WATCH_DOGS: Hype and Tribulations



It seems that bug filled launches are becoming the social norm for video game companies as time progresses.  Studio deadlines become shorter and shorter as companies want the product in the consumer’s hands as fast as possible to maximize profits at the expense of players and the play experience.  There is a reason for the growing distrust in mega-corps like EA and Activision.

Which brings us to yet another fun filled video game launch day: The highly anticipated worldly acclaimed Watch_Dogs.

Some issues and crashes are caused from getting in and out of the game's vehicles.
Some issues and crashes are caused from getting in and out of the game’s vehicles.

Watch_dogs is a game that put on a spectacular E3 2013 show.  I believe we mentioned it a couple times in our SciFi4Me8-Bits round table video podcast.  It had a strong marketing campaign and a pretty large presence in the gaming community as one of the games that heralds in the all glorious “Next Gen” of gaming power.

Many gamers pre-ordered Watch_Dogs.  Now, I am not an advocate against the idea of pre-ordering.  It’s a good marketing strategy when done right and can give the players a bit of an in-game boost with some fun digital content.  There are some games that have done quite well with their pre-ordering strategies (Overgrowth and Starbound come directly to mind).

But a lot of times, especially more now as it is slowly becoming the rule and not the exception, pre-orders are just ways to guarantee a player’s money before the title hits shelves with no acknowledgement to the player’s part for that money.  What I mean by that, is when a game is pre-ordered, a player puts down a pledge to pay in advance to obtain a copy of the game at launch.  The game company also makes a pledge to have the game available and, and here’s the kicker, working.  It is becoming a normal thing for games to have terrible launches, and when you pre-order a game that has one of these broken launches, it makes it even worse.

Watch_Dogs is in the “broken launch” phase.  Plagued with compatibility and optimization issues, the game barely runs for most.  A lucky few are experiencing no problems.  This of course, is counting for the “glorious master race” of PC players and not for those still true to their consoles.  Those players that, from the ashes of the current ugly console battles, have turned to their trusted desktop gaming rigs as an escape from disappointing “next gen” releases.

One of the current problems with Watch_Dogs, is that the studio agreed to a bid with nVidia, a computer graphics card manufacturer, for the game to be almost “exclusive” to that company’s cards.  If they were the only company, that wouldn’t be a problem… But for those players that run nVidia’s rival’s, AMD Radeon, graphics cards, they are kind of out of luck.

Most of the other problems fall into a few categories:

  • The game’s frames-per-second is unpredictable and drops out randomly and often, creating a slow churning stuttering game play effect.  Essentially you run the game fine for a few seconds and then everything freezes and lags out for several minutes, rinse and repeat.  This is the problem that I had with it.
  • Downloading the game from a digital market place freezes or crashes preventing the download.
  • Uplay (Ubisoft’s own personal marketplace through which they are forcing everyone on PC to run Watch_dogs) won’t recognize player’s purchasing codes or won’t issue said codes to new purchasers on top of it’s own host of issues which include freezing and log in errors.
  • The game freezes while loading.
  • The game crashes in mid-play or in menus with a feared blue screen of death.
  • The game doesn’t recognize keyboards or mice (which is sadistically funny as the game’s start screen says “Press Any Key”). Or its sensitivity (the speed at which the mouse moves on the screen) is impossibly low.
  • The game’s audio/video vanishes randomly.

Most of these issues are due to the studio not “optimizing” the game for the wide range of PC types.  While it may be difficult and time consuming to do so, optimizing tweaks graphics and the game engine to run smoothly as well as making the computing more efficient over all of these varying PCs.  It’s what makes the list of “minimum system requirements” actually mean something. And in the case of video games, and most software, it’s a low bar that any PC that meets or exceeds should be able to run without problem.  In the case of Watch_Dogs, it’s just random components that who knows why they are on that list? There’s users that have even high end gaming PC rigs that are having the same issues as those of us that are closer to those min-specs.

I will admit, the game's premise seems awesome...
I will admit, the game’s premise seems awesome…

In a way, it’s still why I kind of long for the 4-5 year development span that we used to have back in the N64 days.  Good games take time to make, and the more studio execs rush deadlines to max out early  profits, the more gamers will learn to not trust that studio.  There is a reason people are turning off of the large consoles and moving to PCs, moving away from large studio releases and focusing on indy start-ups.  Watch_Dogs is a great example of a high dollar forced marketing strategy that doesn’t back up the words with an actual functioning product.

Now this isn’t to say that they won’t patch it for better functionality in the future, and it might work fine when or if they do.  Though I know many players, like myself, that would be fine waiting that extra few months to a year for a working game than get a non-functional copy early on.

I’m sure that Watch_Dogs is probably a decent or even better game… it’s just getting it to play, that’s the hard part.


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