Tuesday, September 16, 2008
A great launch, but ...
The quality of consumer software at release is generally bad. If the industrial software used for applications like running nuclear power stations, life support systems in hospitals, or air traffic control had as many bugs and crashes as the average consumer software, we would be in serious trouble. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games on average have a *worse* quality level than other pieces of consumer software. Notaddicted has an interesting article on WAR release expectations by Isobelle, asking why our expectations are so low, and why are we willing to let game companies get away with bad launches. Quote Keen: "Opening day rocked. Complete server stability for Wolfenburg - no lag - few crashes. Yes, I CTD’d 4x yesterday and there were many in my guild who were crashing as well. Alt tabbing is a sure way to fubar your game. Obviously the issues still persist into launch. This was, baring any unforeseen issues when SE’s and normal retail join us, the smoothest launch I’ve participated in." Smoothest launch ever, "only" 4 crashes to desktop, and you can't use alt-tab (unless you run WAR in windowed mode). Talk about low expectations.
I totally agree that on a relative scale, compared to other MMORPG launches, WAR is having a great launch. On an absolute scale European WAR servers were down this morning for emergency maintenance, if you want to play destruction you'll be stuck in a waiting queue for half an hour after every disconnect, there is still a good number of bugs, and clunky way in which you have to accept the EULA and TOS twice on every launch of the client is driving me crazy. But for some reason everyone prefers the relative scale, where measured by things like server uptime WAR is even ahead of WoW at release for the moment. Without mentioning that if you phone company or electricity company would provide service like that, you'd be up in arms.
Gamers are far too willing to let game companies get away with anything. And me right among them, I was far too happy about playing the game without considering all the implications of the Spore DRM controversy, where I got fooled into thinking I was buying a game, when in fact I was only buying a limited license to install a game 3 times, with some strings attached in the form of rootkit software. Gamers only get angry at the point when something prevents them from playing, like the GOA accounts page problems. But once GOA put up a way to enter your code, everybody was happy, without remarking that the current system is still far from being a fully functional account site. What are we going to do in two days, enter our credit card details into a "temporary" form field on an unsecured, flash-based website, with no way to check your account details afterwards? Maybe GOA has a miracle patch up their sleeves and will bring up a fully functional account site Thursday. But if they don't, they'll be forgiven just as long as they allow everyone in via whatever temporary solution they'll come up with. People will even accept server queues for the more popular side, without complaining how that effectively limits their choice of what to play. And hey, if after release in regular operation the WAR servers would be down for half a day once every week, that'll be accepted as being the same as WoW.
Are we right in doing this? Should we say "it's just a game", and not expect a higher level of quality? Television is also "just entertainment", but we wouldn't let TV companies get away with the level of service that game companies provide. Will we "shut up and play" if the Wrath of the Lich King launch is buggy like hell in November? Why did we let Funcom get away with a horrible launch of Age of Conan? I guess it was because we were bored at the time and the parts of the game that worked were fun. But should we be satisfied with that? How can we expect the quality of games to improve if we are so obviously willing to pay up even for bugs?