The Interactive Entertainment industry has always been an interesting bellwether for the software industry as a whole; what game developers and publishers do today is usually replicated in the business markets a few years down the road. For good or bad.
Here at iBeta we got our start in the games industry back in 1999, and over the following two decades have played an influential part in dozens of triple-A titles across the gamut of platforms. This means we’ve had a front-row seat for the rise of the ‘fix it in post’ methodology that developers and publishers use these days.
It used to be that what made it to “GM” (Gold Master) was what would make or break your product, because you only had one chance to make an impression on your potential clients; what was in the physical box… So Quality Assurance was usually a full third of the development process in order to insure the best impression possible.
With the rise of Internet distribution and the ability to issue patches as needed, for many developers and publishers the focus on having the best product possible on initial release has fallen to the wayside. And while it’s true that many users have come to expect that the product they just bought will require some sort of download after install to be usable, it hasn’t changed the adage of ‘you only get one chance to make a good impression’.
So, while high-speed Internet has made patching possible, it has also dramatically increased the ability of users to share their opinions on the applications they use. The rise of the YouTube personality with millions of devoted fans controlling more mindshare than most ad agencies is a reality that isn’t going away any time soon. So if your product has issues, everyone even tangentially interested in it will know about it in ways you can’t necessarily control.
There have been several “AAA” examples of this in 2018, but for a recent case study let’s look at Bethesda’s “Fallout 76”.
The user hype for the product leading up to release was off the charts, leading to impressive pre-release sales numbers. But given the clear lack of QA (known bugs that existed in the previous “Fallout 4” title were still present in “Fallout 76”) and a beta period that lasted all of three weeks immediately before release (which allowed for no time to fix any of the issues that were found), the product would become forever tainted by its bad release and subsequent bad press.
Currently Bethesda is continuing to patch out the problems as paying customers find them, but the damage is done. The product released on November 14th at $60 base price, and by November 25th had been cut to around $35 at most e-tailers.
And this sort of damage goes beyond the immediate product as Bethesda’s customer base is now suspect of upcoming titles, which diminishes the hype before anything is even known about them.
So the moral of the story is that the cost of proper QA has to be measured against the loss of revenue if your product hits the digital shelves in a broken state. Because even though you can just patch the problem out of your product, there is no patch for bad press.