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wodinoneeye

An interesting player reviews a recent game NWN2

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http://nwn2forums.bioware.com/forums/viewtopic.html?topic=522005&forum=110 The issue Im interested/concerned with is the buggy state that companies frequently release their games in. I have a heavy QA background (Ive also been a maintenence programmer -- the guy who fixes/bomb proofs programs AFTER the original coders are gone...) and it disturbs me to see the state games get released in. Is it the managements who have little realization that as the games get more complex that they have more to test and fix (and they push it out the door buggy as hell assuming it will be fixed in several rounds of patches). Even in the old days (I go back 20+ years in the computer programming industry) QA was the first thing they skimped on budgetwise (and things were simpler in those days). We talk here about even grander schemes and higher complexity for game worlds, but I wonder how we can count on getting even the current level of quality from upcoming games.

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I think it is due to the commercial nature of the timing of the release (for NWN2 specifically, but it does apply to many games).

The reason is that they had to have it out for Christmas, if they had spent an extra month or two ironing out all the bugs in it, then they would not have been able to release it in time for the Christmas market. That means that either they would release it t a non optimal time (and their sales would suffer), or they would have to wait another 12 months (and all the costs associated with that) for release. Both of these would destroy the commercial viability of the project.

So they would have to do a cost/benefit analysis about either of these two scenarios and the scenario of a buggy release and an early patch to fix them. Of course, the early/buggy release would mean some sales would suffer, but if they can get the fixes and patch out quick enough, then it wouldn't hurt the sales too much.

This is the main reason that companies will release buggy software, as they need to make certain commercial deadlines for release and spending the time to fix the bugs would take them past the deadline, so a patch, soon after release, is the best compromise.

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I'm not worried. If Obsidian patches NWN2 twice as slow as Bioware did to NWN, give one or two years, it will still be the most patched and balanced game out there. And NWN had gazillions of bugs, many of which weren't even apparent until you read the patch logs. After-release support is where they get a chance to really shine. Bioware did a tremendous job there, unlike many other companies. Now it should be up to Obsidian.

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Original post by wodinoneeye
Is it the managements who have little realization that as the games get more complex that they have more to test and fix (and they push it out the door buggy as hell assuming it will be fixed in several rounds of patches).

I'm not privy to the internal decision that companies make but I think this is part of the problem. From what I remember the games industry never has put a high enough priority on testing, especially when it comes to locking down features (I remember adding in game features at the last moment before shipping the gold master, which as someone who values testing made me more than a little uneasy).

Release for particular seasons or quarters is also a prime consideration, and I suspect that's still part of the reason why those in management don't want to hold off releasing a game for an extra few months.

But I think the real problem lies more in the consumer's acceptance of broken products. The acceptance of buying a bug-infested game and then waiting for the patch is now pretty much in-grained within the (more hardcore) gaming community. As such there is little reason not to just ship whatever you've got when the release deadline for whatever season you want to market in is reached.

As a reaction to seeing these more detrimental bugs slipping into games I've moved more towards console games which have to have better quality control. These days I hardly ever buy a PC game at release; I prefer to wait at least a year until the price is at least halved and I can get a good feel about how playable it is from the online reviews, as well as any serious patches are released. I figure if I only buy from the bargain bin it doesn't matter so much if my ten bucks are wasted on a broken game.

Case in point is Obsidian's last game: Knights of the Old Republic 2. That could have been one of the best RPG games of the last few years if properly completed, but someone made the decision to release the game way before it was properly finished. As a consequence I'm now wary of everything Obsidian releases, plus I'm extremely caution of anything Lucasarts publishes (since I strongly suspect they made the ultimate call on that). And I no longer give a damn about KoTOR 3.

To be honest though while you can make some quick money by releasing on time with a buggy game I don't know in the general case how badly it affects the release of your subsequent games.

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I did read somewhere, possibly on biowares website, that the fault lies with Atari. Atari is apparently very low on cash and saw NWN2 as a massive cash cow to be milked sooner rather than later, so forced it out the door.

As an NWN 1 & 2 owner, I am disappointed with NWN2. If there was an NWN3, I certainly wouldn't purchase it.

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I think there are two problems, and both of them are the consumer's fault. First, their willingness to buy buggy products. Companies have gradually been releasing things buggier and buggier trying to push the limits to see just how early in the beta testing cycle they can release things and still have people pay, and for the most part, everyone just keeps paying. They just whine about it more on the official message boards, but hiring a community manager to lock threads when they pass 20 pages costs far less than bugfixing a game. It does not have to do with games being harder to bug fix these days: console games are still relatively bug-free when they ship because they are harder to patch and thus subject to stricter quality control. It is never a case of the developers being unable to fix it, it's always a purposeful decision of just how much they think they can screw the players over yet still stay in business.

