We need refunds, not just fewer broken games

When unfinished games release with bugs or missing content even after the emerging “Day One Patch,” it’s not your fault or the fault of millions of other players. A person’s willingness to buy makes their money the most influential part of the video game industry, yet their purchasing power doesn’t make them responsible for a game’s issues. I shouldn’t take blame for Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s matchmaking issues or Driveclub’s instability because I placed a pre-order at my local retailer.

Even as developers continue to release broken games, publishers, software distributors and retailers still provide no clear avenue for people seeking refunds. Regardless of policy, they still take your money in advance. The player’s discretion makes them responsible for any buyer’s remorse, but I fail to see how not pre-ordering or buying games at release eventually bucks the trend of developers releasing unfinished games.

If a game releases with bugs needing many months to resolve, then buyers either skip the sequel entirely, or wait for the developers to resolve the issues. I understand the reasoning behind the idea of not pre-ordering games and waiting to make a buying decision after release. Waiting protects people from buying games not received well by the community or reviewers, and waiting protects them from any launch issues. If people avoid pre-ordering then they can buy their games when they feel ready, not when their pre-order slip forces them to the store.

The idea of “wait to see what happens” to avoid launch issues only seems obvious in hindsight, and it only applies to few games. But what about people who already bought Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Driveclub and last year’s mess, Battlefield 4? No one could predict their multiplayer issues persisting longer than a month post launch. Sure, Battlefield slowly developed a reputation of broken multiplayer as far back as 2008 when Battlefield: Bad Company launched, but Battlefield’s issues persisted into the New Year – longer than any other previous game.

In hindsight, those who didn’t purchase one of the broken games from the past two years, wave their finger and say, “See, you should have waited,” almost like everyone ignored previous warnings of the launch issues. No one predicted Halo would launch with matchmaking and single player problems; nothing in 343 or Bungie’s past replicated the issues plaguing the Halo: MCC.

Halo: MCC didn’t function properly even after the 15 GB Day One patch. Players couldn’tfind any multiplayer matches for the first few weeks and even if you somehow found enough players, the matchmaking system paired uneven teams in a lobby full of lag, rubber-banding and eventual disconnects. Halo: MCC also crashed to the Xbox One dashboard, lost campaign save progress and lacked basic matchmaking functions, such as staying with your party after matches. 343 Industries and the rest of the outsourced development teams clearly needed more development time, but were forced to release Halo: MCC anyway.

Even with the eventual improvements, 343 can’t excuse their failed launch; yet their single broken game also doesn’t reflect the rest of the industry. A few more games launched with a magnitude of issues, but many more games continue to launch flawlessly. Other Xbox exclusives like Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 launched with no issues, in both single player and multiplayer.

People also point to Driveclub as an example of the “trend” of broken-on-arrival games, but I’ll snobbishly say I foresaw Driveclub’s disastrous future sometime last November. Evolution Studios kept pushing their release date and overhauled their vision for the racer. Evolution’s lack of confidence in their game didn’t instill much confidence in me either. Multiplayer connection issues aside, Evolution also did not finish their game. The “Dynamic Weather” patch released post launch and introduces many different weather conditions during races. Why did they release a game without weather conditions when it drastically changes the way cars handle? They too needed more development time.

Driveclub doesn’t reinforce a trend of broken games; it magnifies the limited options available to buyers to seek a refund for games plagued with issues or missing features. Halo: MCC didn’t work, Driveclub didn’t work and Battlefield 4 didn’t work. A broken game is not the same as a lacklustre experience. And when the developer also acknowledges widespread issues and works actively to remedy them, I don’t see why people can’t receive a refund if they desire one.

As soon as you crack the seal, the game is yours. You can trade it in for lesser store credit or sell the game directly to another person. No refund exists. You just sit and wait, complain on Twitter and hope for fixes. No other product limits its customers like video games do. With almost anything else you buy, it something doesn’t work, you can get a refund. Just because the physical disc appears fine, doesn’t mean the software functions as intended.