The Rise of “Launch Now, Fix it Later”
In the early days of computing, software was more or less a convenience; a tool to be used to perform a specific function and nothing more. However, as hardware was revised and improved upon, and computers became more commonplace in homes and offices, entertainment software, also known as ‘video games’, were born. Originally, video games were sold exclusively in physical formats and were subsequently unalterable once they were released onto store shelves. If it was discovered that a game had a bug, glitch, exploit, or cheat that had passed through QA testing, nothing could be done to fix it. With the advent of the internet, though, game developers were given the ability to release updates, patches, or even brand-new content to their games post-launch. With the exception of some caustic game studios, most companies used this new power to fix up their games, or add new and exciting features which hitherto would’ve been impossible. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t take long for companies large and small to find a way to exploit this newfound control of their games. Publishers soon found that games didn’t have to necessarily be “finished” or even close to it for people to purchase them, so long as they inform their consumers that the game would be all in working order eventually. This practice – this mentality – has come to be known as “launch it now, fix it later”, and has plagued the gaming community for over a decade.
Since the 7th generation of consoles, countless games have been released half-baked with the promise that they would be “polished up” and become the game that “(insert game developer here) wanted it to be”. Time and time again, consumers have been fed lies and false marketing with little to no recourse for the companies responsible. Games like No Man’s Sky, Fallout 76, and, more recently, NBA 2K20 and Borderlands 3 were all released in unpolished, disappointing, and borderline-unplayable states, each of them shrouded in controversy prior to launch. While it is heartbreaking to see the long-awaited sequel to that game you loved as a child to be butchered upon release day, it’s just accepted that that is the direction the industry has taken. Profit first. Customer second. After all, why delay a game and miss those sweet, sweet Holiday shoppers when you can release a game on schedule and polish it up later? Some studios, like Rockstar Games, the makers behind the billion-dollar Grand Theft Auto franchise, have recognized when their games were undercooked, and made the responsible move of delaying their game so that it will have a higher fidelity upon launch, but such moves are few and far between. It is more often than not, especially among higher-tier, heavily funded productions, that games be released unfinished. Anthem, Black Ops IIII, and Assassin’s Creed Unity… the list goes on and on.
So, what can you, the average consumer, do to put a stop to this horrible trend? Use your greatest weapons – your brain and your wallet. If you can, follow games closely leading up to their release. If a game or company has some sort of controversy or rumor around it, investigate. Find out for yourself whether the game is worth putting your time and money in. Look at a game’s past installments, and see if they’ve launched smoothly – Bethesda Game Studios, the creators of The Elder Scrolls series, has a particularly bad track record for bugs at launch. Lastly, if you’re unsure about the way a game is going to turn out, but really like the look of it, wait until after the game launches to buy. Sure, it may cost you some preorder bonuses or day-one clout, but at least you’ll be informed in what you’re purchasing, rather than regretting buying a game that’s an unplayable mess.
In closing, the “launch now, fix later” mentality represents a broader, dangerous anti-consumer trend in the gaming industry that, if left unchecked, has the potential to become standard practice. With the pure scope of modern-day games, glitches, bugs, and other minor mishaps are an inevitability. When companies knowingly distribute their games in an unfinished or unplayable state, however, therein lies an issue. As an active consumer, it is your responsibility to watch what you buy when it comes to the media that you enjoy. If you don’t like the way a game is being handled, let your money talk for you. Your wallet and your future self will thank you.