The Monday ‘Joe: The Early Bird Gets the Worm or the Burn

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

An article on Bitmob detailed some specific reasons for not adopting new games on the day of release. The article focuses mostly on the online multiplayer component of games and the performance issues that accompany them straight out of the gate, but encountering problems is also true for the early adoption of other products (e.g. operating systems, game consoles, etc). Early adoption problems are well-known throughout the tech industry, so in light of that, here’s this week’s question:

What is your stance on early adoption? Would anything compel you to purchase a game on the day of release, and if so, why?

Crystal Steltenpohl: I think early adoption is fine. If you really want a game, why not get it on the day of release? I don’t really get why someone would be against it, to be honest. However, I do recognize that there are issues with early adoption.

I don’t think that server issues are as big of a deal as the author of the Bitmob article makes them out to be. He uses Modern Warfare 3 and Twisted Metal as examples of franchises that are still having server issues and, in the case of shooters, terrible spawning logic. So the issue isn’t really that they suck on the day of release but rather that they suck as a whole, so then the suggestion becomes not to buy the games on Day One. Honestly, I’d buy used if that were the case. If the company making the game doesn’t support the players it’s supposedly serving, then they don’t deserve my buying a new copy no matter when it is.

The bigger issue, to me, is Day One patches. Developers are pushed to work through everything on a very tight schedule which often doesn’t allow for the adequate patching of problems, so sometimes (increasingly, it seems), they just push through a problem and opt to make a patch. This is fine if it happens occasionally, as a game like Skyrim could have so much content that it’d be near-impossible to release a flawless game where absolutely no one is going to have issues. However, it’s really irritating if you’re buying a game you really want to play—presumably, that’d be why you want to buy it on the day of release—only to find out that you have to wait thirty minutes or an hour in order to play because you have to install the patch first.

The best solution to this is to have more beta testing. Companies need to ease up on developers and allow ample time for testing to ensure that a wider variety of people play the game and express concerns with it. Developers then need to actually take those suggestions and implement them. I know quite a few people who beta test a lot of games, and the general feeling is that they’ll play a game, mention something that a lot of people are going to complain about upon release, and then it gets ignored despite the fact they know other beta testers mentioned it as well. So, test more and implement more. But developers need the ability to do that, which isn’t always an option if companies are breathing down their necks.

Other people complain about DLC on the first day (hello, Mass Effect 3), but I don’t really feel like that’s an issue. You’re not forced to buy DLC, so I don’t understand why you’d complain about it. I know some people feel like they’re buying an incomplete game, but I don’t see it that way. If you had to pay $15 to play just the final mission, then yes, I’d bitch and moan with everyone else. But generally, DLC consists of extra costumes, weapons, missions, and maps, and that just isn’t a big deal. Here’s a solution: buy it if you want it; don’t if you don’t.

There’s nothing wrong with early adoption. If I wanted a game badly enough and had the money, I’d do it, too. Though now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever had both of those circumstances line up.

Nathan Wood: I’ve only purchased one game on the day of its release, Grand Theft Auto IV, and that was mainly because everybody and their mothers were at a store ready to pick it up at midnight, and I had decided to tag along with my rag-tag group of friends to join in on the festives. I don’t see myself doing that again. This isn’t because it wasn’t fun or I didn’t have a good time, but I didn’t exactly see the point of it all. I come home with the game at about 1:00AM if I’m lucky, and what do I do first? I go to sleep. I have to get up early in the morning and go to school; I can’t afford to be gaming all night long, as much as my sleep-deprived mind argues otherwise.

This is before I add that, more and more with every new release, we see that games simply aren’t ready at launch. Rewind a few years ago, and games had to be shipped ready because anything that slipped through the cracks was pretty much doomed to stay in the product for its entire life span. Thankfully, with the development of technology this generation, bugs that sneak through can be taken care of due to patches—but is this forgivable? A few people I know hate that others continue to flock and pay for products that aren’t finished, rewarding developers for being lazy. Personally, I see their point, but I’m not as strongly against it as they are. I simply wait a few weeks for the problems to be resolved, and by then, a price drop is likely to happen in a store somewhere anyway.

This is an industry that depends highly on first week sales with so many big releases rolling out almost all year long. If a title doesn’t sell big in the first week, it’s unlikely it will ever recover with a new hyped up title arriving the very next week. As an industry, we have a small attention span that causes us to move quickly from title to title. The only thing you miss out on is all the chatter between friends: “Oh my goodness! How amazing was it when such-and-such thing happened?” This is something I can live without easily if I’m going to grab a more functional and enjoyable product once I have the spare time to use it.

Mohammed Al Saadoon: For most games, I don’t bother with the first day release. I give them about two or three weeks until I can get a good sense of the games’ critical and fan reception. It’s not because first-day patches and DLC ruin these things for me. It’s just a matter of not having enough money to spend on games.

Q1 of any year is supposed to be quiet, right? After the holiday rush?

Then why have Street Fighter X Tekken, Mass Effect 3, Crusader Kings II, Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, Wargame: European Escalation, and The Darkness II all come out at this time? I don’t have the money or the time to pick all these titles brand new, so I have to prioritize.

What’s the main element I look for when prioritizing? Pre-order bonuses.

