New Year, Same Game?

With the recent issues surrounding WWE 2K20’s release, Eoin Keogh offers his criticism on the annual-installment model.

With developers becoming more and more focused on releasing content every year, despite any remaining issues, it begs the question; what effect will such a model have on upcoming releases?

A recent example of developers constricted over deadlines is the new WWE 2K20. The development of the WWE games has been managed by Yukes since 2000, but they were dropped in favour of VisualConcepts for this edition of the game. 2k games have decided to remain silent on the issues plaguing development since the fans reaction to the trailer for the game. WWE games finally responded on Twitter to the initial concerns of fans, and on the 25th of October, they said within two weeks they expected to have a patch to fix these issues. But the quality, or lack thereof, extends further than just the graphics.

The game is riddled with mechanical issues as well; from NPC’s getting stuck in the barriers and in the ropes, to the character controlled by the player not performing the correct moves and glitching through the floor. The graphics looking like a downscaled Wii game might be nostalgic for some, but this €60+ price-tag doesn’t warrant this. The issue came about when the Yukes development team left the game, leaving the VisualConcepts team solely responsible. They had to complete the project with only a six month period to meet deadlines. The development of a game is difficult enough within such a time frame, but when the time frame is cut in half, picking up a project someone else started, and the need to improve from last year’s installment, the challenge is almost impossible to complete. An arduous task it was, leaving consumers with the mess that is WWE 2K20; a game outdone in almost every way by 2K19, released a whole year earlier.

This is the market that yearly releases function in; the selling of almost the same game every year with slightly updated features. Releases such as the newest Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, while maintaining their annual release tradition, aren't subjected to the same fatigue associated with other releases. 30.71 million copies of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 have been sold thus far, making it the highest seller of the franchise while the new Modern Warfare has totaled, according to Business Insider, just shy of $700 million in sales.

While they are certainly profitable, I would argue that yearly releases put developers under too much pressure, resulting in less-than-stellar releases. Projects like The Last of Us and Spiderman are curated over the years, and the quality speaks for itself. The Last of Us is a visually stunning game, with a meticulously crafted emotional tale of survival in the apocalypse. The fan-favourite status it has received is exemplary of the developers’ hard work. The second installment is due for a May 2020 release, originally slated for February 2020. Noticing potential issues in development, Naughty Dog opted to delay the project, rather than releasing something sub-par.

Spiderman, another game that was in development for a considerable time frame, shows what such efforts can result in. The colours, the shimmering light at dawn and dusk reflected by the Avengers tower, the movements of Spiderman swinging through the city are simply spectacular. The game is excellently written; a tightly-woven narrative following a post-grad Peter Parker protecting New York, while battling constant criticism from concerned citizens. The gameplay is smooth, with relatively no major glitches. The reason why is simple; the major title, one of the most acclaimed of this current generation, took around four years to develop and release. The developers that worked on the project had the time necessary to make and release a finished product, instead of being overworked and forced to release a barely-functioning title on time, like WWE 2K20.

For games to function and have all the elements that make their respective genres great, they need to have time for developers to work. Otherwise, the results are half-baked titles that players spend upwards of €60 on, only for it to be almost identical to the previous installment. The issue with these yearly releases has become not only a consumer’s issue, but a workers’ issue too, and that is why I for one will avoid such games and continue to support titles that don’t require the developers to be overworked, and consistently deliver great gameplay regardless.