FORTNITE, CYBERPUNK 2077: Pressure on Developers

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With ever-growing success, video games have become essential, and a real keystone of contemporary Pop Culture. But the immense success of video games has its downside, which is sometimes regrettable. Explanations. 

Warning: this article is not intended to denigrate the importance of updates. We only deal with the studios’ policy regarding them, and the consequences of that policy.

Scalable Products

Grand Theft Auto . The Legend of Zelda . The Elder Scrolls . Red Dead Redemption. God of War . Whether you are fond of video games or completely remote, you necessarily know the name of a game or a license. Video games are so deeply rooted in our collective culture , that even your grandparents may have heard about Fortnite at least once in their lives  , either through one of their grandchildren or through the newspaper. 

More and more immersive, video games are reaching more and more people , whose demands are constantly being heightened by successive successes. An emulsion conducive, in short, to a continual improvement in video game standards , as demonstrated by certain games of the new generation of consoles, including the latest  Ratchet & Clank  or Kena: Bridge of Spirits , which we are impatiently awaiting. 

However, this “emulsion” has its negative side. But before naming it, let’s go back to the deeply unique aspect of video games. Like cinema and music today, video games are at the crossroads of the work of art and the commercial product. But every game is an evolving product . Unlike movies, series and music, changes in video games are not only facilitated, but also desired. 

When a studio distributes a film, it is difficult for them to edit it. There can of course be many versions of the same movie (recently Zack Snyder came up with his own take on the Justice League movie  ), but these changes mean that there are multiple, distinct products . Joss Whedon’s version of  Justice League  is a product, Zack Snyder’s version of  Justice League  is a second.

The same is true with music: there are explicit  versions  of great rap titles and clean versions of the same songs, but each version is a product, and it is impossible for the distributor to change a product once it is. here marketed : he can withdraw it if he wishes, but if he wants to make changes, he is obliged to add the new version to the already existing version , the two versions now cohabiting. 

When it comes to video games, it’s different. Because they function much like computer and mobile phone applications, video games can be changed in real time, with updates or hotfixes . In other words, a video game is never completely finished when it is released, since it can be modified ad vitam eternam, as long as the developers are working on updates. In this sense, the fact that the video game economy is inextricably linked to that of the Internet has allowed studios to change their methods, to release constantly evolving games. 

This peculiarity of video games therefore makes it an artistic genre, to say the least, astonishing . There is obviously something to be happy about this evolving dimension of video games. Adding skins (like in  Fortnite ), creating events (like in  Assassin’s Creed Valhalla  or  Animal Crossing: New Horizons ) or making changes to correct certain bugs (like in  Cyberpunk 2077 ) both allows the player to renew their interest. , but also to reassure the customer, in the event of excessively large bugs . 

But as positive as the possibility of always updating a video game, this poses two major problems. 

THE Door Open to All Access

The first problem with this possibility of always updating video game content is that it opens the door to a new way of distributing video games . Other specialists had the same analysis before us, especially at the time of the controversies around  Cyberpunk 2077 , which became a real textbook in terms of completely buggy games when it was released. Faced with expectations from players and pressure from investors, studios tend to release their games prematurely. 

The commercial strategy of the developers is quite simple to summarize: each game benefits from a big patch on the day of its release, in order to correct the most visible bugs , then subsequent updates to smooth everything. These updates also have another interest, in the communication of the studio: to show that the studios are listening to the demands of the players. 

The analysis of the speech of CD Projekt Red, the studio behind  Cyberpunk 2077 , at the time of the controversy over the game’s playability, is rich in lessons. While the pressure increased following many requests for refunds (accepted on console), the production studio provided, to calm disappointed players, several corrective patches, in January and February 2021 . Even today, CD Projekt communicates on its next updates, aimed at correcting the many bugs identified by players. 

Obviously, we can say that the Cyberpunk 2077  case  could serve as an electric shock, to demotivate the studios to reproduce the error of CD Projekt Red . But it is important to underline two things: first of all, it is the possibility of continuously updating their video game after its release which among other things motivated CD Projekt Red to release an unfinished game; then, with fewer bugs, but more controlled communication, the studios manage very well to release an unfinished product, without however attracting the wrath of the same intensity as those which fell on the Polish studio. Because, when you think about it, which was mostly blamed in  Cyberpunk 2077 ,it is above all the aggressive communication of CD Projekt Red before the game’s release, and the persistent impression by many players that the product released ultimately had little to do with the product advertised . 

In other words, contrary to what one might think, one unfortunately cannot guarantee that the Cyberpunk 2077 affair will prevent any unfinished game release: it is a well-established commercial method, and the Cyberpunk  affair does not  . is that one of its most extreme forms . On the contrary, it is not impossible that we will be dealing with a systematization of the process in the years to come. 

Developers Under Pressure

The other problem that this possibility generates is less visible to players, and primarily concerns developers . In a recent (and exciting) survey, our American colleagues at  PC Gamer  highlighted the fact that developers are continually under pressure , due in particular to the updates continually required by studios and gamers. 

In his investigation, the journalist explains that previously, developers worked tirelessly on their game, before taking a well-deserved vacation when it was released . Unfortunately, the need to continually update a video game, as soon as it is released (including corrective patches), means that the release of a game marks the start of a new career for developers , who live now under pressure to always renew content in order to ensure long-term success. 

To fully understand the extent of the pressure developers are under for updates,  PC Gamer  makes an interesting comparison, to say the least: according to them, we can compare the life of a game (such as  Fortnite  or  League of Legends ) to a Twitch channel . If the developers stop offering recurring updates and event-driven content, then player interest will erode, much like the audience on a Twitch channel that wouldn’t deliver any content for four months. 

This comparison is interesting to say the least, in that it points to where the public interest lies. How to explain the immense success of  Fortnite  ? If we can hardly argue that the game revolutionizes the codes of Battle Royale, however, we agree that its developers know how to evolve their content, and this way continuously. Moreover, on Hitek, we regularly chronicle the various events of  Fortnite , born of partnerships forged between the Epic Games Store and other companies, such as film studios. 

This is because behind these updates and the importance of constantly renewing the interest of the player, hides an economic imperative. Some publishers, like Epic Games, have understood that the more players stay interested in their games, the more they will be tempted to spend . For example, for Fifa , the earnings generated from FUT packs are greater than the earnings from the sale of the games themselves. So if the additional content (the different packs) make it possible to pocket more money, the studios need their developers to work even more, to always update the public interest. 

There is, of course, a continuum between the two issues we have mentioned in this article. Each of these two problems is the extreme consequence born of the same possibility.

Things will start to improve for developers, however. Following the denunciations of Cyberpunk 2077 players  , many developers had denounced their working conditions . Already, with  Red Dead Redemption 2 , what was then a taboo was revealed with a bang, so much so that many publishers are trying, especially on Twitter, to reassure players about the working conditions of their employees , like ‘Insomniac Games. 

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