I’m not any kind of Pokémon fan. I haven’t played the card game, watched the cartoon, nor have I tried any of the 100+ video games in the series and its various spin-offs. But as someone who watches the games industry and its shenanigans, I feel compelled to add my two cents to the conversation surrounding the latest entries in the long-running series: Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet.
If you didn’t know already (and you didn’t gather from the title of this article), Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet have become the latest games to fall victim to one of the worst trends in modern gaming: the dreaded “release now, fix later” business model. To put it bluntly, both games (which are 99% the same game, but Pokémon as a series has been intent on ripping off its biggest fans since the first titles were released more than twenty-five years ago) are buggy messes. Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet are unfinished at best, and players have found what is arguably the worst experience ever in the long-running series.
Today we’re talking about the Pokémon series. But this “release now, fix later” approach has been tried by many different companies over the last few years, and after every big blow-up I think – and hope – that this will surely be the last one. Whether it’s Mass Effect: Andromeda, Cyberpunk 2077, or even 2013’s Star Trek, every time one of these unfinished messes is pushed out too early by a corporation that should know better, I hope that we’ll finally see the back of this truly irritating trend. But it just keeps happening!
Pokémon is one of the biggest names in gaming, and certainly one of the biggest franchises on Nintendo hardware, so you’d think that The Pokémon Company, Nintendo, and developers Game Freak would want to ensure the highest possible quality. With Pokémon Legends: Arceus released just this January, and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl released last November, it’s not like there’s been a dearth of games in the series lately, nor is Nintendo exactly struggling for money; the company has sold almost 90 million Switch systems and made a quarterly profit of just over $1bn in the three months up to the end of June.
Why bring up the financials? Well, it’s simple: there was no need to rush this game out of the door. A few weeks or even a few months of extra development time could have solved many of the issues that players have been complaining about, turning a disappointing experience that will be forever tainted in players’ minds into a perfectly creditable new entry in this long-running series. I don’t claim to assess Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet from the point of view of a fan, so I can’t tell you how well-received the new setting, new characters, and new critters might’ve been. But as someone who used to work in the games industry, I can tell you this: it’s very difficult to recover from a bad launch, and it’s nigh-on impossible to change opinions about a game after it’s already out in the wild and criticism is spreading.
And I don’t understand how corporations in the games industry consistently fail to learn this lesson. Very occasionally a title like No Mans Sky will take a disastrous launch and turn it around, but even then, that game forever comes with a caveat in the minds of many players – and many more will forever choose to skip it in favour of other titles that weren’t released too soon. And for every No Mans Sky there are dozens of Anthems and Aliens: Colonial Marines that never win back the support of players. And the jury’s still out on 2020’s most notorious mess, Cyberpunk 2077.
So why did Nintendo do this? There was no need and no benefit to releasing an unready game – and plenty of dangerous consequences. As a brand you have to say that Pokémon feels rock-solid, but it only takes one or two rotten releases to turn fans away, and while Pokémon was a unique proposition when it launched in the 1990s, other games and series have since come along and could pose a challenge. The history of the games industry is littered with once-celebrated franchises that are now either entirely dead… or worse, relegated to nothing more than crappy mobile releases.
Nintendo needs to learn lessons from this, as do The Pokémon Company and Game Freak. While internet connectivity makes it technically and logistically possible to launch a game in an unfinished state and patch out the bugs and glitches later, it’s been proven time and again to never be a good idea. Once the narrative sets in that “Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet are buggy and unplayable,” it becomes very difficult to change – and once a game is routinely picking up 0/10 or 1/10 scores from players, that’s more than enough to cost sales.
But there’s also a lesson for us as players and consumers, too. The most important takeaway should be this: pre-ordering is never a good idea. I’ve lost count of the number of games that were released to poor reviews or in a disappointing state, and when there are so few benefits to pre-ordering – especially for digital games where scarcity isn’t a concern – there’s just no need to do it. It’s better to wait and see how well a game is received – especially if, like me, you don’t have a huge amount of disposable income to spend on video games.
That’s before we consider the advantages of waiting. Obviously if a game is released in an unfinished state, waiting even just a few weeks can mean the difference between an awful experience and a significantly better one, but it’s also possible to see significant price drops or sales. Games that don’t perform well at launch can be heavily discounted within a very short span of time. Even the Nintendo eShop has sales from time to time, so unless you’re the hardest of hardcore Pokémon fans, it can make a lot of sense to wait and exercise a little patience and caution. Perhaps it’s too late to do that with Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet (though I hear rumours of Nintendo issuing refunds to some disgruntled players) but it’s definitely something to keep in mind for future releases.
It’s unfortunate that the games industry has worked itself into such a rotten state that we have to say “be cautious” even about games that we want to be excited for – but that’s the reality of where we’re at. Corporations have continued to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable, and while some games – like Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet – generate a degree of backlash as a result, the sad fact is that this will happen again, perhaps as soon as next week. Even companies with good reputations – like Nintendo or CD Projekt Red – can get themselves into trouble, and we shouldn’t be afraid to call them out for it. It’s poor behaviour, and while Nintendo is definitely getting a kick in the wallet, it likely won’t be enough to dissuade the company from misbehaving again.
For Pokémon fans who feel let down, I feel ya. I’ve been there too – and unfortunately, so have most players at one time or another. It’s never a pleasant feeling when a game we’re hyped or excited for turns out to be a disappointment, and it’s even worse in a case like this where just a little extra development time would, in all likelihood, have resulted in a much better product.
Definitely steer clear of Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet for now. I hope that Nintendo and Game Freak get their acts together and patch out as many of these bugs and glitches as they can as quickly as they can – but for now, it’s one to avoid.
Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet are out now for Nintendo Switch. The Pokémon franchise – including all titles discussed above – is the copyright of Nintendo, The Pokémon Company, and/or Game Freak. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.