Whatever factors were preventing publishers and developers from setting their games loose upon consumers in an unfinished state have become less pressing, apparently. I’m not actually interested in calling any particular publisher or platform holder out here, as I don’t think I have enough fingers to point at them all. The point is, simply, that it’s becoming harder and harder to know, even on release day, if a game will function on day one, two, three or indefinitely.
I don’t think this is going away. In fact, for the time being, I am absolutely positive it won’t. It will be some time before publishers get the hint that this isn’t ok, where they move beyond lip service about “making it right” and actually start doing the right thing and delaying games that aren’t in a state fit to be sold. I don’t know what it will take for this to happen. I don’t know what the final straw will be for consumers to push back.
That said, I think there’s more we can do to serve our audience and offer some modicum of caution and warning about games we have reservations about.
Like clocks and cars, video games are two-fold: wondrous products made functional by mechanical innards. Video games are at once magical experiences full of narrative, music, design, and animations; at the same time highly mechanical, dynamic pieces of software full of the nuts and bolts of computer science.
Playing a video game is an individual, singular experience. As Griffin McElroy has stated before, “games by their very nature are interactive, meaning… your experience playing the game is going to be different.” Therefore, the critique of a video game’s artistry (design, narrative, visuals, music, etc.) should hold little weight to an individual. Where a video game’s critique should be heavily considered is it’s functionality. If a manufacturer isn’t going to hold up their end of the consumer protection bargain (or be legally held accountable), the duty must fall on the media outlets to inform the public of faulty products and bad business, even better if the outlets can forewarn.
I am excited by this stance from Polygon. Video games are artistic illusions that only work if they are fully functional. If the undying mechanics are broken, the illusion is broken, too.