I like to buy games on day one.
I’m not a fan of pre-owned, because I’d rather see my money go to the people who made a video game than the retailer that’s selling it, and also when I’ve been looking forward to a game for months or years I quite often don’t want to wait any longer because I have extremely poor self-control. You know how it is.
Problem is, for the past year or few, I’ve felt like a total idiot for buying brand new games, because the same game a few months after release is now not only cheaper, but significantly better. It’s got to the point where recommending that people buy something on day one has started to feel disingenuous. I’m a lifelong early adopter, but for the past few years I’ve felt like a sucker.
The issue is not wasted money: it’s wasted time. Anyone who wants to save money on games knows to wait a few months, at which point the price often pretty much halves from £50 to £30 (or 56p in a Steam sale). I don’t mind paying full price to get the thing earlier. What I mind is spending tens of hours playing a game that’s fundamentally not as good as it would be if I played it six months after release.
Case in point: The Witcher 3.I downloaded the latest patch for that yesterday morning, which makes a lot of small but significant changes. The two most noticeable adjustments are a fix for the inventory system that puts books in their own separate tab, and a fix for how both Geralt and his horse Roach move across the landscape. These are good improvements; I spend a lot of time exploring in The Witcher 3, and it’s now a lot less fiddly to control.
Thing is, I’ve already played this game for 60 hours with Geralt skating all over the scenery and Roach getting stuck on rocks, and I would not be surprised if at least 5 of those hours were spent paging through the endless books in the badly-organised inventory system. Why did I spend so much of my life dealing with those problems? If I’d waited a few months I wouldn’t have had to tolerate them AND it’d have been a lot cheaper. Meanwhile I have spent almost three entire days of my life playing a game with niggling problems that now do not exist.
This is the new reality for video games: nobody expects a game to be completely finished at the time of its release any more. Anyone who suffered through a great many broken 90s/early 00s video games is surely pleased that developers now have the capacity to put out post-release patches that tidy things up, fix previously unknown bugs, or provide graphical fixes. But it’s at the point now where these patches – MONTHS down the line – make very significant changes to how the game works.
Another recent example is Bloodborne: I would have loved to have played some of that with several of my friends, but until a relatively recent update the game’s co-op was restricted by level, which scuppered us even in the Chalice Dungeons. None of us has the time to play it again.
It feels like the assumption is that anyone who’s sufficiently passionate about video games to buy something on release day will be happy to play it again later down the line. Our critic Kirk called this patch “a welcome piece of post-release support from a developer that was already doing a great job of it”, which is absolutely true, but then he spent 60 hours on The Witcher 3 when he was reviewing it and has since spent another 90 on the PC version. That’s completely out of the realms of possibility for me and for probably 90% of the other people who bought it. Happy as the rest of us are that these improvements are being made, I can’t be the only one wondering why I’ve already spent so long playing it in an imperfect state.
I expect this from an MMO or Early Access. I spent a lot of time with Rust in 2014 and it doesn’t bother me that it’s now an almost entirely different game, because that was part of the deal. I was, God help me, tasked with “reviewing” GTA Online back when it launched, at which point it was a complete broken mess. Lobbies didn’t work, your character would get randomly deleted, balancing was off… its problems were numerous and fundamental. But the difference is that GTA Online was a) arguably a free add-on for GTA V and b) an online-centric game that was always going to evolve, even if the state of it at launch really was appalling. (At least it’s pretty great now.)
It might seem petty to complain about free improvements to a game I’m enjoying, but it’s part of a prevailing attitude that’s been seeping into mainstream gaming for years, which is treating your most loyal and enthusiastic players as paying QA people. Everyone has noticed this. At the worst end of it, we’ve had Battlefield 4, the Halo Master Chief Collection, Drive Club and Batman: Arkham Knight on PC, which didn’t work at all when they launched. Further down the scale we have things like Assassin’s Creed Unity, which was buggy but worked, and then Bloodborne, which was great when it launched but is even better now.
When even an amazing single-player game like The Witcher will be better a few months down the line, it’s hard to recommend to anyone that they buy it as soon as it’s out. We’ve been pretty vocal at Kotaku on the nonsense that is game pre-orders and the havoc that they wreak upon the industry, but are we going to have to start advising people never to buy a game at launch at all? (Unless it’s a Nintendo game. Why is this stuff never a problem for Nintendo? I suspect because they still adhere to what is fast becoming an old-school philosophy: perfect a game before releasing it.)
I’m sick of paying more for a worse experience. Sort it out.