The lights are on
With the impending announcement of next-generation hardware, the major console manufacturers have undoubtedly spent a lot of time analyzing their approach to the current systems, taking stock of what worked and what needs to improve. Flashy new features are inevitable, but companies also need to focus on not making the same mistakes. I hope the incompetent handling of downloadable games is at the top of everybody’s “don’t make these mistakes again” list.
It’s easy to point to successful titles on services like Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and WiiWare and say that the systems work. After all, they brought games like Journey, Castle Crashers, Braid, and Cave Story into our living rooms. But for every title on these services that gets a solid release date in advance (and the marketing to raise awareness), dozens are handled with a baffling lack of care and planning.
Look at The Cave, for example. Sega revealed it was publishing the adventure game from Ron Gilbert and Double Fine last May, and it had a solid E3 showing…but interested gamers didn’t have any solid release information to hang their hopes on. Even with trailers and information trickling out, having a definitive date to look forward to is invaluable. It lets gamers plan ahead in terms of budgeting time and money, and it lets publishers ramp up excitement gradually in the weeks prior to release. That didn’t get a chance to happen with The Cave; fans only got one week’s notice.
I won’t pretend to know any specifics with regards to The Cave’s release, but I’ve seen similar things happen to other titles. Can you imagine why a developer would want one measly week to promote and generate excitement for its game’s imminent release? Probably not. In the downloadable game space, that’s not a choice you would make for yourself; it’s a choice that’s made for you.
While the publishers are supposedly responsible for getting games into people’s hands, most of the blame lies squarely with Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. They are the gatekeepers of their own services, and they decide which games are available and when. I once played a complete game five months before it finally went on sale. When I played it, the developer was planning to see release in a few weeks, so something must have gone wrong on the other side of the equation. If developers don't even know when their games are coming out, how are gamers supposed to find out?
Here's a fun game to help illustrate my point: Do a quick search online and try to find what games are coming out on Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network for the month. Good luck! According to Major Nelson right now, the only upcoming Xbox Live Arcade game is called Special Forces: Seal Team X – which allegedly comes out tomorrow, despite the fact that I can’t seem to find any corroborating proof that it exists. How is a studio supposed to build up any hype prior to release if gamers can’t even find out what’s coming out in the next four weeks?
These fluid (or non-existent) release dates are an inexcusable problem. They may not be as profitable as triple-A releases, but downloadable games don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens. For the next generation, all console manufacturers need to get this area under control. Downloadable games are only going to become more important, but the current lack of planning and communication surrounding them is essentially setting them up to fail. It does a shameful disservice to the developers who work so hard on these games, and to the gamers who might otherwise have enjoyed them.
This story was originally published on February 5, 2013.
Email the author Joe Juba, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.
Aye, Mr. Juba. This type of stuff is why I prefer seeing indie devs use Steam, Desura, and GOG.com. At least that way, they know they'll get on the front page there for being a new release and get some press at least from the services themselves.
I wish more games got the Journey treatment. Some of my favorite games of all time, like my 2012 GOTY Tiny & Big: Grandpa's Leftovers barely get noticed because they're "downloadable", let alone what happens when a publisher gets involved.
this needed to be said. some of the best games of the last couple years have been downloadable, and they all deserve to be well represented. i hope it happens.
i can't agree more joe , theres been too many times when i had no idea certain games existed at all till i randomly stumbled on them accidently.
It's especially problematic when that kind of handling drips into every aspect of a downloadable title's lifespan (updates, DLC, future sale discounts, etc). Having played Skullgirls, it's excruciating to hear that the folks with the XBL version of the game are STILL without the the infamous patch that PSN players received NOVEMBER OF LAST YEAR.
Not that the developers had anything to do with the delay. Heck, they completed the patch months before that even!
It's a slippery slope when you can't even release new content for fans because neither platform can get it until Xbox gets it "first". Which of course can't happen until that particular patch that happens to enable the DLC comes out on that particular platform!
agree, and all-agree!
My biggest of problems with Xbox, hands down.
For great justice!
Agreed. The only Live Arcade games I heard of in advance were The Walking Dead and Limbo. All of the others I downloaded AFTER they were reviewed the day they released.
Well put, Joe. Well put.
For starters, gamers that do not have their consoles connected to the internet would also like to play them, only we cannot. Examples: Bastion, Shadow Complex, Mass Effect 2&3 DLC, etc. These are problems that also need to be resolved.
A very nice feature, Joe!
I completely agree! Nintendo does a ok job with their "upcoming games" tab in the e-shop, but they only give you a maximum of three weaks warning before a game comes out, well they have a schedule on their website too that gives a schedule for I think two or three weeks
Agreed. It seems to have gotten worse in the past year or so. I used to know what xbla games were coming all the time and now every week is surprise.
Here, here, Joe Juba! This is a HUGE part of the problem with regards to digital games. Of course, it's supposed to be the place you can succeed WITHOUT tons of marketing; the fact that the best selling games are the heavily marketed ones on THIS platform too is going to start hurting digital and hurting it bad. First parties should allow indie devs some way to promote their games better on these platforms - maybe let them do some "Humble Bundles", without having to clear it with the powers that be at Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Something needs to be done.
Marketing in general could be stronger from a lot of publishers. The only ones who do it consistently well are Activision, EA and Ubi Soft - which is beyond depressing. Right now, some AMAZING games are coming out. Already more variety than the shooter-heavy 2012; stuff like DmC, Ninokuni, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Fire Emblem Awakened... and TONS more are coming up before March ends (stuff like Etrian Odyssey IV and Metal Gear Rising). Where are the commercials for these games? LET PEOPLE KNOW AWESOME STUFF IS OUT!
Is it any wonder why politicians keep trying to blame video games for turning messed up kids into killers when, seriously, the only games that are advertised ARE SHOOTERS!? Advertising/Marketing... This is an industry-wise problem; retail and digital.