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When Microsoft first announced the specs for the original Xbox back in 2000, it was widely known that the software company was building a system out of existing hardware, essentially creating a high-end (for the time, anyway) “Gaming PC for the living room.”

There was much fanfare in the press over this,  but it was bad news to me .

Why? Because at that moment I knew what was coming. Bugs, patches, add-ons, updates, fixes and glitches.

Now those things are fine if your sitting at a desk, but on the couch? … Sacrilege!

Lets be clear, I’m not some ignoramus that doesn’t understand the benefits of all that extra memory: the demos, the videos, the new content (allegedly) and efficiency that a hard disk drive brings, but it comes at a price. So, is the drive half empty – or half full?

Lets explore this further.

At 32 years old I guess I’m considered the old school, as I have vivid memories of owning an Atari 2600, Sega Master System, NES, SNES, PS1,  etc., and the one thing I was certain of every time I brought home a new game on any of those consoles was that the game worked – every time.

Can anyone say that now? Especially after the shoddy work on the release of the Fallout 3 expansions and Demigods bug-riddled opening week, just to name a few?

An error-filled screenshot from Fallout 3: The Pitt

An error-filled screenshot from Fallout 3: The Pitt

It seems like the minute hard drives became the standard developers decided they can release an unfinished game, rake in the cash and promise to fix any problems when they arise. Would you buy a new car if the dealer promised to install the brakes later?

This very issue was addressed earlier this month (as reported on May 15 by the BBC) by European Union commissioners who want to expand the EU Sales and Guarantees Directive, a law that forces firms to offer “a minimum 2-year guarantee on tangible movable consumer goods”. Licensed software, which isn’t considered a “tangible” product, is currently exempt from this legislation.

The mere thought of forcing developers to create a near-perfect product brought swift reaction from the Business Software Alliance (BSA), an entity representing software manufacturers like Apple and Microsoft, and in a written statement to the BBC, the BSA’s director of public policy – Francisco Mingorance, said:

“Digital content is not a tangible good and should not be subject to the same liability rules as toasters. It is contractually licensed to consumers and not sold.”

“These contracts are governed by civil law that provide consumers with [a] multitude of remedies for breach of contract. We are not aware of any shortcomings of the legal frameworks with respect to digital content.”

Well at least the first line  made sense, right?  In all fairness, the argument against the sort of laws the EU is considering are many. There is the possibility of abusing such a law.

For example, what if you took home a copy of Ninja Gaiden and after a month of playing, you still can’t beat the first boss, so instead of admitting you’re a lousy gamer, you return it, claiming the absurd difficulty means the game can’t be beaten, therefore its “broken”.

"Read my lips-no...new...patches!"

"Read my lips. No...new...patches!"

Another issue is how long it takes to develop a game in this current generation of hardware. With many major releases taking years to develop, who’s to say what the technology will be like in 2011?

This point was articulated in the same BBC story, by Dr Richard Wilson, head of the UK and Europe video game developers association, TIGA:

“Games takes years to develop and software teams often have to predict what new technology will be in place when the game is actually finished,” said Dr Wilson.

“If there is an onus on developers to have software that is ‘near perfect’ then it could stifle new ideas as people could end up just playing it safe,” he said.

So I’ll leave you all with this question: has the inclusion of a hard drive made made it easier release a faulty, unfinished game, or do the benefits outweigh the costs?

  1. Hmm, it’s a tough one.
    I suspect 90% of the time it’s the publishers fault for pushing the developers to publish…

    If we could get rid of the publishers and just have the developers dealing directly with the consumers then we may see less buggy games being pushed out.
    But no doubt that would cause a lot of other problems.

  2. avatar Game-Girl

    So true, so true…
    with new technology comes great responsibility- and glitches!
    …Interesting story-

  3. When Oblivion was first released for PC, there was a common theme amongst reviewers: “broken.” Luckily, patches and updates turned it into a masterpiece. But why should we have to wait? If I wanted to be a beta tester, I would sign up. If I pay $60, I expect a finished product. It’s understandable that there will be bugs (especially in a game with the scope of Oblivion), but the game needs to be playable, at least. It can’t go all Terminator Salvation on me and refuse to even start up. That’s bad news for everybody involved.

  4. avatar Sam

    On the bright side, at least well-intentioned developers can now fix bugs post release. It’s not like the previous generation was entirely glitch free.

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