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24

The Birds And The Bugs

July 28, 2023 by Tim

My oldest has graduated from tablet and console gaming, to now playing some games on my PC. One of the games he plays is technically in early access, so it’s been a lot more exposure to the “sometimes things don’t work right” side of gaming.

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When he asks me something like this, on the one hand it cuts to the very heart of an important matter we all feel: Yeah, why don’t they make sure the game works before releasing it? It makes me realize how very numb and resigned I’ve become to the idea that games might launch with issues, and then they (hopefully) get fixed afterwards. That’s not to say I’m fundamentally okay with it, just that I’m very used to it.

On the other hand, while I don’t make video games myself, I’ve been around them long enough to have developed a cursory understanding of how ridiculously complicated they are, especially these days. Exponentially more complex than they’ve ever been, with more moving parts and (especially for PCs) more combinations of hardware that make adequate testing a herculean feat. Add in things like budgets, and unrealistic publishers, crunch and servers and DRM and there are a billion different reasons for a game to have bugs. It’s not always as simple as “they didn’t care” or “they’re bad at their jobs.”

I wish he could maintain this youthful gaming innocence, this perspective that games “just work” (because when he was only playing console games that had been out for a long time, they did just work). But that’s not the world of video games he’s growing up in.

Also: I’ve released a new Q&A from Patreon.

And we have found a few books in the UK! This is the last opportunity to get these books in the UK without paying shipping from the US (which is stupid expensive).

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Dunkmaster
Dunkmaster
10 months ago

But it is easy: greed!

Tankus
Tankus
10 months ago
Reply to  Dunkmaster

Why are people downvoting you? It’s exactly that!

DJWG
DJWG
10 months ago
Reply to  Dunkmaster

It’s not remotely that simple, and if you read the small blog at the end of the comic you’d have an idea. The original NES Mario game ha 16,000 lines of code. And it’s not entirely bug free. In comparison, Grand Theft Auto V has 60,000,000 lines of code. In comparison, human DNA only has between 75 million and 3.2 billion lines of code, depending on how you interpret a “line.” Video games are a console generation or two away from being as complex as a human being! (Which are notoriously prone to bugs.) A bug could be caused by… Read more »

The Legacy
The Legacy
10 months ago
Reply to  DJWG

This exactly. And even then sometimes bugs don’t get found onto release. I have even experienced this first hand as a QA tester with the video game Wanted: Weapons of Fate; we spent months running like game through its paces to find every possible bug before its release. By the point of release it was stable and as bug free as we were going to get. But as soon as I plugged the retail version into my own PC, that’s when the game crashed as soon as I booted it up. Why? Because it didn’t know how to translate my… Read more »

Gnarph
Gnarph
10 months ago

Wow, right in the feels, man. Add to that I am a professional developer so when i got that question not only did it get me as a gamer but hurt my proffessional pride.

All i could say is we try our best, but we are human too and make mistakes. We are constantly trying to find new and better ways to catch bugs early, via unit testing, integration testing, automated testing, user acceptance testing, exploratory testing, regression testing, alpha testing, beta testing … but in the end we cant imagine every way a user will use our systems.

Scarsdale
Scarsdale
10 months ago
Reply to  Gnarph

Add in the pressure to release doesn’t help either, I’ve been told that by some other’s in that world, made me glad I never tried to get in it. Back in early 80s I spoke MS basic like a second language, then the Pascal and C++ came out and I was overwhelmed by it all. Plus I had gotten married and had other concerns by then.

Gnarph
Gnarph
10 months ago
Reply to  Scarsdale

Yeah, early in my career I worked for a shop where the business decided the release timeline with not a whole lot of regard for what the development team told them with regards to how much time xyz feature needed to be developed and tested. It led to crunch development and destroyed two marriages while i was there.

Now I make sure my employer listens to the dev team and as a leader of developers make sure I dont allow that mentality to get into my team.

Jack0r
Jack0r
10 months ago
Reply to  Gnarph

My boss keeps telling a story of when he had to cancel family vacation to finish some project because of heavy crunch time. The project was cancelled a month afterward. He says, he can’t even remember what that project was about, but his daughters still remember that vacation he cancelled. Tbh, if business decides not to listen to the estimates of the devs, then they failed their job. And then it’s not the devs business to fix their mistakes. I mean, if you like your boss, put in a little extra work, but not at the order of magnitude where… Read more »

The Legacy
The Legacy
10 months ago
Reply to  Jack0r

I’m surprised that developers don’t simply refuse to crunch, short of perhaps the last couple of weeks before release. That’s the only time I could ever see it making sense. Beyond that, that’s a management issue.

