A few years ago the notion that people would pay full price for an incomplete game that might theoretically be finished via updates around the time that it cost half as much would be laughable. Usually I am on the laughing side when angry gamers take to Metacritic to give great games 0/10 scores because they found a single glitch, one feature they liked from the previous game that’s missing, day one DLC, or online hiccups upon release. “I feel like I just paid $60 for an alpha build” they said. “DON’T PREORDER EVER” they said. In my experience, the games were not so much unfinished as unpolished at worst. They were still playable and fun. Relax and enjoy, alarmists.
But you know what? Maybe they were right on some level. Not necessarily about any given game, but the cries that video game developers are trending towards releasing unfinished products and taking advantage of customers by charging them full price for alpha and beta builds have officially been vindicated in my eyes. After delivering my article about how Street Fighter brought fighting games back from the brink of obscurity, I literally counted down the seconds on my console until I could play my pre-downloaded digital copy of Street Fighter V. What greeted me on night one was literally an unplayable mess. Shame, Capcom. Shame.
Maybe if I was a PC gamer I’d have paid more attention to the Diablo 3 and Sim City debacles. Destiny had some online connection issues on release, but nothing like this. Let me break this down for those lucky readers who passed on Capcom’s latest. The game doesn’t even have the single player basics of the genre; no Arcade or single player Versus modes. It has a story mode that takes literally five minutes per character to beat, and a survival mode that takes far too long past easy difficulty, but in order to earn your rewards and currency for completing even those modes you have to be logged into the server. And the server often didn’t let you in and kicked you out every few minutes when you did get in, making it nearly impossible to play unless you were happy playing with infinite health bars in training mode. I was not.
I know that with every gamer in the world trying to play the newest and hottest game at the same time, there are bound to be issues, but knowing that why do developers insist on tying even the single-player content into the servers? I mean, they’ve told us that we’ll be able to earn future DLC using in-game currency. It’s a big part of the reason I preordered. But if I can’t earn it because doing so is entirely dependent on being online, how do you justify it? I feel a rant coming on so cover the children’s eyes. This might get ugly.
If I play the game offline will I get my rewards for my accomplishments when I connect later, will I need to do it again, or will it just be my loss? They’ve estimated that if we grind every mode with every character for a month and/or win online daily we might be able to get enough “fight money” to purchase a new character. I am not about to risk missing out on my precious finite rewards and I should be able to just play the goddamn game offline without worrying about this shit in the first place.
Multiple main menu options are blacked out inform you that they will be coming in March. Really? HOW ABOUT YOU PUT THE FUCKING GAME OUT IN MARCH, THEN!? I’d have waited. We all would have waited. And no, I don’t want to hear about fiscal quarters. I’d just like to play the game I bought. How is it this game has had three online beta tests and the servers were still utterly unprepared for the online aspect that the entire experience is tied into?
A couple weeks before the game came out I had this weird feeling like I needed to cancel my physical preorder. I actually did. No real reason, I just wasn’t really feeling right about it. Intuition, I guess. The second beta wasn’t that impressive, but the third one was really fun and I ended up intellectualizing myself into preordering a digital copy to get that killer PS4 theme and awesome Chun Li outfit. Sadly, those two things weren’t worth $60, and that’s about all I had to show for my purchase in the first twenty-four hours of Street Fighter V.
Two matches, a headache, and a sinking sense of shame is all I got for the five hours I spent with the game on release night. You know what would have been a better use of my time and money? Literally anything else. A consumer should never feel that way about a product with this much behind it. It reminds me of the online launch of Grand Theft Auto V except when you couldn’t get on to play multiplayer, there was still the insane amount of single player content to fall back on. Increasing the dependency on online servers while decreasing everything else is a recipe for disaster.
I applauded Capcom heartily when they announced they were making future DLC free or purchasable with in-game currency. It beats the hell out releasing a new version of the same game every year, yeah? But having had hands on the (un)finished product, it occurs to me that they announced this knowing damn well that the game was not going to make its deadline in order to put a positive spin on releasing what is (literally this time) a beta build of the game at retail price. This sort of thing has been sneaking into our lives more and more, but to my knowledge it has never been done so blatantly.
So is this what we can expect now from AAA releases? It was bad enough when games are released with save-wiping glitches, crashes, and day one DLC that was clearly built into the game and then locked out, but this is on a different level. This is one of gamings’ most revered and storied franchises making its current-gen debut. This is a game with immensely shallow stories told in static drawings with voiceover. A bigger story is supposedly coming out in the summer, although it sounds like it’s going to be very small as well for such a delay.
BlazBlue is a comparatively tiny fighting franchise, but Chronophantasma’s story mode bordered on a full season’s worth of television upon release and there were tons of features. Plus you earn the in-game currency whether you’re online or not and there’s plenty to spend it on. Why is it they can deliver so much more with what one assumes is a much smaller budget? Street Fighter V’s in-game store won’t be available until next month so you can’t even unlock the outfits you see in the game.
Given the franchise’s worldwide success and the years of development, Street Fighter fans would be well within theirrights to expect premium full motion cutscenes and a wealth of game modes from any new release. But as gamers we will always settle for just a quality game. Scratch that: a PLAYABLE quality game. Thankfully, within twenty-four hours these online issues were ironed out and I was joyfully unleashing nasty critical arts upon the faces of my foes, but that doesn’t excuse this growing trend.
A preorder is a statement of trust in a developer or property and the more companies break that trust, the more unsatisfied and weary consumers are going to get,and the closer the game industry is going to bring itself to full collapse. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and next time Capcom comes out with a major release, I’m going to be extremely skeptical. I’ve had many wonderful launch night gaming memories over the years with massive multiplayer franchises over the years. It stinks that there’s this black mark now and it really seems like these sorts of experiences are steadily increasing. Be afraid, fellow gamers.
And there you have it: the happy-go-lucky rational gaming advocate turned into the very sort of raging alarmist he used to mock complete with visions of old white men (even though they’re probably Japanese) smoking cigars and laughing while plotting to exploit our love of gaming dancing in my head. I’d like to think this is going to get better, but I’ve been thinking that and it is clearly getting worse. Will release night for our favorite games soon become a source of trepidation and stress instead of pure gamer joy? Stay tuned.