How to keep your game from becoming the next Battlefield 2042
I’ve had to write this article so many times…I feel like it could be a series. The AAA gaming industry keeps making the same massive mistake, and it’s costing them billions; costing us gamers franchises we used to enjoy that are being destroyed; and it absolutely annoys me knowing that I know a simple way to prevent it all.
A while back I wrote an article titled “How to keep your game from becoming the next Anthem or Fallout 76” Then I wrote a follow up article when Cyberpunk 2077’s absolutely disastrous launch controversy happened.
Now…here we are again, another year and another game launched as a hated dumpster fire. I’m of course talking about Battlefield 2042. It has been one public failure after another, from one devs complaining on twitter about the fans, to an embarrassing official twitch stream, to the headline grabbing petition filled with hundreds of thousands of unhappy fans asking for their money back.
I’m a little late to the discussion about Battlefield 2042 and pretty much everything that needs to be said about the game itself has been said. However, this article really isn’t about the game itself; it’s simply the latest example of a massive big budget AAA game flopping HARD, simply due to their launch state. Battlefield 2042 is easily considered the worst in the franchise, and listed as one of the worst games on steam, and EA has called it a “disappointment”. 2042 makes the awful Battlefield V launch look great in comparison. People almost forgot how bad that game and short support was.
Here’s the thing. I know how it all could have easily been avoided. Now some of you might say “jUsT fIX thE GaMe!” or “Release it FINISHED!” Yes. That’s a given. If the game had released in a finished polished state this would have been avoided. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make.
Here’s the thing about the game example’s I’ve picked, Anthem, Fallout 76, Cyberpunk 2077, and now Battlefield 2042: none of them were doomed concepts. Had these four games launched in the state where they were polished and finished, the potential to be good games was there. They spectacularly failed largely due to their launch states. However launch states can’t always be avoided. Sometimes studios are subject to idiot publishers/stock holders/studio executives who force the developers to push a game out the door unfinished. Sometimes the game "needs" to launch, and it's going to be just a disaster. You and I can’t change that. Games will continue to launch unfinished. But I do have a suggestion that could have saved these games.
In previous articles such as “Why 70$ games are bad for the industry” I’ve talked about more and more of these headline blasting spectacular launch failures pointing more and more games to wait past launch windows. The AAA industry does not see how badly these launch disaster affect the reputation in gamer’s minds. I’ve often pointed to how many games receive steep discounts soon after launch, and how many games have these launch states, and how both of these are combining to teach gamers one thing. Wait.
Why buy a game for 60, 70, or even more, when there’s a good chance the experience will be poor, and if you wait no more than 3 months often times you can find the game for 50, 40, or even 30$ and the game might even be significantly better.
The problem that AAA doesn’t realize is they have a very simple and painfully obvious solution to their problem. If your game isn’t done, and you have your boss saying “PUSH IT OUT THE DOOR” I feel like there is a very easy way for games to avoid these Anthem, Fallout, Cyberpunk, and now Battlefield level disasters, a free and easy to use bandaid that could save reputation, game sales, and stock prices.
If these 4 companies had taken my simple little suggestion, they would have magically and easily saved themselves the massive bad press and gamer reputation loss. If you’ve read my previous entries you may already know my suggestion.
It is time for AAA to embrace EARLY ACCESS.
Those simple two little words are MAGIC. It is amazing how this simple little label could have magically saved them all these games from their controversies, AND also make them more money. Allow me to explain.
Some studios, especially EA, think that Early Access is some kind of privilege, a privilege that gamers should pay extra for. That’s where they’re wrong. In reality, they need to change their mentality. If they want gamers to buy it at launch, they need to make it worth our while. Gamers buying at launch is quickly becoming a privilege for the studios, a privilege they are quickly and drastically losing.
They fail to realize gamers not only sometimes wait years for a game, that the difference in terms of a few days, weeks, or months is not always huge for us. Sure there is a loud minority who will pay through the nose to have something NOW. But most of us are cheap, but more so want to wait the quality experiences. They also fail to realize the product we expect for $60+
What they and even so many journalists don’t understand is the reason so many gamers are mad is not “actually” the launch state of the game. We gamers play buggy ugly games all the time in the indie/AA space. I play buggy unfinished ugly games games all the time and often enjoy them. It’s the “promise to price to product” relationship that is broken with AAA. AAA promises a quality amazing experience that is finished and polished and in exchange, they want 60$. When they deliver an unpolished, unfinished product at 60$ they don’t understand the backlash. It feels like they have the apology social media post drafted and ready to go. They sometimes even blame gamers for their expectations when they are the ones who are setting the expectations.
