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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

No. I'm Not Going to Beta Test Your Game

Jesus add Laura Croft or Samus or something.
What a dudefest.
I buy games.

I have seven hundred and ninety-eight games on Steam for an account that is a little over five years old, and I’m looking forward to the coming Winter Sale even though I'll need to sell a kidney to have any money for it. I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 Playstation 2 games, fifty or so Wii games, and about a hundred games each for N-64 and Dreamcast from my console era. I now have a Switch and a very modest eight games for that (since it is relatively new and I only play it right before bed and when I'm at home and not pet sitting). Though I vastly prefer PC and the cloud these days, I could probably dig up two or three hundred games on disk if I went spelunking through storage boxes (and the casualties of various moves were magically restored). I don't have the disposable income I did when I assembled much of this collection, but games are still a major fraction of my discretionary income. (That and books are about 90%). I know full well that if I added up the retail price I spent on all these games, I would be looking at several years’ salary.

I don’t say this to brag. I’m not trying to prove my gaming street cred. I also don’t say it to establish some “#sorrynotsorry” faux patheticness. (“Look what a loser I am, spending so much on the hobby I love! It’s so unlike those other inexpensive hobbies like cosplay, LARPing, skydiving, and ballroom dancing.”) I say it to establish one simple fact:

I buy games.

So don’t tell me I’m not your audience. I am your audience. I am a game buying machine.

I buy your DLC without so much as a gumtoothed complaint that in the old days “a game was a game was a game.” Before a certain tiny human came along, I had time to enjoy Gametap and spend money to indulge my gaming nostalgia. I keep subscriptions active for MMORPG’s I don’t get to play more than an hour or two a month. I have a Humble Bundle subscription. Hell, I’ll even spend the price of a latte every couple of days on your Freemium game if it’s currently holding my interest.

If you’re on the up and up, I’m basically one of the people putting your kids through college.

But not all of you are on the up and up.

There’s a particularly odious trend exploding in the video games industry right now, and when you’re scratching your heads wondering what went so very, very wrong when your sales tank, and no one will by games until they’re a year old and all the bugs are shaken out, I hope you look back and take into account that you basically turned conning your customers into a business model.

Quit fucking releasing games that aren’t done.

It’s bad enough that we get bullshit like the Assassin’s Creed Unity launch, which was so bad, it’s being compared to E.T. for Atari–arguably the worst video game EVER.

But perhaps your worst move is to attempt to charge your customers for doing your beta testing instead of hiring a proper team or at LEAST giving your customers a free game to do your work for you. Making players fork over money so they can fill out bug reports to an increasingly irritated and overworked dev team. Forcing your players to do the grunt work of interacting with a team that’s getting more and more frustrated and demanding more and more detail in how to trigger bugs because they see each one as a personal affront.

This little shit goblin of a move goes by the charming euphemism “Early Access” but like “pre-enjoyed vehicles”and “depopulating areas,” this use of delightful euphemisms is no more than sticking a still steaming turd into a box with a bow. Frankly, you are being “economical with the truth.”

Some Early Access is great! There's a core game there. The core game is good. The price is appropriate. And the developer (usually indie) is hoping for some feedback about what to flesh out. But AAA titles slapping that label on their unfinished shit to get free beta testing is a whole different foxhunt.

Also....and I’m going to say this last part as someone who often hits “publish” a little too soon when I’m blogging and ends up rushing back to fixing typos and grammar errors that I'm mortified about: It reflects on you what you put out in the world and you really want your work to be the best possible representation of your brand. It betrays a breathtaking lack of professionalism to expect people to pay full price to wade through glaring errors. Have some fucking pride in what you’re putting your name on and expecting people to fork over hard earned money for. The video game industry is outrageously competitive and most studios are one flop away from bankruptcy. A company that has no artistic integrity and no pride in its final product will get chewed up and spat out by being penny wise and pound foolish.

I'm warning you as someone who absolutely spends gobs and gobs and gobs of money on games. I will not buy your game when I hear it had glitches or you did an “early release” to get your customers to do your Q.A. work for you (and pay to do so). I'm warning you as someone who will then avoid your future releases and be dubious about your company from then on until and unless glowing reviews flow like water from a pitcher in a Middle Earth elven kingdom scene. I'm warning you as someone who has watched one studio after another go down in flames to the head-scratching of its upper management. I'm warning you as someone who got the message loud and clear that a few dollars at the front end means more to you than giving your customers their money's worth in experience. I'm warning you as someone who increasingly waits a year to buy new releases (even though $60.00+ is not too much if I love a game) because of exactly this shit. I'm warning you as someone who really wants your good games to succeed.

Releasing undone games won’t just lose you one gamer’s wallet love. It may not even merely trash your company. There’s a reason E.T. was cited as causing an INDUSTRY WIDE CRASH. There's a reason I don't buy games unless they get golden reviews or have been out a few months. Being shitty is like anti-branding. You’re dragging your reputation through the mud and making your customers that much more gunshy–not just about your games and your company, but all new releases in general. It’s a few dollars up front that costs you in the long run in customer loyalty for you and the entire industry.

I buy games.

But whether you dress it up like you're doing us a big "early access favor" or just put out a shitty product hoping to patch on the fly, if you keep releasing games that aren’t done and not giving your customers a discount for essentially doing your beta testing, I won’t be buying yours.

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