You want to get gamers back on your side?
Get rid of “patch culture”!
You see, patch-culture needs to be done away with entirely. Patches have done more to encourage lazy game development than anything else today, and a good example is Assassin’s Creed: Unity. When that game shipped, it was so buggy that it was almost unplayable — they sold the game when it wasn’t even ready to be in alpha. Because why shouldn’t they? People will buy it, and then we can just patch it later. Aliens: Colonial Marines suffered from the same issue, being released well before it was ready and then actually finishing development after millions had already bought and beaten it. While it’s true that these games are essentially fixed now and perfectly enjoyable, that wasn’t true at launch, or for almost a year after. The combined patch files had a megabyte count that rivaled the weight of the original games. This is also (frighteningly) the WHOLE POINT of Steam Early Access, which I really wish wasn’t a thing to begin with for these same reasons.
DLC, by the same token, has essentially become microtransactions, and many triple A games can essentially charge double the game’s price in DLC alone when much of that content amounts to cosmetics and maybe a new weapon here or there (Borderlands 2 is a prime example of this). DLC at its best serves as a full expansion that legitimately improve the base game in hugely quantifiable ways, and then, at the opposite end of the scale, DLC does more or less the opposite, making you question why it even has a price tag.
Adding pre-orders and “Season Passes” (i.e; pre-orders for DLC) on makes it even more insulting to the consumer, essentially asking us to buy content that hasn’t even been released yet and may or may not even be ANNOUNCED YET, which is actually a pretty sizable gamble for most gamers who don’t have Donald Trump’s budget.
I miss proper expansions that effectively doubled the in game content, like Blizzard’s “Warcraft III: Frozen Throne” or “StarCraft: Brood War”. Elder Scrolls Online has stuck to the old MMO mainstays of periodical expansions, and while the reviews for these expansions haven’t been exactly glowing so far, it’s not for lack of trying on ZeniMax’s part; it just kind of feels like they haven’t quite cracked the right balance yet, but I’m confident they will, given time.
For all our gripes about Destiny, at least it never pretends that the Eververse Trading Company is anything but what it is: spend real money, get dances. It’s completely honest, completely optional, and has made Bungievision a fair chunk of dough they probably wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. It doesn’t masquerade as DLC, or an expansion, or indeed as anything meaningful or useful. Quite simply, this honest approach to microtransactions has helped many players accept it. Destiny also deserves credit for having a notably horrid expansion in The Dark Below (as mentioned in the linked video). Most of that was that it just didn’t offer enough content to justify that mondo $20 asking price, but like Horse Armor was for Oblivion, TDB served as a lesser herald of greater successors, and House of Wolves and The Taken King have made huge steps to improve on the failures of TDB and substantially remake Destiny into the game we’d been promised in the beginning. Elder Scrolls Online also deserves special mention here: the Crown Store is essentially the same thing, though it also features an in-game portal for quick purchase of expansion packs.
All of this is yet another list of reasons why I love CD Projekt Red and The Witcher III — it is a shining example of how amazing games can be even when they defy many of the conventions of patch culture that big publishers try to convince us are necessary for a quality gaming experience today. While the Witcher III has seen its share of patches and DLC, the patches tweak and enhance the product (rather than “fix” issues because the vast majority of those got nabbed during beta testing), the DLCs are by and large free, they add to the experience in very noticeable and positive ways, and the two major expansions basically add a whole second game to the one you were already playing. It’s patches and DLCs and expansion packs finally done correctly once again, in the gaming ways of old.
So if the industry can’t get rid of patch culture, they should at least strive to emulate CD Projekt Red in all things.
And, on another seperate but wholly related note: cut the bullshitting, game industry. You can call a pig a horse all you want, but we still have eyes and can see when you’re lying. So stop lying; you only alienate customers and make yourself look bad in doing so, and if you’re very, VERY lucky, you’ll look stupid sooner rather than later. Just be honest. Tell people what you’re really doing and why. We won’t hate you for being honest. Nobody will go “OH MY GOD THIS IS HORRIBLE I WISH THEY’D SPUN AN INCREDIBLY ELABORATE LIE ABOUT THIS INSTEAD BECAUSE THE TRUTH BURNS SO BAD”.
Be like Bungie or ZeniMax if you MUST include these sorts of elements (I stress again that it would be better if you didn’t, but you’re probably not going to change just because I said so). Just be honest about the trivial DLCs and microtransactions. You’ll get more dollars by being honest. “We have a store where you can spend real money on some freaky-deeky awesome dances and costumes” is far better for winning our approval (and therefore money) than vaguely and dodgingly worded promises that “We have a store in which you can spend real money for additional content that will continually redefine your in-game experience”.
The first is honesty. The second is patently bullshit, and you should not do that.
And don’t even get started on pay-to-win. I promise to disown any studio that engages in that crap.
So here’s the TL;DR:
1) Finish your game before release. Delay if necessary. We’d rather our game be late and complete than on time and full of holes. Trust me, we will be understanding about this.
2) Use online updates sparingly and only if absolutely necessary. Nobody likes trying to boot up our game only to be greeted with a mandatory update page. Addendum: GET YOUR PATCH SIZES UNDER CONTROL GUYS. Download caps are still a thing for a hefty chunk of us and we’d prefer we not hit that after one or two mandatory updates, kthxbai.
3) Make your DLC and expansions mean something, or don’t charge for it at all.
4) Put WAY LESS EMPHASIS on preorders and season passes. Of course, you wouldn’t have to if you just followed tip number one to begin with. Preordering anything is a huge risk for a gamer, and we often wind up getting burned by unfinished or buggy products for our trouble.
5) Do not, under any circumstances, do any of the following: lie, swindle, con, “improve the truth”, spin, mislead, use vagueries in marketing materials, or otherwise try to pull the wool over the eyes of gamers. There are far more of us than there are of you and we WILL GODDAMN NOTICE.
6) Be honest about what you do and why you do it. We’re an understanding bunch and we get that you’re out to make money. As long as you’re being honest, and not a snake-oil-salesman (as covered in the previous bullet point), we’ll probably still happily buy your silly dances and extra costumes for fifty to ninety nine cents each.
7) Respect your customers. This is what you wind up doing when you follow the previous six bullets. And when customers feel respected, they will be more inclined to respect you. With their wallets.
Happy gaming, guys and gals!