Ok I’m jumping on the bandwagon here, but I really am starting to think that quality control and testing is going down the pan for AAA game titles.
For those who aren’t sure what a “AAA Game Title” is, it’s a video game produced by a major developer that has a massive budget and is expected to sell millions of copies and earn billions of pounds in sales. Basically, if it’s released at £40-50 (roughly $60 US before tax), then it’s a AAA game title.
First, let me give you some examples:
1) Rotating heads in Fallout New Vegas
2) “Dancing” corpses in Bioshock
3) Floating characters in Fable 3
Those are just a few examples of a distressingly growing amount of common bugs that have been found by gamers doing what they do best: gaming. I’ll willingly concede that in the last video, the gamer had probably been mashing buttons or something when that bug happened. But that doesn’t make it OK to have really bad testing procedures and quality control. Is it right for your end users to be doing the debugging and testing of your software?
Imagine that we were dealing with a piece of time critical software (the control system on a nuclear submarine, for instance), for a moment. When you boot that software, you want it to do it’s job. It’s a piece of software that makes the difference between life and death for the submarine crew. You can’t have it breaking every 15 minutes, or having strange errors or bugs whenever someone presses ANYTHING.
So, in that example, the thing that would break would be the submarine and the cost could be human lives. I know that doesn’t equate well to video games (“How dare you compare a video game to the potential loss of human life!” You might cry), but hear me out.
When you start playing a video game, you escape into another world. You live another persons life. You have their dreams, aspirations, goals. It’s similar to watching a film, you get behind the protagonist and begin to root for them. When things don’t go the way they planned, you sympathise with them. You cry out for them when they need help. At the end of it, you both grow and become better people. You have shared some experience.
A video game is exactly the same, except its an interactive medium, rather than passive. You’re taking part, rather than just witnessing the action. You are supplying the dialogue and actions for the protagonist, and the world is supplying the dialogue and actions for the rest of the cast.
But when the software breaks, so does your connection to the world and characters in it. Not to mention the link between you and the main character. This is why people will hate specific games.
“How was the game?”
Might be one review by a user. They wont say why, because they might not have realised that they failed to connect with the characters because of a software bug. This isn’t always the case, though. Most of the time, however, it is.
Why do people play games for hours and hours? Because the connection they have with the characters is that strong, they feel the need to help the character complete their quest or story before they can move on. The same thing happens with TV Shows, Films and even Literature.
The biggest game breaker for me, for instance, is crappy voice acting. It’s taken me upwards of a year and a half to complete Resident Evil 5 because of the terrible voice acting on the part of Sheva. Drifting between accents, in between words in places, is not how you represent a character who has studied and worked in many different countries throughout their life. Anyway, that’s another story for another post.
I, myself, have been late for appointments simply because I couldn’t put a particularly good book down. Hell, I was even late for work once, because I was reading on the bus and made 2 full circuits. Does this mean that I’m addicted to literature? Possibly. Is that a bad thing? Probably not. Does this mean that I need therapy? No! The only bad side to reading as much as I do, is that I wear glasses. That’s it.
Anyway, back on track. When a game breaking bug happens, not only do you lose the connection to the story, you also feel cheated. As both a gamer and a player, I know what it is like on both sides. Pressure for release schedules cause you to skip the detailed testing of a specific module (or block of code), which means that it goes untested at the next stage in development.
It would be wrong of me to say that I know exactly how it feels to have, say, Molyneux breathing down your neck about project deliverables and time lines, because I have never worked at Lionhead Studios. But I do know what it is like to have massive projects and very little time to get them done, in.
All I am saying, as a fellow developer (and I mean developer as in C, C++, Assembly Language not as in Photoshop Monkey) is please take a little more time to test your code and maybe have someone who can run tests on it under unusual circumstances. Yes, you still get your money on release day for shoddily hacked together code, but you’ll have more customers in the long run (which means more money in the long run) for thoroughly tested software. And happy customers are always better and more well received than upset customers.