Wired published an article by Zak McClendon arguing that Fallout 4’s expansive list of bugs were actually features. While I can respect Zak’s perspective and industry experience, I think the argument he makes is as deeply flawed as the development philosophy he defends.
First of all, there’s a glaring omission from the argument. These games aren’t janky beyond repair, they’re just a mess at launch. Within six months to a year, every single instance of a “goofy” Bethesda world has received enough polish to provide what is obviously the intended experience.
Quality assurance has nothing to do with “focusing on the right things.” It’s a separate process that Bethesda deliberately trims to get the product out with a bare minimum level of functionality. No doubt that it’s effective in widening already obscene profit margins, but it’s no more indicative of a player-focused design than Call of Duty commercials are constructive information for consumers.
No one is arguing that the game should be “polished in the same way that other games are.” They’re arguing for time and money to be spent on making the experience good on day one, as opposed to when sales finally start dropping off and people are willing to pony up full retail price to get the game they were promised in the beginning.
Bethesda’s approach to growth and development probably is an asset, but it doesn’t justify ignoring its glaring issues, especially when those same issues have been present from the very beginning. If the engine is buckling under the stress, license one that won’t. If you are determined to work with your own, make sure that it holds up through basic player experience. This isn’t magic, this is due diligence.
The real kicker is that modders repair most of these issues for free, on their own, within days — sometimes mere hours — of identifying a problem. You know who else could do that? Bethesda, alongside a dedicated team of QA testers. Not a single one of the biggest issues in Fallout 4 is difficult to reproduce. For the most part, they’re difficult not to reproduce. A release this undercooked isn’t the merry foibles of a quirky team of artistic geniuses, it’s cost-cutting by a company that knows how much their fans will excuse.
It’s especially sad when compared to the merciless crucifixion of Fallout: New Vegas, which was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, not Bethesda. That title launched with less of a budget, on an old and still-broken engine, and still remains for many the truest modern interpretation of the Fallout franchise. It was by far the most interesting Fallout has been since its inception for me, but without Bethesda’s die-hard loyalists defending it, the game was thrown under the bus for the same qualities defended in other incarnations.
The bottom line is that consumers aren’t unreasonable for expecting a product as advertised, nor is it impossible to achieve this. It is, in fact, reliably achieved within a year of each release. By excusing a company that can gross nearly a billion dollars in 24 hours on faith alone, what we’re really doing is proving to them that we don’t deserve enough respect to warrant spending a little bit of extra time.
Nate Church is @Get2Church on Twitter, and he can’t become a wildly overhyped internet celebrity without your help. Follow, retweet, and favorite everything he says. It’s the Right Thing To Do™!