I’ve always used PUBG as the perfect example of this done right. PUBG was an ugly, buggy, unfinished game when it launched. It was especially ugly on Xbox One. Gosh it hurt the eyes. However, PUBG was praised and loved by fans. I still know plenty of people who play today. Honestly, I think PUBG was uglier and buggier at "launch" than the four games I use as examples for this article. Why the difference? Why was the worst one of the 5 praised and the others universally panned?
PUBG was protected by that magic concept known as early access. It is absolutely mind blowing how AAA fails to realize how much better they’d be if they just told gamers up front how a game is still unfinished and buggy, how much backlash they would avoid. The transparency is only part of how it works, but it’s a huge part.
We gamers play buggy broken unfinished games all the time. What we hate is paying full price for a game that we were told was “finished” and found out we were lied too. When we are told ahead of time, gamers are actually pretty forgiving. The early access label tells us what we are in for. We feel informed. In fact, we feel like we “in early” on something. We feel like we're a small part of the games development.
If a studio says up front, “We know this game is not finished yet, but we think it might be enjoyable and fun for some members of our community. We also think it’s continued development would be best enhanced by player feedback”; I think it would blow their minds how much more positive the game would be received. That little label would blow their minds. I still remember watching this one YouTuber get blasted by negatively reviewing an early access game. All their points were valid, but the community all defended the game as being early access. Gamers were actually criticizing the critic for being critical on a game because he was told the game was unfinished. It’s just a whole different dynamic.
However, there’s one more thing that makes it work, another reason why Early Access acts as a magical protection spell for a game’s reputation and sales figures. It’s more than just honesty and transparency which gamers love. It also includes an important difference with gamer’s wallets.
Early Access REWARDS gamers who buy early, where as so often times AAA gamers feel punished for buying early, and therefore encouraged and taught to “wait to buy”. When studios make their most money typically in launch windows, and launch windows are where most studios measure their games success, it baffles me why they continue to do something that discourages buying early.
Anthem and Cyberpunk were both games I bought on launch day. I paid full price for both. Both games were buggy, unenjoyable, and games I regretted buying at launch. That feeling was amplified by finding both games 50% off within 2 months. I felt punished for investing early. EA and CDPR made their customers feel bad for buying early. Had I waited I could have gotten a marginally better product for half the price. The two months I got to play early did not feel like a benefit but a punishment for supporting developers I trusted and liked. I am very much not alone in this sentiment as many gamers are starting to wait more, and AAA doesn’t understand why. Imagine if instead of feeling cheated, tricked, and punished; I felt rewarded, invested, and a part of something?
Here’s the magic of Early Access. It doesn't just reward gamers who buy early, it makes them feel better. In fact, it can even incentivize a purchase instead of waiting.
AAA thinks the answer to slower launch sales and competition is a 70$ game. But I’m here to tell you they couldn’t be more wrong. Raising the price will only hurt more. It will only slow sales and hurt profits further. The answer is 40 or 50$ games. I know the concept that launching more games as $40-"ish" early access will actually lead better sales is a crazy idea to some, but I can prove it would work.
There is something, a “price bell curve” that shows where your optimal price is for a product that maximizes your total profit. AAA doesn’t realize they are going in the wrong way for that bell curve.
Imagine you have a restaurant that sells hamburgers for 8$. The hamburgers are ok, and business is ok, but the store owner feels like he’s not making enough profit. He’s struggling to make enough money. He considers raising the price to 10$. He asks me what to do. I talk to his customers and I find out that enough of them don’t think his burger is worth 10$ and would no longer eat there. Sure he is charging more per burger, and making more money per burger, but enough people opt out to lower his total profit. This shows how raising the price can sometimes actually lower overall revenue. What if I ask those customers about lowering it to 7$? Enough of them tell me that his burgers are phenomenal for 7$ and they would eat there more often and tell more friends. His customer traffic increases enough to where even at 7$, a dollar less than now, he is actually making more money.