wolph
wolph
10 months ago
Reply to  Gnarph

The unrealistic timelines are the biggest issue if you ask me. Having bugs is completely understandable, but releasing regardless of having many known bugs (or not properly beta testing) is the big issue in my opinion. You will never catch all bugs but blatantly obvious bugs can be avoided and the quality of software (and hardware with patchable firmwares) has gone downhill quite badly over the years. That’s not just the case for games but you can see it with hardware as well. Cars that ship while promising features that are not done yet, 3D printers (such as the new… Read more »

The Legacy
The Legacy
10 months ago
Reply to  wolph

That’s because of how complex video games are getting. AAA as a model is risking complete collapse because they want the greatest graphics with the fastest turnaround time. Compare that to BattleBit which is currently CRUSHING Battlefield in its segment; its simplicity is its strength. Valheim is the same way. Same with Brotato. And who could ever forget Among Us?

anonymous
anonymous
10 months ago

But it’s a really simple question really. The answer is always some form of “Because they didn’t have enough time”. They spent all the time they had on other things, including fixing the bugs in the parts of the game that now work, which is most of it.

Arcanum
Arcanum
10 months ago
Reply to  anonymous

And there is always, always another bug. If you’re doing well, eventually you get to the point where the only remaining bugs are rarely encountered minor annoyances.

ears
ears
10 months ago
Reply to  anonymous

Yes! With “time” sometimes substituted with more generic “resources”, but time is most often the main deficit one — since there’s always a threshold that cannot be passed by scaling other resources.

Jack0r
Jack0r
10 months ago

I just play games 10 years after their release. Then they just work, are cheap and actually run fine on my not-so-fast PC.

And since I don’t like multiplayer anyway, I’m not missing out on anything.

Btw, did you know, the cake is a lie?

CTOWNS
CTOWNS
10 months ago
Reply to  Jack0r

But what if “The cake is a lie” is actually the lie?
What if, all this time, the robot really was willing and ready to reward your cooperation with cake? You’ll never know, because you shot it into space like a paranoid jerk.

Pajuka
Pajuka
10 months ago
Reply to  CTOWNS

The several murder attempts is a pretty good indicator that the robot is lying.

Jack0r
Jack0r
10 months ago
Reply to  CTOWNS

But, but, but the robot was evil! The graffiti on the wall said so!

Kelibath
Kelibath
10 months ago
Reply to  Jack0r

What if the GRAFFITI is a lie?

wkz
wkz
10 months ago
Reply to  Kelibath

The lie is a lie!

Zair
Zair
10 months ago
Reply to  Jack0r

Nice XKCD reference!

https://xkcd.com/606/

DanVzare
DanVzare
10 months ago
Reply to  Jack0r

But… you actually get the cake at the end.

AnonDev
AnonDev
10 months ago

Another developer of 10 years, just wanted to add my 2 cents too. It’s really an impossible battle and you’re right with some of the points you’ve made. Because a bug has been found by a user, doesn’t necessarily mean we haven’t found or had it logged for the last year. QA aren’t the problem, they often do find most of the bugs, but the dev team never get a chance to fix them. We’re asked to estimate how long it’ll take to fix a bug, which, if anyone has ever estimated a DIY task, you’re always wrong. You look… Read more »

jrharbort
jrharbort
10 months ago
Reply to  AnonDev

“99 lines of errors in the code, 99 lines of errors. Take one down, patch it around, 1099 lines of errors in the code”

The Legacy
The Legacy
10 months ago
Reply to  AnonDev

As a former QA who also took game dev in college, I totally understand where you’re coming from. If people understood how difficult it was to figure out a bug, and making sure that bug doesn’t cause other bugs, they would never complain again. Unfortunately, most people wouldn’t be able to understand.

Last edited 10 months ago by The Legacy
M37h3w3
M37h3w3
10 months ago

So many lovely topics to cover.

The sheer complexity in making video games. Making something so that it works well enough. Deadlines: Why everyone hates them and also why they are important. Doing the bare minimum required by your boss. Pushing the line on what’s acceptable. Intentionally doing something bad and walking it back as a “compromise.”

And many, many more.

Austin Mills
Austin Mills
10 months ago

I dunno. “Greed” is a pretty easy answer.

jack
jack
10 months ago
Reply to  Austin Mills

i find it funny how people would rather downvote this answer than counter it in a meaningful fashion

wkz
wkz
10 months ago
Reply to  jack

I’ve been to online discussions, forums of all types, even the cesspool that is Gaming sub-reddits (note: refuse to touch toxic twitt… erm… X threads).