Second, the consumers like to point the finger at the publishers and blame them, somehow letting the developers off scott-free. The publishers probably shrug and are fine with this, because this little misdirection only benefits them. It means that even though they have a messageboard full of people saying "Booo, atari is evil", all of those people will still buy games published by Atari because they think they are supporting the poor, abused developers. It's not just Atari's fault. Sure, Atari puts pressure on developers to release things, but developers constantly make promises to Atari that they can't keep. Atari almost always lets the developers push back their release date two or three times, but you can't blame a publisher for eventually putting their foot down and saying "No, you've already gone way over the time limit you promised us". Publishers really only have one job, and that's forcing the developers to release when they said they would release. If they didn't do that, they'd just be these giant buildings full of free money and tickets for shelf space at EB. My point is that as long as people try to blame all the bugginess of current games on "the man", some indefinable evil entity that is somehow associated with publishers but never with the people who actually put the bugs into the game and failed to fix them, then you can't really expect anyone to ever care about fixing them.

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Original post by makeshiftwings
It does not have to do with games being harder to bug fix these days: console games are still relatively bug-free when they ship because they are harder to patch and thus subject to stricter quality control. It is never a case of the developers being unable to fix it, it's always a purposeful decision of just how much they think they can screw the players over yet still stay in business.


I think that the console games usually are simpler (10-15 hour ??) and have fewer combinatoric options for the players (read that NWN2 review in the link and see how much situational specific and class/skill specific many of the problems are). Yes, there is the reason that patches are harder (less an option), but the PC games can be much more complex (old square rule -- twice as complex, four times the bugs...) and possibly they've found that its prohibitive to offer console games offering the same magnitude.



Quote:

Second, the consumers like to point the finger at the publishers and blame them, somehow letting the developers off scott-free.



Im not sure the customers know much about the production process at all, but when you come down to it the publishers are still the ones who call the shots and allocate the money and set the schedules. Its their job to discard the imcompetants and spend the money/time for things like adaquate testing/fixing (assuming they have an interest in quality as a priority). The developers are obscured from most of the customers (ie - what fraction actually visits the forums...) and the publisher is 'it' to them if its the name that appears on the box.

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This "but it will be patched later"-attitude is pretty bad, because it supports releasing games in an unfinished state. Patches should be released to fix bugs that are obscure, very minor (like spelling mistakes in dialogues) and/or happen only on certain hardware configurations, to add "real-world" performance optimizations and to change game-balance.

Something like "uh, well, double-clicking kinda doesn't work like it should/like the user expects it to work", "hmm, the cavalery only charges like it should in 50% of the cases" or "oh well, you only get 3 fps with the minimum specs on the lowest quality settings, but it's surely the users fault, why does he have a minimum spec system after all ?" should never make it out of (closed-)beta.

Most companies really could take a look at Blizzard's Q&A process, if they want to release a polished product. (Well, there are other 'good' companies, but I think Blizzard really shines in that area (and I don't only say that because I'm a starcraft fanboy ;)))

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Quote:
Original post by wodinoneeye
Quote:
Original post by makeshiftwings
It does not have to do with games being harder to bug fix these days: console games are still relatively bug-free when they ship because they are harder to patch and thus subject to stricter quality control. It is never a case of the developers being unable to fix it, it's always a purposeful decision of just how much they think they can screw the players over yet still stay in business.


I think that the console games usually are simpler (10-15 hour ??) and have fewer combinatoric options for the players (read that NWN2 review in the link and see how much situational specific and class/skill specific many of the problems are). Yes, there is the reason that patches are harder (less an option), but the PC games can be much more complex (old square rule -- twice as complex, four times the bugs...) and possibly they've found that its prohibitive to offer console games offering the same magnitude.


I don't know what to tell you, but this isn't true. You will have to buy or borrow a console and play some games to see for yourself. The only legitimate physical difference is that PC games need to work on a variety of hardware specs rather than a fixed one, but this should only be an "excuse" for graphics and sound bugs. Gameplay bugs, which almost all PC games are riddled with today, usually have absolutely nothing to do with hardware, and everything to do with the fact that publishers and developers both know that they can release piles and piles of crappy code and people will pay full price for it with nothing but an implied promise that maybe it will get fixed one day.

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