Editor’s Note: Neal Sayatovich is guest hosting this week for Michelle. So, expect some classic Skirmisher-like ranting as Neal goes all-in on a topic he considers to be a critical one for the game industry.
Hello readers, it has been a while since I’ve written a column. But this week I am taking over for my wife, Michelle, and penning the Fresh Look column. Am I going to talk about how great video games are, or write about some amazing new gameplay that will enhance our ability to play for years to come?
I’m here to be a grump about the apparent lack of quality assurance (QA) major video games have been suffering from. My upcoming second look review of Pokémon Violet and Vincent Mahoney’s excellent review of the buggy Pokémon Scarlet and Violent both highlight some of the major offenders where bugs and flaws are ruining otherwise really great titles. These include flickering dark/light textures, multiple game crashes, and cratering frame rates.
In the latest Pokémon title, even the music was bugged for many players. I’m not going to be spending too much time beating up Pokémon here, but I do find this a concerning trend.
Another example is from when I was reviewing the single player campaign for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. I experienced numerous crashes on the PlayStation 4 platform. Normally after I died there would be a second of hesitation, and then the game would error out. One crash was so bad that it corrupted my entire save file. Every time I tried to reload that mission, the game would immediately crash. I ended up having to reinstall the game to fix the issues. This is the first time I have had an Activision title that was so unstable. Crashes like that should never happen, especially on a console platform which is universal.
But even ports and remasters are not safe, apparently. I started playing The Last Remnant Remastered on PlayStation 4 and despite being a fourteen year old game, it had numerous crashes. I am old enough to remember the days of flicking an N64 power switch until a game registered or holding your breath when starting a PlayStation until you heard the second sound. It got me thinking about what has changed now that it feels like so many games are having glaring technical issues once again.
I’d be interested to find out the size of QA departments of major developers or publishers over the years. As much as I hate to bring up Pokémon again, I feel that games like Pokémon and Cyberpunk 2077 should have had enough rampant issues that someone would have put their foot down and said, “This game should not be released in its current state.” It also makes me wonder if it was a clash between the art side and the business side. Nintendo is notorious for never pushing back release dates on games, likely due to the fact that other products (such as anime and toys) require a launched game. Cyberpunk was a different story altogether as it was delayed numerous times, and they did not want to have a Duke Nukem fiasco.
I would argue that increasing the numbers or power of a QA department would be beneficial. While the company doesn’t gain money from an unreleased title, releasing an extremely broken game could cost even more in lost sales. While there is the old adage that “any publicity is good publicity,” I would have to disagree here. Sometimes bad publicity is bad publicity. And I know I highlighted like four games in this piece, but I am not compiling a hall of shame at this moment. Vince told me that his Sonic Frontiers experience involved graphics popping in and out while playing, so it’s more than a handful of titles.
That is not to say that a bolstered QA team would solve everything, but I would argue the extra money spent on people to make sure the game is functional would be beneficial. Cyberpunk 2077 eventually became the game everyone thought it could be, but only after spending months getting raked across the coals. Bayonetta 3 took a bunch of heat for severe performance issues. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is on track to be one of the lowest scoring Pokémon titles in series history.
Finally, maybe it is partially on us as gamers that we demand too much. In our quest to demand “realism,” we are causing game developers to hire a battalion of designers and crunch them through months of hell so we can get the game we want to play. Even still, after all of that, the general public could just shrug and not be interested. Alienware made a list of the largest games in each generation, and the results are stunning. The largest on PlayStation 2 was as high as 2G (Gran Turismo 4) while the largest on PlayStation 4 at the time of the article was Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 with all updates and DLC at 60 GB. My downloaded copy of Modern Warfare 2 with all of the bells and whistles was 115 GB on PlayStation 4. That is about 57 times larger than games two generations ago.
While there is no clear-cut answer on how to solve this issue (that I could think of), I do think it is safe to say that broken games are likely here to stay. Hopefully, there can be some breakthroughs that are good for the industry and consumers both. Now, I’m going to go back and play my broken Pokémon game and grump about it.