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.
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I make it a point to check All three every week for new releases. Realease info is so bad That there's usually no telling what's out.
i'm sorry, what was the update that required reposting this editorial?
speaking of better communication...
I agree, some companies just plain on handle releases poorly. My favorite example is Dragon Age 2, those on the East coast who purchased it had to wait until midnight on the west coast before they could actually play it. That being my last example because after that I refused to ever attempt to play a game at its launch. I still pre order, but I merely do that for the bonus items and just download the game later in the day or week.
agreed! some of my most-anticipated games are downloadable, and even with google alerts for them, i can rarely find out when they will be released.
the good news is that it seems to be improving a bit. lets take far cry 3 blood dragon. we have known for just about a month that it would be arriving this week, so that was better than usual.
hopefully with the new consoles this will lessen. i believe i recall from the ps4 announcement that more of the responsibility of getting the games out there will be up to the developers, and less with sony. i love my ps3, but i would also love if sony supported their independent game devs a bit better in this respect.
Of course downloadable games are going to become more important, and as they do, maybe these companies will have more time and financial effort to pay for the cost of marketing - assuming their product is marketable. Until then, what's wrong with going with the flow? AAA games have set launch dates, later extended dates, made excuses, become letdowns, worked harder to fix things, IMPROVED content by extending deadlines, - the list goes on and it's all part of the process. This industry is constantly changing.
We as gamers don't need to be babied and spoon-fed, told that "this game/DLC is better because we market it more". Part of the fun is stumbling upon the treasures, much like we do in-game. We don't need strategy guides.
It's not really as black and white as you're making it seem, Joe. There's a reason these games don't get lots of advertising.
I will agree that we should always get release dates a couple weeks in advance, though.
Great article, Joe, I agree completely.
People hate when release dates change, too.
I hope this article gets emailed/mailed to Sony, Nintendo, & Microsoft! This is good info they should be aware of that needs to happen!
Well said Joe. I like some downloadable games, and after playing Journey, I can safely say that even console games could learn from it. Better release date foreknowledge would help.
They do have alot of under rated games on the market place i was recently playing I am Alive which, I remeber seeing an article about around the same time as dead space 1's previews. As an acrade game it definetly has enough content for whats it worth which a good story and everything you want out of a survival game.
Yes, they do.
This is an excellent article that brings up some great points. Thank you for writing it. Some of this I wasn't even aware of, so it's nice to be informed.
Great work Mr. Juba!
can't agree more joe , i honestly almost never know half of the downloadables exist till after they're out andd reviewed or even when i randomly see them in my ps+ or something