I just know how trying to argue against a comment similar to the above will turn out, or other similar items such as “the management doesn’t care”, “the developers are unskilled and incompetent” and my mirror-universe’s favorite “the company lied to us! LIED! THIS IS WHY: *three pages of previous press release and unfinished features and year-old bugs* “…

… almost always ending up with one side calling the other “corporate ass-kissing simp”. No exceptions.

Last edited 10 months ago by wkz
The Legacy
The Legacy
10 months ago
Reply to  wkz

This, pretty much. Although corporate management has a lot to blame with AAA titles, that only really applies with too short deadlines, too little funding, and/or a toxic work culture. These issues can and will happen to any game, regardless of toxic management.

Alice
Alice
10 months ago

As you said, the sheer scale and complexity these days mean the bug list simply isn’t finite, even if you had all the time in the world (which you don’t, you need revenue to keep the lights on at some point!). You have to draw a line for when it works “enough” and that line differs between companies and individuals. In my experience, the obvious bugs like the one in the comic are things that broke just as the build was going out the door, maybe from a fix for some much larger issue that you’ve been saved from? And… Read more »

DanVzare
DanVzare
10 months ago

Well it’s a simple answer. They release games before they’re finished, because people are willing to buy them unfinished. Obviously the majority of people don’t mind unfinished games, otherwise they wouldn’t sell as well as they do. It might be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s the truth. Even if I’m not in that majority, I at least recognize it, just like how I recognize that the majority of people enjoy football games. Although I think I must add that every game is released with bugs, and there are always bugs that are never fixed. It’s just that quality… Read more »

The Legacy
The Legacy
10 months ago
Reply to  DanVzare

Early Access is its own separate issue. I do strongly believe in the idea of early access, but it’s been so badly abused that it’s being turned into a paid open beta, and the project abandoned if they realize the game can’t be saved. In a weird way, it’s good for them because they know the game is beyond repair, but it’s bad for us because we just paid for a game that will never be finished.

scottsmom
scottsmom
10 months ago

The answer is as simple as it is universally applicable. Profit driven institutions always aim to produce the lowest quality product they can get away with. The factors going into that are manifold and subject to interpretation, which is why not every producer goes for the same strategy, but the underlying principle is the same, as is the counter: if you want good games, then stop throwing money at producers of bad games. Or don’t, and buy into the 43rd installment of whatever franchise is your opium which some producer has run into the ground because they know people will… Read more »

Last edited 10 months ago by scottsmom
The Legacy
The Legacy
10 months ago
Reply to  scottsmom

That only really applies for the Call of Duty’s and FIFA’s of the industry. There are many other games where this does not apply – even other franchises.

FireballDragon
FireballDragon
10 months ago

Games just aren’t as easy to make as they were back then.

Zara
Zara
10 months ago
Reply to  FireballDragon

Games were never easy to make. They’re certainly more complicated now, but even back in older days of gaming (e.g. Pokemon Red/Blue) you still had unknown pokemon glitches that happened if you talk to the right person and surf along the right coastline. Part of it is perspective. Once upon a time we looked at these glitches as easter eggs to discover or mechanics to abuse because they were permanent aspects of the game. There were no internet patches. Now-a-days these things get patched out when they’re found and so it’s a bug that should’ve been found before release since… Read more »

The Legacy
The Legacy
10 months ago
Reply to  Zara

Pokemon is a poor example because it wasn’t a case of bugs due to poor coding, because quite literally they were pushing the cartridge storage to the absolute limits. They, somehow, fit in enough sprites to cover 151 pokémon, all of the trainers, yourself, and all the images from the Overworld, plus all of the Pokemon data, plus the regular code, plus room for a number of Pokemon save data, plus regular save data… in only 376,000 bytes. Or 376kb. Or 0.376MB. Quite literally, an MP3 for a 5 minute song is over 10x that in hard drive space. To… Read more »

The Legacy
The Legacy
10 months ago
Reply to  FireballDragon

As someone who used to do modding for Total Annihilation and Dawn of war, I totally agree with you. I could make a mission in Dune II in a few hours. A decent one in Starcraft with triggers in a day. And I could fully 3D model a unit in Total Annihilation in two hours, and animate it, texture it, code it, script it, create a unit build picture, and publish it in a day. When you’re dealing with only approximately 25-150 polygons and with very basic script, it was super easy back then. It made me want to get… Read more »

Henchman Twenty1
Henchman Twenty1
10 months ago

Kid, just be glad you weren’t a gamer back in the 90’s when you had to manually download and install patches yourself. You would have to check the companies’ websites every so often to even see if one had been released.

