From the title you’ll probably guess that I’ve been spending some time this weekend playing the new Titanfall 2 ‘tech-test’, and you’ll probably guess from this article that I’m not that impressed with it. Apparently my opinion isn’t unusual at the moment since fans of the series are being unusually loud and grumpy over on Respawn’ forums but this isn’t an article about the game itself or my opinion of it. Instead it’s an article about the gullibility of gamers and the power of marketing…
Look at ANY current thread listing some issues with the Titanfall 2 demo and you’ll invariably see a slew of replies by people saying that the game is a ‘pre-alpha’ and that there’s plenty of time to make changes… and therein lies my frustration.
To understand my irritation with the idiocy of these comments you need to first understand that in software development terms like ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ aren’t just thrown around. They mean very specific things in the testing and development cycle and represent specific levels of fixity in the software design. A ‘pre-alpha’ (also called first-playable) is conceptual design and will not contain all the features of a release version. It’s fundamentally concerned with how core elements relate to each other, and what the final release will have in it (even if those elements aren’t designed yet). Pre-alpha and Alpha software is pretty much never made available outside of an internal testing and development team because there is still so much that can be changed and that’s the rub… pre-alpha usually occurs about 1 to 2 YEARS before release because there is still so much work to do in the game and so much variability.
Taking into account time to produce physical media and ship it, Respawn currently have about 6 weeks from the time of writing this to finish their code. That should tell you one thing – this isn’t a ‘pre-alpha’. If they’re going for their October release date than this is a late Beta piece of software and that means that no changes are being made to the code or assets with the exception of bug fixes if we’re using industry-standard terminology.
So why are Respawn calling this a pre-alpha and why are people buying into that obvious lie? It’s simple – gamers are generally a technically ignorant but endlessly optimistic group, and the game development culture has been taking advantage of those facts for years. By telling their fans that the game they are developing is in pre-alpha, Respawn’s marketing team are tapping into that optimism and ignorance to bolster their pre-orders and day-1 sales. Gamers honestly believe that large changes can and will be made as a result of this ‘pre-alpha’ technical test and will TRUST that their fundamental issues with the game will be resolved before launch… Imagine for a second that Respawn had said instead that the Titanfall 2 tech-test was actually a feature-complete demo and that minor tweaks to networking and balance would be the only changes made before launch – Do you think that would change the number of people pre-ordering? I do. And that’s what it’s all about. The money. Gone are the days when developers have a close and trusting relationship with their fanbase. With software development costs running into the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars the number one priority for a publisher is to milk gamers for as much as possible as fast as possible in order to recoup their investment. If that means lying to gamers, that’s OK. That’s standard fucking practice now. Look at the trainwreck that was the No Mans Sky launch for another example…
And we’re still lapping it up.
The bit that frustrates me about all of this is that we as the gamers should be the Client in the relationship. We have the power to say what’s good and isn’t good, and the responsibility to ensure that shitty practices don’t become de-facto in the industry by not rewarding bad behaviors. Instead our own optimism is used against us and we give away that power as ‘exclusive pre-orders’ and ‘pre-downloads’ reward developers for making great marketing rather than great games, and paid-DLC and micro-transactions reward publishers for releasing incomplete games with the promise of ‘more to come’… it’s a fantastic trick – the developers and publishers now have all the power but none of the responsibility while wallowing in their piles of money taken from a naive consumer base.
The solution to this is simple. Don’t believe the hype. Don’t believe the marketing. Always question why you’re being told something… And don’t, for fucks sake, pre-order anything.