The lights are on
Aliens: Colonial Marines will likely be remembered as one of
the biggest disappointments of this generation of gaming. Sega and developer
Gearbox have rightly been vilified for the game's poor quality and their
failure to deliver on the promises they made to fans. However, the class action
lawsuit that has been filed against the companies is misguided and deserves to
Yesterday, the website Polygon reported that a California
class action lawsuit had been filed against Sega and Gearbox Software. It
alleges that the companies engaged in false advertising and that demos that
were shown of the game at various events were not representative of the
finished product (you can read more details on the suit here).
All of this is, to a degree, true. The finished product that
Sega and Gearbox delivered was shoddy, and was reviewed poorly by nearly every
major video game publication and website, including Game Informer. Its PlayStation
3 Metacritic rating currently stands at a paltry 43. However, this suit is
reckless and misguided. If successful, it could threaten the game industry's
Here's the thing: this suit is attempting to seek legal
restitution for a game's perceived lack of quality. The key word in that
sentence is "perceived." Now, in this case, the prevailing opinion is
overwhelming: Aliens: Colonial Marines is a bad game. But on what basis? Whose opinion? What's the legal definition of a "bad game"?
The fact is that there is no reasonable way to quantify the
quality of a game. What's a good game to me might not be a good game to you.
I've been reviewing games at Game Informer for years, but I'm always struck by
the emails and letters I receive about games that I have given very negative
scores. There are games that I literally couldn't have imagined anyone
enjoying, yet I'll receive a passionate email from a fan telling me the ways in
which I failed to review it "correctly."
Every gamer has different metrics for what makes a game
enjoyable. To make matters more complicated, one person's metrics often change
from game to game. One of my colleagues, Joe Juba, recently told me that one of
his favorite games of his generation is Deadly Premonition. But even he admits
that the game is far from polished, and severely lacking in many technical
respects. However, in that case, Joe's love of the game's quirky characters and
odd sensibilities outweigh its faults. It's likely that there are people out
there who enjoyed playing Aliens: Colonial Marines, as poorly done as it is.
For this reason, I expect that this suit will gain little
traction in the court system. If games are truly an art form, then any work of
art is open to the individual's own opinions and values. Aliens: Colonial
Marines fails in many respects, but how can a court determine its quality on
any set criteria? It's impossible.
The suit also charges of false advertising and the claim
that early demos of the game shown were misleading. Frankly, that's true. For a
major press event or convention, developers work hard to show the game in the
best light, usually polishing a certain level or gameplay sequence to
perfection for the purposes of demonstration. By nature, it's an idealized view
of the game. Sometimes, the end product does not match what was suggested by
the demo. Other times, features that were originally in the game design prove
too technically challenging and are cut wholesale. In addition, there's the
question of whether press demos of a game even constitute "advertising" in the
As the press, we try to evaluate the demos that we see and,
hopefully, give consumers an accurate opinion of how good the game may turn out
to be. But it's not an exact science - and it's also not fair to judge a
complex product like a video game before it's done. I've seen it with my own
eyes. Prior to the release of the original Uncharted, Naughty Dog showed a demo
of the game at E3 that was, frankly, a bit of a mess. Many of the reports out
of E3 reflected these concerns. However, Naughty Dog spent those next months
wisely and delivered a very polished and entertaining game. Conversely, I've
seen games that looked amazing two years from release that never came together.
To be truly informed before launch, consumers must read
reviews, which is the only real way of knowing about the end quality of the
finished product without playing it themselves. In the case of Aliens: Colonial
Marines, the critical consensus was clear: the game is terrible. Judging by the
sales numbers, the reviews did their job of informing consumers that this game
wasn't worth buying.
The suit says that, by withholding review copies of games
and embargoing reviews until the day of release, Sega and Gearbox sought to
mislead gamers who preordered the game. Again, in some respects, the litigants
are not wrong. However, as the press, we have no legal right to receive review
code ahead of time. In fact, publishers send out review code to the press as a
courtesy. They could easily require us - and sometimes do in the case of
particular games - to go out and buy retail copies on launch day. This means
that reviews won't hit until as late as a week after launch. It's not a great
situation. But, make no mistake; Sega isn't required to give us copies of their
If successful, this suit opens up game publishers to all
sorts of frivolous and damaging lawsuits. Not every game you buy is going to be
great, but that doesn't give you the right to seek damages. As a consumer, you
should stay vigilant, stay informed, and be skeptical of the claims that
publishers make. If you're concerned that a game might not be as good as
advertised, wait until the reviews go online before you make your purchasing
I suspect that this suit is in part a result of the desire
of gamers for Sega and Gearbox to be punished for their sins against the
Aliens franchise. But don't worry, they have already been punished by the
highest court in video games: the marketplace. I'm sure the millions that Sega
lost on this game will make it a lesson the publisher won't soon forget.
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
They've already got their arses chewed out by essentially everyone in the gaming universe. So why add anymore trouble to this whole mess.
As for false advertising, hundreds of commercials on a daily basis get away with false advertising. Take dieting pills for example, or "free" computer clean ups, credit score reports, trials etc. etc. Trying to pin false advertisement on this is just pointless, seeing as to how its such an abundant thing.
Gotta say I agree with Matt on this one. Nothing good is going to come out of this lawsuit if it does make it to court and if it does pass.
First the FTC complaint about Mass Effect 3, and now this. As the industry grows, I'm afraid gamers are starting to feel more and more entitled. What's next, will someone sue Irrational because Elizabeth can't summon trains in Bioshock: Infinite like they promised?
As I understand it, it wasn't an issue of the base game's quality. But that the publishers, in effect lied to the public by releasing demos and content that purported to show a game that simply didn't exist. In that context I can understand the lawsuit. But I agree, one has to be careful with things like this.
What is one man's junk is another man's treasure. If anyone should go after SEGA, Gearbox, & Timegate, it should be 20th Century Fox for a breech of representation, as Aliens: Colonial Marines is considered canon. All the demos I saw before launch stated "Work in Progress", meaning that what was being shown was not representative of the final product.
Should Gearbox have put more manpower & materials into Aliens: Colonial Marines? Yes, they should of delayed working on Borderlands 2 until they were completely finished with A:CM.
This has very little to do with very little to do with the objective quality of the game-- this has everything to do with misleading. It is very clear that the companies involved were aware that the quality of their game would disappoint, not only in comparison with how they had pre-sold the game and what it would do, but that it was even fairly poor as a game, absent the hype.
The latter point, I would totally concede as being subjective-- sometimes games are just ***.
However, a vivid fiction was created about the experience the game was going to deliver-- between the early trailers (never disavowed) that seemed to indicate a rich Aliens-universe experience, with high quality visuals and treating the IP properly, to the "walthroughs" narrated by creepy Randy Pitchford that were very careful to show only parts of the final game that were seemingly consistent with the fiction created by the trailers.
Combine that with a complete lack of reviewer copies AND the heavy push to pre-sell people based on the fiction, and you have an effort to money-grab as much as possible on something that was a conscientious turd. That is not acting in good faith and there is a night-and-day difference between a game that failed to meet expectations and a game that willfully failed expectations and was set up to capitalize entirely on the gulf between expectations and reality.
All that said, I think class action suits are essentially pointless for the wronged in the case-- the defendant gets to settle and takes a punitive hit, but the class itself gets a pittance of retribution while the attorneys bringing the class wind up the winners.
I played the game and thought it was crap, but my homeboy who brought it thought it was the best thing ever. So i understand that some people like bad games, myself included.
I have a confession, I like Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, it is a bad game, a terrible game, but i like it. Sorry.