Technology has changed the way that consumers access and purchase new games. In particular, the Apple App Store has become a direct connection between developers and their consumers. This connection has become both a great blessing and a terrible curse.
Back in the day a developer made a game, released it, and hoped for the best. If there were anything they wanted to change they would have to wait until the next game to address it. Of course PC games have been patching for years but, for the most part, a finished game was a finished game.
But iPhone games seem to be different. Updates happen for many reasons, and not just basic fixes. They’re also happening with alarming frequency.
This isn’t to say that every update is a terrible idea. For example: A game is released to great acclaim and sales, and bonus content is given to give your current fan base more to play. This in turn draws more fans in, which generates more sales, and the cycle continues. Games like StrawNinja: Just Run, Tilt to Live and Angry Birds (possibly the best example of this kind of content creation) show that there are developers who truly love their games and their customers. This is extra content at its best.
However, more often than not, developers use updates for less honest reasons. There seem to be two big offenders:
1) Fixing a Broken Game
A terrible way for updates to be used. Why terrible? Because if a game was completely unplayable, why would you as a developer release it? Minor bug fixes are one thing, but there are some games that changed quite dramatically. Take Max Injury 2 for instance. When I first played it for review, I was ready to give that game a shameful score. It was choppy, sluggish and worst of all, not fun to play. I couldn’t control a single thing. About an hour into my playthrough, however, the developers released an update and I was able to play a much-improved version. I am very pleased that the developers took the time to really address many issues that were plaguing a decent title, but that’s still no excuse. Is it really fair to let your customers pay to be your beta testers? Developers have to be aware of how bad their games when they send them to the App Store for approval. If they’re not, then they might want to reconsider their profession.
2) Promising More Content “Soon”
This is by far the lowest of the low as far as updates are concerned. I don’t want to name any names here, but you don’t have to look far to illustrate my point. All iPhone games show their version number, which reflects how many times it’s been updated. A full initial release is usually noted as version 1.0. To me, this tells me that the developer took the time to design, build, test, polish and release a finished product to a marketplace and charge people real money for it. So why on earth am I reading things like “Stay tuned for future updates!” upon the initial release of a game? Either the developer is knowingly withholding something, or too lazy to program it in there for an arbitrary deadline. Is this supposed to be a sales enticement?
Here’s the point: Downloadable content should either be a minor bug fix or a value add-on like extra modes or things like map packs or extra levels. Most often, these additions are not because these things are missing, but because the fan base is clamoring for more. Fixing minor bugs is a pretty good reason to update, too, but far too often developers are getting a pass for releasing either sub-par or incomplete products that they expect you to pay for with your hard earned money.
We as players and consumers should start to expect a higher standard from our games. Even something that costs 99 cents still costs something. If developers feel that their games should be worth more, then they should definitely charge as such. Our own Joel Brodiewrote about this in regards to downloads, and it all definitely applies here too. If you’re going to release something, then let it be something you’re proud to put your name on.
We gamers are a smart lot, and we’re getting smarter all the time. With the new distribution tools at their disposal, let’s hope that developers get smarter too.