The dreaded “release now, fix later” model that has been adopted by corporations across the games industry has shown up constantly in 2023. Although a number of console titles have been affected, by far the worst impact has been felt on PC. As PC is my primary gaming platform these days, this is something that hits me personally. Today, I wanted to talk a little about the absolute state of many recent PC releases.
Jedi: Survivor, Redfall, Forspoken, Hogwarts Legacy, and The Last Of Us Part 1 should have all been among the biggest PC releases in the first half of 2023. I was genuinely looking forward to several of these games myself. But all of them, despite being massive games with huge budgets backed up by major corporate publishers, have been released in broken, unfinished, and in some cases borderline unplayable states.
As a rule, I don’t pre-order games. I’ve been burned in the past, and as someone who doesn’t have money to piss away, pre-ordering just doesn’t feel like a good idea any more. But many folks still do, lured in by pre-order exclusive bonuses and the like, and many of these folks – as well as those who picked up titles shortly after launch – have been left severely disappointed in the first half of 2023.
I had hoped, particularly after the Cyberpunk 2077 debacle a couple of years back, that the games industry was beginning to learn its lesson. Just because it’s technically feasible to launch a title in an unfinished state and patch it out later, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea; the damage done by a rocky launch can be difficult to overcome – if not outright impossible. For every success story like No Man’s Sky, there are dozens of titles like Anthem, Aliens: Colonial Marines, or Assassin’s Creed Unity that are too far gone to be salvageable. And even titles that manage to continue development, like Cyberpunk 2077, are forever tainted by the way they launched.
Who knows how many more sales Cyberpunk 2077 might’ve made had it been released six months later? The damage that game did to CD Projekt Red has set back the company immeasurably, damaging its share price and tanking its reputation with players. It’s an expensive lesson in how not to release a video game… so why have none of the other corporations in the games industry taken notice?
I didn’t buy Jedi: Survivor this month, even though I’d gone out of my way to save up for it and allocate money for it in my budget. Why? The reason is simple: I read the reviews, saw breakdowns of the PC port of the game, and decided to put my wallet away and wait. Electronic Arts lost what should have been a guaranteed sale because I’m not willing to buy an unfinished product. And make no mistake, that’s what Jedi: Survivor and all the other games listed above are: unfinished.
Unlike making a game for a console, developing for PC can be a challenge. Take it from someone who built their own PC last year: there are a huge number of different internal components from CPUs to GPUs, RAM to solid-state drives, and beyond. Ensuring perfectly smooth compatibility across an almost infinite range of potential PCs isn’t as easy as getting a game to run on an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, which don’t have this issue of varied internal components. And I get that, I really do.
But that isn’t a good enough excuse. I’d actually rather that a corporation delayed the PC port of a game than release it in a broken state, and I won’t be alone in saying so. It isn’t ideal to break up a title’s release by platform, and it’s something to be avoided if at all possible, but under some circumstances it can be forgiven – especially where smaller, independent studios are concerned.
I used to work in the games industry, and I know or knew dozens of developers at both small and large companies. Developers are great, passionate people who put a lot of energy and love into their work. Developers working on franchises like Star Wars, for instance, are almost always passionate fans who want to bring their story to life as best they can. These bad releases are not a reflection on developers – nor should anyone try to harrass or attack developers because of these broken games.
The fault here lies with games publishers: corporations like Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Sony, and Warner Bros. Games. They’re the ones who hold the cards, and developers are forced to work to often unreasonable timelines. Even intense periods of “crunch” are often not enough to salvage a project in time, and a premature launch is almost always forced on a developer by a publisher. That’s undoubtedly what happened in each of these cases.
Crappy PC ports used to be fairly commonplace, but as the platform has grown and become more lucrative, that games industry stereotype seemed to be fading away. 2023 has brought it right back, and I’m now in a position where every PC game release is treated with scepticism. As players and fans, we shouldn’t be in the position of assuming a PC release will automatically be buggy, laggy, and an overall worse experience – yet here we are.
I’m not prepared to accept this as being “just” one of the downsides of PC gaming, either. Corporations need to make sure they’re allocating enough time and energy to their PC ports as they are for consoles – and if they can’t guarantee that a game will be in a playable state, the only option is to delay it. Ideally a game would be delayed on every platform, but in some cases it might be okay to go ahead with a console release and merely delay the PC port.
As consumers in this marketplace, all we can do is refuse to participate. It’s on us to tell corporations that we aren’t willing to pay their inflated prices to do the job of their quality assurance team, and that releasing games before they’re finished and before they’re basically playable is not acceptable.
One of the disappointing trends that I’ve seen, not just with PC games in 2023 but with a whole host of “release now, fix later” titles, is players and fans covering for and continuing to support these faceless, greedy corporations. Too many people seem willing to make excuses on behalf of big publishers, essentially doing the job of a marketing team for the. Some games, like Jedi: Survivor, have even received positive reviews on platforms like Steam and Metacritic, even as the reviewer admits that the game is in a poor state and playing it isn’t a great experience. Why say that? What benefit is there?
I’m also deeply disappointed in some professional outlets. Practically all of the titles above received positive reviews from professional critics, reviews which in some cases glossed over or outright ignored bugs, glitches, and other issues with the titles in question. There’s a stinking rot at the core of the relationships between some games corporations and certain media outlets – and while I would never accuse anyone of writing a paid-for review, there are clearly incentives given and threats made to keep review scores higher than they deserve to be in some cases.
I also don’t buy the excuse of “pandemic-related disruption,” not any more. That might’ve worked three years ago, but as the World Heath Organisation downgrades covid and society gets back on track across the globe, it’s beginning to stretch credulity to blame any and all problems on the pandemic. That’s a cheap excuse by corporations who don’t want us to know the truth: they’re greedily publishing unfinished games to grab as much cash as possible for as little work and investment as possible. That’s always been the case, but it’s been turned up to eleven in recent years.
Unfortunately, I don’t see this trend disappearing any time soon. For me, all PC releases are now suspect, and I will be checking out multiple reviews and tech breakdowns of the latest titles before I even consider parting with my money. I would advise all PC players to take the same approach – and to not shy away from calling out games corporations that misbehave. No other industry could get away with this – not in entertainment nor in any other sector. We wouldn’t take this kind of behaviour from other corporations and companies – so why should we be forced to put up with it with our games?
It is infinitely better to delay a game, continue to work on the issues it may have, and only release it when it’s ready. This is a lesson that the games industry really ought to have learned by now – but I guess we’ll have to do whatever we can to hammer the point home. Why should we accept low-quality, broken, unfinished games with promises of fixes and patches to come? We shouldn’t – and this awful trend of crappy PC ports has to stop.
All titles discussed above are the copyright of their respective developer, studio, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promo images courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.