Delay Vs. Patch


From the outset, allow me to say that I will be picking on Ubisoft most directly, however the question posed in the title can be directed to several other studios out there. That being said, Ubisoft has created some of my favorite gaming experiences (e.g. Far Cry 3), and I have genuine appreciation for them.

There have been more than a few games released this year with rocky launches. I can think of one game that was released last year (Battlefield 4) that (according to some) still isn’t working properly. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I don’t recall this ever being as prominent an issue as it has recently become. I have a few speculations as to why it’s happening so often.

I’m fully aware that I’m picking on Ubisoft here, but with reason. Let’s take Assassins Creed Unity. It was released this month to reviews that were mostly favorable, despite the numerous bugs/glitches involved. Now I ask myself, why would Ubisoft release a game (that was in development for four years, no less) that was as issue-laden as this? Why not delay it?

That thought takes me directly to Watch_Dogs. Watch_Dogs was to be a launch title for the current gen systems. At the last minute, the game was delayed. By six months. This is concerning for many reasons: if the problem/s were minute, a delay of a month or so would be understandable, but to take a game releasing within a month and to push it off to the next fiscal year seems risky. And just plain weird. The game obviously had far more issues than they could release it with in good faith.

When Watch_Dogs did release on May 27th 2014, it was to decent reviews, however people took note of the visual difference from its preview at E3 2012. Which brings me to another point: Watch_Dogs went into development in 2009. Another four-year gestation period. How could these issues have sprung up so close to the end of the process as to warrant a six month delay?

Good question. Perhaps poor planning. Or perhaps oversight. Though it’s hard to imagine a lot of oversight in a company that has 29 studios to its name.

Ubisoft isn’t averse to delays, which I appreciate in a developer. As Shigeru Miyamoto once said, “A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever.” But in this day and age, even that’s not necessarily true with the advent of post-release patches. In the last 12 months, we have seen an increasing reliance on those patches.

With a delay, the company runs several risks. Customer interest will wane. Sales will obviously be impacted. On the flip side, they will be releasing a (hopefully) more stable product.

As a consumer, I’d far prefer to wait for a truly finished product than receive one that either performs poorly, or in some cases, not at all.

With a patch, those same companies can stay on time with their release dates (and continue to generate sales), however that’s a risky plan. Customer faith can be wavered, or lost all together. Games may not be fully playable. Just last week when Far Cry was released, I was so excited to play it, I could hardly contain myself. I got home, popped it in, and set about the game. I was about to liberate my first tower and the game froze on me. It booted me to the main menu (which was frozen) and I couldn’t even choose to play offline. To get out of that menu, I had to shut the game down.

I understand that not all game launches go smoothly. Sometimes the issues can be avoided (glitches), and sometimes they can’t (DDOS attacks).

Even knowing those things, I was a bit disappointed. I had been counting the days to its release. I went to midnight launch. I had everything set up to play it as soon as humanly possible. Then: perma-menu screen.

Have these issues turned me off Ubisoft’s games? No. Am I wary of their products? Honestly? A bit.

Some companies are better at compensating for these issues than others, and today, Ubisoft announced how they would try to make it right with early adopters, however their solution may compound the issue. The compensation? Another of their newly released games for free. Which will put more stress on their already stressed servers.

This will also potentially boost their numbers depending on how those “free” games will be listed in their reports.

I understand Ubisoft had a desultory fiscal year last year. Of course they have to make up for those numbers. They have people to answer to. However they have repeatedly given themselves four-year cycles to create games in, and I would assume most consumers believe that ensures them a relatively finished product. Anymore, that doesn’t seem to be a given.

I am more solidly in the “delay” camp than the “patch” camp. I would rather wait however long necessary for the game to actually be finished, than satisfy an empty impatience only to have the experience marred.

I would love to hear how others feel on the topic.

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