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Video Game Development

Treating video games as software

Gears of War website does have a support page, but it's about as useful as a "go away" sign.

Gears of War website does have a support page, but it's about as useful as a "go away" sign.

I find this conflicting: Video games are often the driving force for kids to pursue Computer Science, and yet shipped games are often not perceived as software. Maybe the quality, integration, and user experience really is better than across other industries; though unless the development process goes through the incredibly expensive steps of validating a safety-critical system, there will likely be some bugs left.

Which was exactly the case with Gears of War 2, that crashed during the gameplay, after recent updates.

Since I actually work in the software industry, I’ve decided to file a bug report, but it appears that Epic Games doesn’t want to hear about it.

xbox.com support options

xbox.com support options

The official Xbox support page, where Gears of War’s “support” page points seems to deal with Xbox Live and Hardware problems only, not with actual games.

The community forums back on the game’s website are full of noise and are mostly filled with complaints. I haven’t seen any moderator replies, even on legitimate issues posted. Epic’s official website just links to their product websites. And there are no other way of contacting them.

I would say Epic FAIL and chuckle at how well this meme works for this company, but a scary thought occurs instead: it’s only a failure if the company cared to hear back from the users of their products in the first place. Unlike with software-as-a-service subscription models, or software that could have 2.0, or licensing models, or other software that makes money from keeping and getting more users; mass market video games make the bulk of their sales shortly after the release date. Having already cashed in on the release, support and bug-fixes are an expense that are not justified by having more direct profits.

Unless you are Blizzard Entertainment, with an image to maintain. They still seem to be doing things right.

Blizzard's support options

Blizzard's support options

So this leaves me with this blog. Here’s the bug report:

In the game lobby, map selection ended in a draw. In the event of a tie, the system picks a random map, but it picked one from an expansion pack that I did not have (this really should have been caught in QA testing). As a result, the game crashed out of the match, with a user-facing prompt that only said: ?int?Engine.Errors.ConnectionLost?.


I know what (int) means; in this case it’s obvious that the software doesn’t handle errors properly. Maybe I can ping someone from Epic Game’s PR on Twitter? If not about technical issues, then simply about not being able to contact them in any other way…

Or am I just being unrealistic? Should I think of video games as movie-type entertainment, but with more interaction? I suppose a lot of games are trending towards the “pop the DVD in for few hours of entertainment” use; but that’s precisely what allows for the slip in every quality that does not directly contribute to marketing driven sales (though we do get HD graphics out of this).

Or maybe it’s the new breed of gamer population… *sigh*

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Discussion

  1. Posted by Megaphase.info | April 5, 2009, 9:58 am

    Honestly, developers should be easier to contact for bugfixes and other things related to their games. Games are software, no matter how you look at it and should be treated as such.

    Reply to comment

  2. Posted by Ben Hovinga | April 5, 2009, 2:36 pm

    Nice Rant. Hopefully someone from Epic sees it and actually might put a bug report system on their website and then other game companies will do the exact same thing because Epic’s games somehow are much better now because of this feature and the others follow. But lets face it. When a company is getting feedback from users in an easy way, said company is better than another who doesn’t get any feedback at all but just show a crappy Knowledge Base.

    Reply to comment

  3. Posted by Christer Ericson | April 6, 2009, 2:38 am

    Tony, you have to understand that up until recently there were no avenues for “patching” console video games, so bug reports served no purpose.

    Blizzard is a PC developer, so it is not surprising that they have an infrastructure in place for bug reports, whereas the 360 division of Microsoft does not.

    This situation is slowly changing, with consoles becoming more similar to PC games in this aspect, so you can expect this to change over the next few years.

    Still, games only have a limited lifespan (on average; games like Blizzard’s WoW again are not the norm), so don’t expect too much in this area. You wouldn’t expect movie companies to rerelease a movie because there’s a few frames with a microphone visible in them, would you? It’s a rather similar situation.

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: April 6th, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    But now we do have a system for patching console games. This particular game it up to 3 patches, though they seem to revolve around premium downloadable content. Even if this wasn’t the case, bugs that originate in the game’s engine are important to know about, as that code is often reused for future games. Epic’s Unreal Engine is licensed out to other game developers.

    WoW is different — there’s a pay-per-month subscription, and so there’s a financial incentive to keep gamers happy. I was really thinking more along the lines of StarCraft, which recently has seen its 16th major version patch, 10 years after the original game was released (and it included new features!). Are those patches being made simply because there’s a large fanbase, or are fans still playing a 10 year old game because the developers continue taking such an active role in the community? It’s difficult to know for sure, but I have my guess.

    Though I think you are right that a limited lifespan encourages a different development cycle. I guess I’m just not happy with such a trend.

    Reply to comment

  4. Posted by Austin | April 9, 2009, 5:50 pm

    I play Call of Duty: World at War a lot, and until about a month ago, there were several glitches, and the developers did nothing about it. People figured out how to go under the maps, and it got really bad as more and more people figured out the “trick”. It took the developers over a month to release a patch…

    I definitely agree that the developers need to treat video games as software.

    Reply to comment

  5. Posted by subSquall | April 11, 2009, 3:51 pm

    Unfortunately, gamers have been conditioned to expect bugs in games. Developers and publishers increasingly know that users can be treated as beta-testers and they take full advantage to rush their products. This has been prevalent in computer gaming for a long time, but with consoles becoming connected to the internet, its spreading there too.

    I think a large part of the cause is that this software is entertainment … if it malfunctions, the company isn’t going to lose a million dollar contract.

    Reply to comment

  6. Posted by Gianni A Chiappetta | April 17, 2009, 11:02 pm

    I look forward to the day I can successfully perform an XSS vuln in a game :D

    Reply to comment

    Tony replied on: April 18th, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Haven’t you heard of someone encoding tools into crafted Animal Crossing items, and having those spread via game’s internal content distribution network?
    ;)

    Reply to comment

  7. Posted by Nitin Reddy Katkam | August 24, 2009, 2:21 am

    I find it very annoying when I can’t seem to get a patch for a bug in a software that I bought. It gets worse when the firm that built the software doesn’t respond.

    I’ve been working with the LLBLGen ORM for .NET lately and I’ve had a pretty good experience with their forums. I get a pretty quick response from the team lead, usually within a day or two.

    With Microsoft Visual Studio, however, there’s just no easy way to get Microsoft to notice. I guess it’s a problem that most large firms have, especially if their reputation for not responding to bug reports already precedes them :-(

    Oh, how I wish there were more Java and PHP jobs around.

    Reply to comment

  8. Posted by Kevin | December 13, 2009, 3:30 pm

    personally, I think Epic Games are just in it for the money. I mean, how can they not have a bug report system. That seems shady to me. “Here buy this game for $60, but we’ll give you jack squat in customer support.”

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