Bwauder
Bwauder
10 months ago

And running a LAN gaming business with regular venue hires and monthly competitions meant hours of downloading, and maintaining an ever growing server with all the patches, maps etc for the competition games.
TG for wireless now, 1 thing I do not miss is the piles of cables we used to have to lay out every time.

Eric the White
Eric the White
10 months ago

Sometimes it really is just as easy as “they are bad at their jobs.” Take the example in the comic. The quest doesn’t complete. Repeatedly, reliably. That means they didn’t even test it. That’s bad at your job.

Joe
Joe
10 months ago

Graphically much more complicated, but games like Darklands and the original LaserSquad / X-Com from the 80’s are massivley in-depth and sophisticated games to play. Darklands has 4-person squad mechanics, skillsets that alter / decline with age, a new character aging process to create a unique skill tree, potion crafting, individual item degredation/quality, a calendar with events that only happened at set times (and changed the map / movement according to the season), world-changing events – all in a game that was what, 10mb total? One of my biggest wishes would be a remake of Darklands – change nothing about… Read more »

Paul
Paul
10 months ago

Not to do with the comic, but Tim’s moustache game is absolutely on point.

RMGreen
RMGreen
10 months ago

“Greed”? “Bad at their jobs”? Yikes.

How about starting with: Modern video games are incredibly complex and the people creating them are fallible humans. That’s a basic answer that I think even a kid could understand.

jack
jack
10 months ago
Reply to  RMGreen

that doesnt answer the question of why they dont make sure it works before they relase it. do they not playtest the shit before they turn it out? they damn sure should. but that would cost more money

Thomas
Thomas
10 months ago

QA lead here. We really do our best. But when you’ve got a player base of 100 million people are going to come up with scenarios that just haven’t come up in testing- items they’re carrying, previous missions completed/not completed/being done at the same time, account flags, interactions with the environment by other players, you name it- it’s a nigh infinite character customization setup of script failure possibilities.

And I’m on an FPS. Arcadia help open world RPG designers.

foducool
foducool
10 months ago

because now, there is the internet and they can patch a game so hard it’s unrecognizable

Freddie
Freddie
10 months ago
Reply to  foducool

“I am gonna patch that game so hard!”

Last edited 10 months ago by Freddie
raven0ak
raven0ak
10 months ago

answer is easy: because ppl are stupid enough to pay to be alpha and beta testers, big companies have outsourced QA to ppl rushing to play buggy mess

Last edited 10 months ago by raven0ak
Phaet
Phaet
10 months ago

Actually it was working before it was released so they don’t really know what happened.
That happens all the time in software. However we take it to whole new level. “- That code of yours I took was working fine but now it’s not! – That is not my code, I took it from someone”
Yup.

some guy
some guy
10 months ago

I honestly didn’t realize until now how greatful I should be that my early gaming life (let’s say up until age of 15) was mostly bug-free. So I could enjoy games that worked as they should during my childhood.

Pyre
Pyre
10 months ago

A lot of negativity in the comments. While some of it is warranted, I’ve been on the other side of things. I worked in Microsoft’s “dogfood” program when we were trying to beta (then “new”) Microsoft Mobile OS. Fun fact. The ratio of glitches/bugs in other software is probably about the same. Also, I remember having a completely glitched copy of Section Z for the NES and exploiting other glitches from Intellivision games on. (Seriously, who beat King in the SNES version of Shadowrun without taking advantage of the screen cheat?) As such, I really haven’t known a period of… Read more »

i dont know
i dont know
10 months ago

But this is very easy: corporate greed. Massive video game companies like EA, Ubisoft, Activision, and their ilk, despite being insanely profitable and very able to afford proper development time, force their employees to crunch without overtime pay and then sell an unfinished build of the game instead of doing a delay so it can be finished before going on sale. As long as it makes money for the executives and the investors, no consideration is given at all to the developers and the customers.

And of course, everyone who gave this correct answer got downvoted. ?

Logan
Logan
10 months ago
Reply to  i dont know

“Greed” is downvoted because it’s only AN answer, it is not *the* answer. It’s reductive and blatantly ignores a lot of the finer points (already made by others here).

Are the Big Greedy Corps? Absolutely. But they do not make up *all* of the gaming companies. And even then, they’re mostly just publishers at this point, not the devs themselves. Devs that may be, while also under crunch, working on 100 other bugs that they found and we’ll never see.