As a an early adopter, I’m going to buy the product at its most expensive yet get the worst experience possible of any consumer of the game. So I’ll pay for a product I want, but the deal has to be sweetened no matter how small the amount. In this era of Day One DLC, the devs can easily cook up an extra weapon or cosmetic item to entice pre-orders. Hell, I pre-ordered Jagged Alliance because it gave me free hats in Team Fortress 2. No, I’m not ashamed of admitting that because I am a member of the hat-wearing master race.

Aileen Coe: I’m generally not big on early adoption, especially for hardware. I usually wait until the kinks are ironed out and an inevitable new iteration appears, at which point the previous version gets a price drop. In addition, I also wait until there’s at least a few games I’d want to play on it. The early price drop on the 3DS comes to mind, though to be fair, Nintendo did give early adopters something as a way to not make them feel completely ripped off.

As far as games go, the only time I would preorder or snatch up a game soon after release is if there’s an enticing preorder bonus or if the game would otherwise be hard to find (e.g. Atlus games, though it’s not as bad now since they’re better with reprints). Otherwise, I’ll wait for bugs to be patched and a price drop to come about. While I can see how midnight release parties could be appealing, I’ve never been to one and likely never will. It’s not like it would make a huge difference on whether I get it that night or next week, and I have more than enough games I can play in the meantime.

Brandon Mietzner: This topic isn’t so black-and-white for me. I take into account many things when doing a pre-order or early adoption, and these factors change dramatically between software, hardware, and games. The main things I look at are the technical specs, support for third-party programs (if applicable), requirements needed to run, what requirements the company expects of me (e.g. being online to use it), amount of times I’m allowed activate it, and if the brand or name is well-known. Regarding the last part, if I don’t know the brand or name, I’ll look them up thoroughly before I buy their product. This is by no means the end of the list, but it’s where I start. The needs of my curiosity to make an informed decision changes on a case-by-case basis, and to go through it all would be the length of a small book.

I often don’t purchase first-generation hardware, such as consoles or handhelds, because usually there are several problems that slip by QA during development—with a short-term solution typically—so I just put it away and forget about it. Then I go back to it and think how it doesn’t interest me anymore, and I realize I’ve just wasted money on something that I couldn’t use for long. To avoid this, I now wait for the first gen to pass me by in general, especially handhelds.

As far as games go, I look at the the ones who are developing it. Then, depending on the company’s track record, I’ll pre-order their game. In recent memory, Rage was a pre-order purchase that I regretted, but Skyrim was well worth the money. With games, you can get burned even if the dev team is popular or has done other games you like. Because you usually can’t try a game before you buy it (e.g. a demo), it’s a gamble on any platform but especially on the PC. This is why many people pirate a game: to try before they buy because there’s no renting option on the PC.

The other pieces of tech, like tablets, smartphones, and other unique mobile hardware, are things I’ll never pre-order or buy on Day One unless I’ve read a review from a very trusted source. These devices almost always carry a high price and long-term commitments (e.g. smartphones), and sometimes there are hidden costs that don’t come out until months or even years have passed. Now, if a mobile device were available only on, say, a network service I don’t trust, I would never buy it, ever.

I take everything on a case-by-case basis no matter what it is, so things change when I do my homework on the product in question. Life isn’t black and white in general, and neither are the things I buy that are taken on faith. There are times when I get burned like the next person, but this doesn’t happen often now that I do some research before I make the purchase.

Christopher Bowen: Working in IT as long as I have, I learned a lesson quickly: never adopt early. When you have early anything, be it hardware or software, you’re basically paying for the right to be a guinea pig. IT is always on the second or third iteration of whatever, where things start to fall into place. This was the case with early editions of Windows, and it’s still the case nowadays whether it’s something from Microsoft, Sony, or Apple. Apple in particular is notorious for releasing buggy hardware, and if I had a dime for every time I’ve either heard or said, “Wait until the first service pack” in relation to Windows, I wouldn’t have to do this bullshit anymore.

In the old days of video games, where we bought cartridges that were pressed and released with no hope or want of “updating” them, early adoption was something that was a worthwhile gesture. People who lined up when I was a kid to purchase Mortal Kombat II or Killer Instinct were rewarded with a solid game. But in 2012, technology has been a gift and a curse. The games are much more intricate than they were back then, but that requires a lot more lines of code than we had in the 1990s and even 2000s. The good news about this is that we can patch games to improve them, but the bad news is that companies know they can release now and patch later. With games being the big business that they are, and public ownership a lot more common among AAA publishers, the days of “get it right” are about over. In 1992, Nintendo could delay a game until Miyamoto felt it was good enough. It was frustrating to gamers at the time, but the end result was well worth it. In 2012, if Miyamoto decides to delay a game to “get it right,” Michael Pachter has a coronary, shareholders revolt, Twitter explodes, and share prices drop. Gamers eventually appreciate the end result and are happy that there are no game-breaking bugs that can render their experience worthless (how many games have had Skyrim-like game-killing bugs?), but ultimately, the happiness of gamers is irrelevant unless it affects the happiness of shareholders. Nintendo is the exception: every other AAA or even AA publisher would rather fix issues as they come up than delay a game to get it right, with the double benefit that they can skimp on QA costs. Why pay people to debug when you can use the people who pay you to do it instead?

If you really care about a product, by all means, go to a midnight launch and stand in line with other people who are like-minded to get your game or even your system. I haven’t done it, and nor would I, but I hear they can be quite fun if you go to the right place. Just know what you’re getting into. I personally care about the quality of what my $60 buys, so I’d rather they get it right before I spend the money.

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About M. Ngai