Over the past few weeks, we've seen a deluge of angry feedback directed at the developers of high-profile triple-A releases. From the dodgy battle pass progression of Halo Infinite to the downright broken ports masquerading as the "definitive edition" of GTA Trilogy, it seems that gamers are tired of forking over $60 or even $70 for familiar brand names that don't work correctly until months after release.
So, is this the famed revolt of gamers that will finally convince the giants of the industry like EA, Rockstar, and Microsoft to only release fully-baked games into the world? Are people finally tired of pouring hours into buggy always-online games that rely on a drip-feed of so-called "progression" to keep our lizard brains from tuning out? Almost certainly not, and here's why:
The bottom line — According to SteamCharts, both Halo Infinite and Battlefield 2042 remain in the top 50 most-played games on Steam as of the time of this writing, though the latter's player base has dwindled significantly in recent days. (While the pace of Infinite's battle pass has received a ton of criticism, it's pretty clear that 2042 has had a rougher go of things as a whole.)
This speaks to a fundamental truth about big games — no matter what state they launch in, they tend to sell a ton of copies, with only the messiest launches resulting in significant consequences. GTA Trilogy's embattled debut is certainly one of the most embarrassing gaming gaffes of the year, but it still seems to have done quite well in terms of sales, at least if social media presence is to be believed. (It's hard to get concrete sales figures for Trilogy right now, but hopefully Take-Two's financials will reveal some more info in a few months.)
Expectations game — Not only are less-than-perfect launches often quite profitable for these big gaming companies, there are so many of them every year that they fade into the background after just a week or two. Gaming outlets wrote dozens of articles about the obvious failure of GTA Trilogy, but it didn't take us long to move onto the next grease fire set by a major gaming franchise — in this case, 2042.
Messy debuts have become the norm to such an extent that the fan outrage and calls for change feel almost as expected as the sequels themselves. The difference, of course, is that the fans aren't getting paid for their time, whereas the big studios continue to rake in record profits for games that don't come together until six months after release.
Everybody loves a comeback — The games industry has so internalized the supposed necessity of the messy launch that we've come to applaud the worst offenders. Cyberpunk 2077 is arguably the game that epitomizes the very concept — after all, Sony took the unprecedented step of removing the game from sale on PlayStation platforms due to its dreadful performance on last-gen consoles — but when the RPG's Steam review score improved to "very positive" a few days ago, many outlets noted the game's improvement over time, and fans went to social media to express their opinion of it.
To be fair, there's nothing wrong with giving an embattled game a second chance — after all, even smaller games improve over time in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways these days. That said, it does seem a bit strange to congratulate what is arguably the most infamous high-profile game release of all time after CD Projekt has had about a year to get its act together. It's especially galling when you consider the fact that the long-promised PS5 and Xbox Series X/S versions of the game were delayed to 2022 back in October.
What can you do? — At the end of the day, it's pretty clear that most players are willing to forgive the sins of their favorite franchises under most circumstances, especially if they're cleaned up within three to six months of the offending release. But for those of us who are tired of battle passes and buggy servers, there's a whole world of indie games on Steam and Switch (for those who are so inclined) that don't need extra time in the oven for you to enjoy.
The Early Access indie games that I've spent significant time with this year (such as Legend Bowl) gave me far more enjoyment than the constant crashes that Battlefield 2042 assailed me with at launch, or the busted landscapes of GTA Trilogy. That's not to say that every indie game is perfect — some even rely on significant post-launch patches to overhaul their issues, like Metroidvanias Death's Gambit and Blasphemous — but as a whole, I just generally get a more consistent experience with smaller games than the likes of Halo and Battlefield, and I spend my money accordingly.
That said, indie games are far from a perfect solution to this problem. Even the biggest indie title can't capture the attention of your friend group with the same fervor as the hot new shooter, and there are very few multiplayer examples that manage to keep up a dedicated regular userbase like Team Fortress 2. As such, if you care about games, you're probably going to have to reckon with one of these messy launches every now and then for the sake of the hobby until something changes. And I don't think it's changing anytime soon.