If Video Game Publishers Want To Release Broken Games, They Should Discount Pre-Orders

Um, Arno... who are those two guys who just walked in during the middle of this scene at started babbling in French?

Um, Arno… who are those two guys who just walked in during the middle of this scene at started babbling in French?

You wouldn’t go to Spring Training and expect to pay regular season prices to see a sluggish baseball team play a half-assed game. If you go to a preview of a new musical — where they might not be in full costume or have to stop and start a song halfway through — you don’t pay the same as someone going to the theater after opening night. And there’s a reason why the “dinged and discounted” section of the furniture store isn’t asking for the full sticker price. But when it comes to video games, consumers are increasingly paying a premium to be de facto beta testers for unfinished and broken games that aren’t ready for the market.

The latest instance of this is the double-shot of Assassin’s Creed games that Ubisoft dumped on the world this week. While both games are playable (unlike previous launches of games like Sim City and Battlefield 4), a quick check of any gaming forum or news site will turn up a slew of complaints from players about a slew of glitches, along with server overloads and a mobile companion app that is currently all but useless.

Ubisoft can not claim surprise in this case. These problems are not relegated to only a few players or even to a single platform.

These are errors that Ubisoft surely knew about — after all, it forced reviewers to wait until after the game was released to post their write-ups — but decided to put out to the pulic regardless, knowing it could always patch problems later.

But as I’ve written before, that we-can-fix-it-later attitude is causing game publishers to knowingly release unfinished and broken products.

And yet, even though Ubisoft and others are well aware that they are rushing out games that will need to be fixed from day one, the publishers continue to charge full price, unapologetically charging people at least $60 for the privilege of being guinea pigs.

EA’s launch of Sim City was so bad that it ultimately had to offer free games to upset customers in an effort to make up for the massive goof. And the publisher has been sued by players for allegedly unleashing Battlefield 4 on consumers knowing it was broken.

Meanwhile, the negative public response to the Assassin’s Creed games has hit the Ubisoft stock price, which dropped from $15 to below $13 in the two days after the games’ release.

Wouldn’t it be smarter if the publishers just knocked a few bucks off — or gave some incentive other than “look, here’s a free outfit!” — for pre-orders of games that are still going to need significant work?

Consumers would complain less when they get an unfinished game because they didn’t pay full price. It cuts down on negative word of mouth — think of all the people who are striking Assassin’s Creed: Unity from their holiday gift lists because of the poor public reception — and also give just the slightest indication to consumers that a publisher doesn’t just view gamers as flesh-covered wallets waiting to be drained.

All that said, if people continue to scramble for pre-orders of AAA titles after being burned so many times in the past, publishers won’t have any incentive to change or to take their customers seriously.

It’s like food at the airport — we all complain about paying $5 for a bottle of water and $10 for a cruddy pre-made sandwich, but enough people continue to fork over the cash so the prices just keep going up and the quality just keeps going down.

The only way to stop it is by not giving in to temptation.

So the next time you’re thinking about pre-ordering a game, just think of these two random French guys who like to interrupt cut scenes:

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