Chalking it all up to the boogyman of ‘greed’ is… just being ignorant.

rck
rck
10 months ago

Not a perfect analogy, but It’s sort of similar to asking “Why didn’t you get a perfect score on your math test?” It could be you ran out of time. (Publisher deadlines) It could be you didn’t try hard enough. (Laziness) It could be that the questions were phrased in an incredibly stupid way. (Buggy middleware) It could be that you didn’t double-check your answers. (QA) It could be that the teacher decided to put an open research question on the test to see if anyone could get it. (Unrealistic expectations.) Except that this test has thousands/hundreds of thousands of… Read more »

Lily
Lily
10 months ago

A lot of people mention greed, but it isn’t even that simple. Imagine you work for a huge company, someone tells you “This game will be released in five year”. They set a date. You go off talk to a huge team that markets the game for release on that day. You spend millions in the months leading up to the release date hyping up the game, then they say, “We had a problem, we need to push the date back six months.” Do you say, “Okay, we just wasted millions of dollars marketing a game that isn’t coming out… Read more »

Crestlinger
Crestlinger
10 months ago

HAH! Can incorporate the comic format itself into the answer: ‘ Do you want the ‘read more’ version or the ‘read less’ version? Boils down to THE CRUNCH deadline more often then not though. Successful ones roll with the bugs and say ‘Thank you for your input everyone! Here’s how we made things better!’ failed ones go full ostrich ‘What bug? we were not able to reproduce this.’

Dom, The Pun-isher
Dom, The Pun-isher
10 months ago

Programming is trying to narrow down infinity to a specific usecase.

Rolando
Rolando
10 months ago

Simple:

1) Even with the best of intentions and efforts, some bugs will make it into the final release. A lot of games are just too complex and large to avoid that.

2) Often enough, companies do NOT put in the best of intentions and efforts. Greed, ignorance, laziness, incompetence, miscommunication, ego… All those exist in all large companies to some extent, and hinder quality.

This is a good thing for a kid to learn. So he knows what to expect, from many large groups.

Sweetos
Sweetos
10 months ago

well, if you have him play unfinished early access games, the answer is right there.

if it’s not an ea game, time and money.

MysteryDev
MysteryDev
10 months ago

It’s not that hard to make sure a game works when you ship it, all you have to do is have everyone developing the game develop and test it on the same configuration of hardware and software that it will be played on.

Logan
Logan
10 months ago
Reply to  MysteryDev

And PC games? Not every customer *has* the same hardware, and it’s unreasonable and ridiculous to expect devs to test on every possible combination. And they have to pick and choose their battles when developing for consoles. Do they only release on one brand and limit their market? On one Gen of a brand, and lose more? Or do they try to branch out and do multiple gems, or multiple brands, in which case they have LOT more work to do, just in programming it to work on all of those consoles and over possibly multiple gems. Add in a… Read more »

Pulse
Pulse
10 months ago

it really is fun to try to explain to the masses that yes games ARE tested, but they are only able to test so much and dear lord the combonations of things that can cause bugs sometimes. once saw a runescape patch note about fixing a bug when carrying a specific amount of an item, talking to an npc, and trying to examine said stack of items. like how were they suppose to test that exact scenario?

Ben
Ben
10 months ago

Ninety nine bugs in the code
Ninety nine bugs in the code
You patch one out and compile the code
One hundred and five bugs in the code

Outback Jon
Outback Jon
10 months ago

Hey, quit complaining. At least now they *can* patch a game. I started gaming when the games came on cartridges. (No, not those new-fangled NES cartridges! You young whippersnappers. Get off my lawn!) I mean the Magnavox and the Atari 2600.

Pulse
Pulse
10 months ago
Reply to  Outback Jon

ah back when the glitch was intended gameplay. wait thats speedrunning now

Scott Bevan
Scott Bevan
10 months ago

As a software tester there is no such thing as bug-free in any product. The problem you have as a tester is quite simple and is one of the first principles of testing. You can never prove that there are no bugs in the system, only detect what bugs you can. The other issue you have as a tester is that if you get 1000hrs to test something and detect bugs, that pales in comparison to 10000s of people playing for dozens of hours. Also as mentioned you cannot conceivably test on every variation of hardware available. Obviously there is… Read more »

Urazz
Urazz
10 months ago

Didn’t think this is a really complicated question. Depending on the company, it’s either out of a sense of greed to meet quarter deadline for the shareholders, and/or the devs made the game too complex and underestimated how much time they need to release the game at a solid state.

DevMerlin
DevMerlin
10 months ago

If you’re producing card games, you aren’t very far from making video games.

It’s not too many steps away!

Bakamoichigei
Bakamoichigei
10 months ago

“Well son, sometimes bad things happen to good games…” ?