OK, so full disclosure: I haven’t played the Witcher 3. I don’t want to play the Witcher 3. I tried playing the first game in that series, and the combination of a slow story, aggressive interface, and what I can only think of as startlingly boring combat drove me away within hours. Perhaps the second and third games are better, but everybody who recommends them to me has also been a fan of the snooze-fest that was Witcher uno, so I don’t quite trust them enough yet.
But what caught my eye was a bit of news going around – World War Witcher 3 has been given a massive patch to sort out what apparently is a huge amount of bugs, glitches, and general fuck-ups in its code, the kind not seen outside of the genetic structure of the Lannister family.
But that can’t be right. Last time I saw Metacritic, “Glitcher 3” (snarf, snarf) was getting nines and tens across the board, people were getting in line just to kiss its feet like it was some disinterested saint. Surely a game as hostile to being played as this one can’t be doing so well?
Alright, let’s consider a game I DO know, and can refer to with confidence: Batman: Arkham Origins. I bought that game on release, I loved its predecessors, I was really excited to start punching badly-dressed villains again. I dragged it into Steam like a fisherman dragging some humongous trout onto the riverbank, only to cut it open and realise that this trout had quite a few parasites going.
Let’s be frank, the game was absolutely toxic. It faulted and crashed with clockwork regularity, the frame rate dropped like a cartoon anvil, one bug stopped me completing a side mission altogether, and of course there were clipping issues and all of the other things you can expect from a game that has hasn’t so much been crafted, as it has been coughed up.
In actual fact, that game itself was alright. Not amazing, just vaguely OK. But I don’t remember thinking that at the time. I only remember shouting with rage at a game that had just conned me out of forty pounds. Another reason never to pre-order anything ever, I thought, and don’t think I’m not going to write an article on pre-orders at some point too.
The terrible glitches weren’t even at their worst for me. A friend of mine got three-quarters of the way through the game, at which point it had some sort of panicky stroke and corrupted all his save data, forcing him to begin anew. Then it set his Xbox on fire and attacked his granny with a knife, just to hammer the point home.
But it didn’t hammer the point home. Nobody remembers the glitches anymore, not really. Nobody brings them up when you talk about Arkham Origins, not unless you remind them. But this seems bizarre to me – how on earth did they truly get away with this? Sending out something of this meagre quality, not to mention a title from such a prestigious series as the Arkham games, it’s inexcusable. It should have clung to their reputation like a permanent bloody stain, not a slight bit of dust for them to brush off at their convenience. It took about a month for Origins to finally get patched to the quality where it could be played, and quite a lot longer after that for it to be properly clean.
And Witcher 3 is apparently just as bad. The site I saw the news of the patch on was followed by a comment section longer than À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, all of which was messages from players, rightly complaining about the problems they’d been having, some of which sounded pretty game-breaking.
But something tells me that in the long term, nobody will remember these glitches. The Witcher 3 will just deal with them when it feels like it, and the gaming public will just smile and thank CD Projekt Red for being so nice as to sort out its broken title that we paid money for. How generous of them, how thoughtful, when what actually should be happening is that they should get on their hands and knees and apologise, hoping and praying that the public is generous enough to buy whatever DLC and later titles they make.
The surreal thing is that this attitude is limited to games. Imagine if a film was released where the scenes were in the wrong order, or a book was sold that had a dozen pages where the ink had run and made it illegible. Neither would sell a single copy, the people responsible would be fired in a heartbeat. At the very least there would have to be some sort of show of apology. Because that ISN’T acceptable, not at that level. Releasing a broken or ineffectual product is a cheat, it’s a lie. It shouldn’t happen and there is no excuse, bar corporate sabotage by a rival company. They’re not doing you a favour by patching it, they’re trying to pull their career and reputation out of a nose dive.
At least, that would be the case in other media. But there’s something unhealthily submissive about gaming culture. We sit plaintively, hoping for any scraps that the big businesses might throw us, forgetting that we aren’t dependant on them. They’re dependant on us, and it’s about time we reminded them of it, because when they sell you something that malfunctions like Apollo 13 in the hands of a technophobe, they deserve to be called out on it. They don’t respect you enough to give you a working form of the product. And don’t kid yourself, they didn’t miss the fact that it’s filled with glitches. They built the thing, they knew what was coming out.
So the next time a game is released that’s buggy and sickly and doesn’t want to be played, show it the same feeling – don’t play it. If it’s buggy, don’t buy it. Wait until it’s been patched, wait until it actually works, because that will make the publishers sweat like nothing else in the world. First-week sales mean everything to them, so if you hear that it’s faulty, just wait seven days. If everybody did that, there wouldn’t be any more of this shameful behaviour.
Look at Assassin’s Creed: Unity. That game might have been dreadful, but I kind of like it now, just because it brought us all together against a common enemy. It showed what happens when the industry tries to push too far – it gets pushed right back, by something far stronger than it could ever hope to be. Ubisoft gave in when it realised it couldn’t get away with the unbelievably bad quality of Unity, and had to jump through about fifty hoops just to placate the audience. And even then, the game will be remembered as “the broken one in the series.”
So that’s my advice. Do now what you did then if you see some bug-ridden game. Ignore it. And if you bought it without knowing what it was like, don’t let the developers forget it. Demand your money back, get on their case, threaten to boycott later titles. Because if you wait for bugs to leave, they’ll just start multiplying. But if you stamp on them now, and stamp hard, they’ll think twice before they come back.