Monday, March 2, 2015

No, I'm Not Going to Pay to Be Your Beta Tester

I buy games.

I have five hundred and sixty two games on Steam for an account that is about three years old, and I'm looking forward to the coming Spring Sale and using this money burning a hole in my pocket. 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. 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 have the disposable income of a Gen Xer approaching middle age, and I like games. 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 looser I am spending so much on the hobby I love! It's so unlike those other inexpensive hobbies like 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. I buy your DLC without 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. 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 you have not kept it 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 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 sobriquets is no more than sticking a still steaming turd into a box with a bow. Frankly, you are being "economical with the truth."

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 going back and fixing typos and grammar errors. When I actually care about something, I want it to go out to the world looking good. Have some fucking pride in what you're putting your name on. The video game industry is insanely 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 telling you this as someone who buys games. As someone who 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). As someone who will then avoid your future releases and be dubious about your company from then on (unless glowing reviews flow like water from a pitcher in a Middle Earth elven kingdom scene). 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 a good experience. As someone who increasingly waits on new releases (even though $60.00 is not too much if I love a game) because of exactly this shit.

Releasing undone games won't just lose you one gamer's wallet love. There's a reason E.T. was cited as causing an INDUSTRY WIDE CRASH. It's like anti-branding. You're dragging your reputation through the mud and making your customers that much more gunshy–not just about your games but all games in general. It's a few dollars up front that costs you in the long run.

I buy games.

But if you keep releasing games that aren't done, I won't be buying yours.

Chris Brecheen is a writer and English Professor and gamer. In addition to the time he spends on the Ace of Geeks, he runs a daily blog about writing called, shockingly, Writing About Writing.

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