If you’ve ever played an online game like World of Warcraft or Team Fortress 2, you’ll know developers are constantly altering their creations. Whether it’s fixing bugs or adding new content, regular updates are crucial to keep online worlds feeling fresh and entertaining. However, you might not be aware that this sort of tinkering is now happening to single player games, highlighted by the recent release of The Witcher: Enhanced Edition.
The Witcher was a well-received Polish role-playing game released last October. It was hardly without problems including performance issues, a clumsily translated script and loading times so long you could write a dissertation during them. Enhanced Edition has undoubtedly solved these problems, but this post-release development raises an issue in itself: is it acceptable for developers to publish unpolished games, correcting the issues at a later date?
Upon its release in September, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky contained more bugs than a termite mound. These ranged from graphical glitches to PC-crashing monsters. However on the day of the game’s release, a sizeable patch was made available for download that fixed many of these problems. Patches for PC games are as common as Cheryl Cole, but the fact that the Clear Sky patch was available on day one suggests the developers were fully aware of the problems before release, carrying on regardless.
This is GSC’s second bite of the cherry. S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl crept onto shelves in March last year after a staggering six years in development, shipping with several technical problems and failing to reach its lofty ambitions. Clear Sky had an eighteen-month production cycle, yet the state of the game upon release suggests that GSC overcompensated for their previous lengthy development and chose to deal with the issues after release. Essentially, anyone who bought Clear Sky paid for an incomplete product- something that would cause outrage if it were a CD, DVD, or console game.
This kind of development is not just ethically questionable; it’s financially dangerous. Flagship Studios’ Hellgate: London failed to live up to expectations after many gamers complained it was released in an unfinished state. This was later admitted in an interview with Flagship’s CEO, Bill Roper: “The game would certainly have benefited from a couple of more months in the oven.” Flagship dissolved in August, and such was the furore over the half-baked Hellgate that a new term was coined to describe such a game: Flagshipped.
It seems unfair to tar The Witcher with the same brush: it was by no means unfinished and the developers could easily have attempted to address the issues in a second game, as with S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky. Instead they returned to their original offering, fine-tuned it and added several hours of new content. What’s more, the Enhanced Edition has been made available as a free download for those who purchased the original game.
Pop into HMV and you will find an entire wall dedicated to the various editions of Blade Runner; the general consensus among film critics is that the Final Cut is the definitive version. Such is the case with The Witcher: Enhanced Edition. While some developers sacrifice the quality of their games for the sake of deadlines, it is comforting to know that there are others who support quality products and good business sense in equal measure.