Throughout the weekend my personal Twitter feed was filled with people complaining about bugs in Battlefield 4. ‘My game crashed, FML’, ‘My gun won’t reload on X level - this is bullshit’, ‘My server browser isn’t working - fuck DICE’. I checked out the news sites to see how bad the problem really is. Yeah, there are a few problems. Teething issues. One comment on a certain site (which I won’t name) saw someone complaining bitterly that: “Battlefield 4 has been out for almost a week now, and it still isn’t working. I suppose DICE doesn’t give a shit now they have my $50”. Uuuuummm…
Look, bugs happen in games. They’re hardly a new thing, and they're unlikely to go away. Back in 1980, there was outrage because Pac Man broke after players hit level 255 (because level data was stored in a single byte, which could only handle 255 pieces of information: fact, courtesy of GR UK's resident fact factory Justin Towell), messing up the screen and forcing a restart. As long as there have been games, there have been bugs. And, as games get more complex, there will always be more things to go wrong. It’s science.
At least now developers have the opportunity to fix their games post-release, via patches and updates. Make no mistake--this is a brilliant thing. However, the more cynical elements online have started using it as a stick to beat developers, making wild assumptions that studios piss out games quickly under the assumption that they can ‘fix it post-release’. To tar every studio with this same brush is ludicrous, even if there is an occasional grain of truth to the matter.
Anyway, let’s set our sights back onto Battlefield 4--which I handed a 4.5 in my GamesRadar review. Yes, it’s not running perfectly at the moment. There are bugs, and DICE has revealed a long list of fixes that it’s working on day and night. This is certainly nothing new for a Battlefield game. As with anything that relies so heavily on its online component, it’s impossible to stress test the game to 100% technical perfection before release. Even if you’ve got 100 QA testers working on it for 3 months before release, you simply can’t replicate launch conditions. Battlefield 4 has gone from maybe 100-150 players testing the game pre-release, to several million hammering every map, mode and menu all day and night.
With something as complex as Battlefield 4, which runs on three--soon to be five--different platforms (and accommodating all kinds of PC system set-ups) it’s a miracle the game runs at all. Yes, it’s frustrating when you lose progress or crash out of a game, but it’s far from unplayable, and given the speed with which EA and DICE are creating fixes, it’ll likely be running smoothly (not perfectly, though) within a couple of weeks. This is always the case with Battlefield games, and is--with rare exceptions--the same for every online-focused title. You can't predict the impact that millions of people will have on your game, not matter how polished the code. Look at GTA Online.
So, to call DICE out for failing to fix every bug in their game after less than a week in player hands is ridiculous. To accuse the developers of not giving a shit is downright offensive. We’ve never had it so good when it comes to bugs in games. Before the majority of consoles were online enabled (and before we had Twitter and well-managed forums) we just had to suck it up. Our strongest power of complaint was that we could take games back to the shop for a full refund--hardly a big win, as we still actually wanted to play the game itself.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t communicate our frustrations. Far from it. If you do experience a bug, make your voice heard on Twitter or the official forums. Just do it nicely. Developers have never been as openly accessible as they are now--they want you to communicate with them. But they’re also human beings, and you should treat them as such. They feel as bad about the bugs as you. In fact, as most developers spend several years on each game--working long, long hours every day on that one project--you can bet that they feel even worse about those bugs than you do…