Editorial by Scott Allred
Lately in the magnificent world of Real Time Strategy, there has been a growing trend amongst the younger studios. It’s nearly an epidemic in terms of the wide spread disregard for post-release support.
Of the past 4 major RTS titles released in the U.S—WarCraft 3, Age of Mythology, Rise of Nations, and C&C Generals—the post release support on the latter 3 games is almost non existent. As expected, Blizzard remains in the #1 spot as far as patching and general support goes.
What stops companies from following in the giant’s (Blizzard’s) path? Money? Respect? Experience? Money can’t be the cause because it doesn’t cost that much to release a patch, and unless you sold less than 200,000 copies there is no reason why you can’t patch a game and fix any inherent imbalances and/or gameplay issues.
What about respect, or to put it simply “reputation,” amongst the gaming community? Blizzard is a game producing powerhouse, but so is “Ensemble Studios” with such block buster titles as “Age of Empires” and “Age of Kings”. Where could the excuse possibly be? Age of Mythology has been reduced to a montage of noobification via blatant cheats, hacks, and exploits that ruin the landscape of the mythological ancient world and turns the name of a once proud studio into that of a “once was” rather than a Mecca for “World Cyber Games” acceptance and “out of stock” promise.
Could poor support place a stunt in the growth of future “EA Pacific” titles? Taking a year to make a game function properly is hardly the talk that wins street cred. So why did 2 of the largest RTS developers seem to hold off on making the games what they should have been? Was it pressure from the publishers? Well maybe; but who knows for sure, right? Why would a publisher directly hurt potential sales increases? Sometimes things just don’t compute.
Generals was not only a fabulous looking game it also helped to stretch the limits of system requirements that helped to get RTS gaming into a new generation of 3D graphics cards and high end processors. So what if the game was screaming imbalance before it was even released...who cares if online playability was nearly impossible with anything less than an ADSL line and a high end PC (which by the way hardly any RTS gamer had at the time). The game still sold well and once you get through the hard feelings, Generals still has a fanbase; though not nearly as high as it should have had.
When the stability of a game starts to become a factor in why players will buy a game then someone should notice right? Where do the developers of RTS games hide their public relations geniuses? What about the guys that hop around websites and look around for things that are harmful to the future sales of a game? I’ve seen plenty of PR guys from many game companies intermingle in chat rooms and forums, but for some reason little comes of it. They are there to foster support for a game that needed 6 more months of development and 3 more moths of balance tests. We all buy the story of course, even the seasoned vets that have dealt with this problem since it started with Empire Earth™ back in 2001 (PC years are like dog years for each one of our years there are 7 PC years). This was the first time that I remember a blockbuster RTS game that came out and offered little to no support; this still haunts Stainless Steel Studios and is still fresh within many players’ minds.
Is this the future of RTS gaming? Rushing out products to try to get the holiday rush only to find that Christmas doesn’t last the whole year? Something needs to be done before an already underdog genre becomes an extinct genre! For many players out there spending $50.00 on a game isn’t as easy as it is for others, since they expect a finished product they think they are spending their money on a decent way to kill time sadly that isn’t usually the case anymore.
Developers need to work toe to toe with publishers and like-wise. Publishers need to be lenient with allotting time to finish certain aspects of the game that will make it a better deal than the next game. It’s becoming a tired process of trying to distinguish a poorly supported game from a well supported game. If there is any consolation prize you can always depend on Blizzard to push out a game that is not only solid but will provide endless hours of replayability. One can only hope for a day when companies can best Blizzard’s support and fanbase. Maybe sooner rather than later we will be able to pick up any game off the shelf and know it will be patched and it will be patched in a timely matter!
Thanks for your time,
Scott ‘TheGoodEvil” Allred