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The RPG Files: The Witcher 3 and The Case for Game Delays

Columns By Christopher Coke on December 12, 2014

The Witcher 3 and The Case for Game Delays

Thousands of fans woke up to letdown this week when CD Projekt Red announced that they would once again be delaying The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. MMO fans faced much the same when Zenimax announced that the console versions of The Elder Scrolls Online would be facing a similar delay and not release until sometime in 2015. Even through the haze of disappointment, there’s a silver lining here: maybe these games will actually work when they launch.

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2014 will be remembered for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest may be that it was the year when game publishers decided it was okay to sell broken games en masse. Virtually every major AAA release this year has been plagued with some kind of game-threatening issue. Assassin’s Creed: Unity was bug-ridden and performed like a geriatric in a marathlon. Halo: Masterchief Collection has been on store shelves for weeks with multiplayer -- it’s single biggest feature -- remaining a crapshoot. DriveClub single-handedly blew any shot of Sony having a worthwhile console exclusive for this holiday season. Grand Theft Auto Online couldn’t manage to actually import player’s online profiles until days after launch.

Now, these issues have been happening for ages. Over just the last two years, Diablo 3 and SimCity and Battlefield 4 each made news for, well, failing at being playable video games. Each of those titles, and others since, have faced public outcry for their non-functioning yet “pivotally important” online features. Our anger should have proved an obvious point: when we buy our games, we expect them to work. The industry didn’t care.

What makes 2014 stand out is that these issues, largely left to the seemingly second-rate PC audience, have invaded the living room as never before. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a PC player, but stay with me because this is important. Consoles drive the market and when developers decide it’s acceptable to release broken games on the PlayStation and Xbox, we all have cause for concern.

There’s always been broken games peppering the disc-based video game landscape, of course. In the beginning of the internet-ready console age, there was cause for enthusiasm. Bugs could finally be squashed. Savior patches could come in the rare cases they were necessary. Downloadable content became a real possibility extending the life of the games we play. But things have gone south.

Does anyone else remember the debate about always online consoles and how pissed we all were? Microsoft and Sony acquiesced (Microsoft publically) and wisely detached their consoles from the mandatory ethernet cord. Publishers, it seems, have decided to push their own always-online agenda. The day one patch, the public apologies for poorly functioning launch games, the promises to do better than then not with any form of consistency: these are the tell-tale signs of an industry forging a new normal driven by anti-consumer businessmen; these are the signs of an industry telling gamers with data caps or inconsistent internet that they’re not worth the effort to develop for. Too bad, so sad, poor gamer, and thanks for your money. If you’re not able to patch, or pay out the wazoo for overage fees on a 20GB day one patch, you’re out of luck. (To say nothing of the new console-driven normal of 50GB installs -- thanks blu-ray), you’re out of luck. And while you’re at it, says the publisher, you should probably just shut up and enjoy the broken game because you’re not getting your money back anyhow.

Is any of this acceptable? No, and it’s also exploitative. Publishers know most gamers are online, so they find no fault in developing purely for them. They know we can’t return games even if we have cause, so they embargo reviews to hoodwink their most dedicated fans into buying on trust. We should be ashamed of this publisher-driven “always online future.” It is exactly why players didn’t want it in the first place.

When we see companies like CD Projekt Red willing to delay their games to make them the best they can be, we should applaud. Unlike the Ubisofts of the world, CD Projekt Red isn’t a gigantic organization with thousands of people to throw on a single game. They don’t have the endless budget or EA or Activision. They’re holding back The Witcher 3 for exactly the reason they should hold it back: to make sure it’s actually ready to be sold before they take money for it. They’re spending more now and and putting off the launch buck to keep their good reputation. Good. For. Them.

The Witcher 3 looks to be a huge game. I don’t see this delay as a giant red flag. If anything, I see it as an extra lap before a triumphant finish line to make sure all of that “huge” is filled, polished, and up to their high standard. They’ve proven their pro-consumer stance in the past with their anti-DRM policies. Making us wait for an excellent game that doesn’t need a half-dozen patches is exactly what every gamer maker should be doing.

Quick Hits

H1Z1 is on its way to Steam Early Access. I’m personally quite excited for this since there seems to be more of an emphasis on crafting and building rather than simply mowing down zombies. Interestingly, Sony warns that the game will fall short of Day Z on when it releases. Honestly, though? It won’t take much to surpass it. There’s a layer of dust so thick on Day Z that someone wrote “develop me” on its bumper and Bohemia still hasn’t noticed.

Bungie has confirmed that Destiny will receive a sequel. While this isn’t surprising, I do think this blows people’s theories about this years Destiny benefitting much from that 10-year plan out of the water or that the oft-misquoted “$500 million” was somehow for this one game. Thanks for funding Destiny 2 though!

Also, The Dark Below is now available for purchase, paradoxically too expensive for normal DLC and too small to be an expansion. We need a new name! Suggestions in the comments.

Final Fantasy 7 is coming to PS4! Excited! As a port of the PC version! Not so excited. I’m beginning to think that Square is saving the remake FF7 until they’re on the verge of bankruptcy. Company saved?

Finally, The Banner Saga is getting a sequel. We at MMORPG loved it, so be sure to keep an eye on what’s sure to be a highly anticipated indie.

That’s all from us, folks. Enjoy your experience points, wherever you may find them!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.