When Should a Developer Step In?

Evan Selleck - Dec 24, 2010, 2:18pm CST
When Should a Developer Step In?

With the holiday spirit in full effect, and people talking about giving gifts to everyone they know, and hopefully receiving gifts from everyone they know, I realized that I’ve been thinking a lot about developer Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops. Why? Because a few comments in our recent stories about the poor connectivity for online sessions, and the fact that some people expect something from either Treyarch, or publisher Activision, have made me start wondering if that’s actually an option. When should a developer step in, and start proactively trying to make those who purchased their title happy? After all, the plan that just buying the game would make them happy isn’t working out. So, if there’s a next step, what should it be?

First, I’ve got to make it clear that I don’t own Call of Duty: Black Ops for the PlayStation 3. I own it for Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Second, while the majority of online connectivity issues seem to be plaguing PlayStation 3 owners, I want to point out that I’ve never had an enjoyable online experience with any Call of Duty title. At least, starting from developer Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare. Since that title released, and with every subsequent entry into the series after that, I’ve always suffered from some form of heinous online connectivity issue. Lag in games was a problem off and on, but that’s something I’ve come to expect over the years of online gaming. But, the big issue with Call of Duty titles, recently at least, is the party system.

“Okay, I’m starting the next match. Everyone hold hands, and stay together!” That’s what one of my Xbox LIVE friends used to say in Modern Warfare. (And yes, it’s corny, but that’s what it feels like. Like we’re kids on a school field trip, trying not to lose one of our classmates.) It carried over to the second title in that story arc, and I remember us making jokes about it in Call of Duty: World at War. Before we finally decided to put Black Ops to the side, and focus on other games that didn’t suffer from these issues, we were joking about it yet again. The party system in Call of Duty is broken, and it’s a poor excuse for how it should work. You don’t even need to compare it to competitive titles like Bungie Studios’ Halo series to realize it’s broken. It just doesn’t work.

Truth be told, while my friends and I were suffering from these issues, and I know there were a few scattering reports of the same problem happening to others on the Xbox 360, it pales in comparison to what’s happening to PlayStation 3 owners. And even if I hadn’t gone through the same problems, I would still be sitting here, feeling your pain. I would still be wondering what, exactly, a developer can do to assuage those who bought their game, and feel like they literally got robbed. Of course, there’s no denying that developers put a ridiculous amount of time in their games; as well as energy, skill, and creativity. (Even if some people don’t think a certain game is creative, it was to at least one person out there, so that’s enough.) And I’m not here to point out any problems with how developers make their games. The trouble –the problem— comes afterwards.

So what should a developer do? Some say they should reimburse players affected by the issues — and with the money that Black Ops is making, that probably wouldn’t be too hard to do. Others think that even just a free add-on would suffice. While still others believe that just giving the game up entirely, and writing off the developer and title is what’s best for everyone. Obviously, Treyarch doesn’t want you to do that. And neither does Activision. But when you’ve got a game like Black Ops, with one of the main selling points its online multiplayer function, and it doesn’t work? A developer shouldn’t be surprised that people are calling them out, threatening to do all sorts of things.

And let’s not forget about the fact that Black Ops‘ first piece of downloadable content (DLC) is heading to the Xbox 360 first, and won’t even be available for PlayStation 3 owners until a month later, at least. Another stab at PS3 owners. And one that just drives home the point that their console of choice is being shunned, at least when it comes to this game, and there doesn’t seem to be much hope. Should Treyarch and Activision let PlayStation 3 owners download the map pack, called First Strike, for free, when it comes out? There would surely be an uproar from 360 owners, especially those who have suffered from online connectivity issues.

So, what, then? What does a developer do? Is there anything for them to do, except continuously say that they are working tirelessly to fix the problem with patches and hot fixes? And then, what happens when the patch actually makes things worse, like patch 1.04? Perhaps a developer’s tactic should be to try and fix the problem, keep trying to fix it, but if nothing they’re trying is working, they provide an extra goodie to gamers. A free map? Maybe credits to use in the game, so they can buy more weapons, perks, or anything else they want? How about offer some money into their digital wallets?

I can’t say for sure what I believe a developer should do. If a game gets to the point that Black Ops has, with no sign of it getting better (or the console getting any real support, before the competition’s system), I’m not sure there’s any way to really come back. If you’ve already gotten rid of the game, and you start hearing that everything has been fixed, are you really going to buy it again? I’m sure there will be some people out there, but the trade-in has already been finalized. Treyarch and Activision will lose out on those used games being sold back to gamers.

Let me know what you think a developer should do. If you think they should do anything at all. Even if you don’t have a PS3, or you aren’t suffering from the problem. Do you think the developers out there owe it to gamers who bought the game some kind of additional content, or even money, because the game isn’t up to par? Or do they just keep trying to fix it, and leave it at that?

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