it took almost a week before people could actually play SimCity, and EA had to disable a bunch of features just to get the game running.*cough, cough* Driveclub *cough* EA stoked the fires of discontent by publicly stating that they would be issuing no refunds and maintaining that players were playing the game wrong.

Similarly, EA wasn’t prepared for the launch of Battlefield 4. Or, rather, Battlefield 4 wasn’t prepared to be launched. It has been months, MONTHS, and Battlefield 4 is still amazingly broken. In fact, many people still refer to THAT game as Battlefield 3.5. There are still widespread issues with both the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game, including campaign save corruption issues, gameplay crashes, audio drops, and latency. All of this damaged the Battlefield brand name, but none of it was as insulting as EA announcing a new game in the franchise, Hardline, while B4 was still a hot mess.

Finally, there is Assassin’s Creed Unity — a game that somehow has made Ubisoft look even more villainous than usual. The latest and most high-potential entry in the long-running Assassin’s Creed series released as though it had completely skipped the quality control department. That’s bad enough, but more frustrating was Ubisofts willingness to pull the wool over the eyes of fans who had preorders by only providing review sites with advance copies under the condition that their reviews be withheld until 17 hours after the game released in NA.

So, yeah. The game was broken and fans had no way of knowing until after they bought it.

Following the game’s release, many players have reported numerous graphical bugs and glitches. NPCs are without faces, hay-karts once used for hiding had become prisons, and our hero found a way to fall an infinite distance THROUGH THE OVERWORLD OF FRANCE. Ubisoft has hilariously created a live-blog covering their efforts at debugging the game, but the damage has been done. Share value has gone down in light of lower than expected review scores and gamers are pissed.

The Good

This will be short and sweet. I only have two examples of publishers trying to fix their errors while being as apologetic and understanding of fans as possible: 343 Industries after the botched release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Square Enix after the travesty that was Final Fantasy XIV V. 1.0.

So, Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s servers crashed at launch. Matchmaking and its tied functionality (friends lists, parties, invites, etc.) were both broken right out of the gate. Lobbies didn’t populate, the process was slow if it worked at all, and nothing about the services felt stable. So, how did 343 respond? With this:

“Since the launch of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, we’ve received several, well deserved, complaints related to slow matchmaking and other issues. From everyone at 343 Industries, we are truly sorry and feel your frustration. You deserve better and we are working day and night to find solutions as quickly as possible, with our first priority focused on matchmaking improvements.”

This response is great because (1) it acknowledges wrongdoing, (2) it clarifies the company’s approach to fixing things, and (3) it states that gamers deserve better. And we do.

Thankfully, MCC has finally been turned around. People are now able to properly participate in PvP matches. It was a relatively quick response and it was exactly what 343 should have done.

Square Enix’s situation with Final Fantasy XIV was a bit different. V. 1.0 had a number of problems. To begin, it was horribly optimized, had a number of copy-paste environments, overall bland art style, lame fetch quests, terrible class systems, no chocobos or airships, slow combat, idiotic story, bland crafting, and a leveling system that punished players for grinding. What’s worse though was the server lag time. Even if you could have stomached all of the troubles at launch it was hard to play with friends. What did SE do? They started from scratch.

The original Final Fantasy XIV was essentially free to play to any owners of the game. In the meantime, SE would work on A Realm Reborn, which was a new MMO using a new team and featuring new designs. All of the issues attached to the original version of Final Fantasy XIV were rectified and ARR actually became an amazing game. SE was transparent with fans about progress, didn’t bill anyone while the game was being redeveloped, and apologized profusely.

That’s the ticket.

Game developers and publishers sometimes make mistakes. The best approach is to be forthright, apologize, and work to fix things. The worst is to pull an EA and ignore the problem or pull a Ubisoft and tell people that they are just playing the game wrong.

Trent Seely

I'm not that crazy about me either.

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