It may be counter intuitive but it is possible for lower prices to increase profits and higher prices to reduce profits. We’ve seen a real life example of this in the indie space on the Nintendo Eshop. Nintendo has an entire section devoted to deals, and sometimes indie games discount by as much as 90% because simply being shown in the deals section on the Eshop has sometimes massively boosted their sales. Selling their game at a fraction of the price sometimes increased their profits.
Video games aren’t even like burgers in that they have little to no “cost per unit”. It doesn’t really matter how many individual copies you sell…it matters how much money you make.
70$ games are like the 10$ burgers. Sure you will make a few extra dollars for the gamers who still buy. But I know proportionally more gamers will wait than the increased profits. I’m confident that 70$ games will hurt game sales even more. It is simple, it is better to quickly sell 3 copies at 50$ (150$) than to sell 1 at 70$ while that gamer’s two friends wait for a discount to 30$ a few months later. (130$). This is especially true and compounded if that game sucks at launch and the 70$ purchaser actively encourages his two friends to wait.
Contrary, early access discounts and founders editions reward gamers who buy early. It can create a buying rush when the game is about to leave early access and the prices go up. Since studios care most about profiting during launch, they should want as many sales in launch as possible. I can’t tell you how many times I look at a game in a crowded release window and think, maybe I should wait because I dont have the time now and it will be discounted sooner than later. This month is a perfect example. We have Elden Ring, Dying Light 2, Lost Ark, and Horizon Forbidden West all releasing in one month. These are incredibly massive, lengthy, open world games. Who has the time to play all four of these? It’s not even about the money, it’s about the time.
When you see that early access label you see a ticking clock. You see a sale price that is going to increase soon. Early Access not only gives you the game sooner, it rewarded you for playing early.
Let’s look at Cyberpunk 2077. That game was hot garbage at launch and all of us suckers who paid 60$ of it were pretty upset. 2 Months later I saw it for 30$. It has been even less multiple times since. Let’s look at a year later. The game is vastly improved, the next generation versions are finally out, and the game has been available to find since for only 10$. With the next-gen and 1.5 patch finally here, over a year later only now the game is starting to resemble a final quality product.
Between a garbage 60$ version or waiting and getting a decent $30-10$ version it should not be shocking why gamers are still mad. I paid 60$ for a bad experience while my coworker who bought the 10$ version a year later said, “I don’t understand all the hate, it’s not that bad”.
Imagine now for a second CDPR used my suggestion, and realized early they should go the early access route, and launched it with that label at say 40$. Gamers would have been warned ahead of time. There would have been a whole press cycle about how CDPR was launching the game in early access instead of another delay. There would have been a little disclaimer social media post. Gamers would been happy when they saw the 20$ discount they got. When the game launched on early access the backlash would have been massively less because they would have been told ahead of time. They would feel financially compensated. Let’s say a year later, they launched the "1.0" for 60$ players would be rushing to buy it before the price went up. This next-gen 1.5 patch on pc saw a 10 million player jump in returning concurrent players.
It would have saved their reputation, prevented the whole refund scandal, and actually made them more money. It’s not even just about game sales, but reputation can hurt stock prices. CDPR learned that the hard way.
Battlefield 2042 is the latest example in this conversation. Instead of EA hilariously CHARGING for their early access via the premium editions, imagine if they rewarded gamers. Instead of 60, 70, or 100$ editions. Release 30, 40$ Editions labeled as Early Access.
Be upfront. Say the game is unfinished instead of it being an unpleasant surprise. When the game boots up, thank gamers for buying early and helping with development. Imagine there being a little feedback link right there. I don’t know about you but I (and many gamers) love being a part of a games development. I love giving suggestions and helping prepare a game for launch. It would be calm constructive suggestions instead of angry backlash.
If any of these games been 30$ or 40$ instead of 60-100, would have had you feel like you saved money buying early instead of wasting it. Had you been told ahead of time the experience it would offer, I guarantee your opinion on those games would have been at least more positive. Sure, some people would opt out for the "final" versions, but those are the people who pay 60$. Rewarding your early adopters instead of those who waited is the path to success.
My message to AAA studio executives: If your game is unfinished, unpolished, and in the states that these games were in ahead of launch. Don't panic. Don't do the wrong thing. Instead of clicking the launch button and hoping for the best, please take my advice. Gamers wont care if you make it worth their while and just tell them honestly ahead of time. Use the magical protection spell that is the Early Access label. Sell your hamburger for 7 instead of 10, and I promise you will come out ok.