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Game industry ‘ship it and fix it’ attitude needs to change

TrustedReviews deputy editor, Andy Vandervell, shares his views on this week’s biggest stories, including GTA Online’s implosion, Samsung’s big flop and HTC’s ongoing troubles.

Wouldn’t it be nice if games worked from the start?

What are we to do about buggy online games? To Diablo III and SimCity, add GTA Online (and GTA 5 to a lesser extent). Rockstar’s ambitious online expansion of the GTA universe hasn’t so much stuttered as imploded. Our GTA Online Problems article is the most read article on TrustedReviews this week. Even the mainstream press have begun paying attention. When your woes are on the BBC homepage you know things are going badly.

But the worst thing about this episode is its predictability. At this stage it’s hard to think of any game with an ambitious online component that hasn’t imploded spectacularly at launch. Previously the debate mainly focused on how such elements were really DRM in disguise, but GTA Online’s problems are simpler. It just doesn’t work.

And a quick glance at future releases suggests we’re destined to relive this nightmare over and over again. Destiny, the current and next-gen shooter from Bungie, has a huge online component woven right into the fabric of the game. The Crew, Ubisoft’s next-gen racing title, is billed as a large-scale multiplayer and single-player game where co-op and team play are core parts of the game.  I hope they’ll fare better than GTA Online has, but history doesn’t fill me with confidence.

Does this mean I’m against co-op and online integration? No, absolutely not – I prefer not to knock ambition and innovation where it appears. But it’s not enough to aim high and then deliver chaos, to ship it and fix it later.

It’s unacceptable that any game, online or not, go on sale in such a state. I’m sure Rockstar will sort out the issues, and we hope to deliver our verdict on GTA Online when it does, but its size and popularity doesn’t make it immune from criticism.

The Xbox One and PS4 are bound to encourage more online complexity and innovation, so developers and publishers (mainly the latter) need to start learning the lessons from these debacles or they’ll quickly lose our faith and trust.

SEE ALSO: Xbox One vs PS4

Samsung panicked and blinked first

We published our Samsung Galaxy Gear review this week and suffice it to say it doesn’t make pleasant reading for Samsung execs. It’s clear Samsung was convinced it had to beat Apple to the smartwatch market, but that’s where its strategy ceased.

It makes no compelling case for why anyone should buy a smartwatch. It fails to even surpass startups like the Pebble smartwatch and MetaWatch Strata for coherence and vision. It’s very rare we review product this bad anymore, it’s even rarer coming from an established name like Samsung.

It will survive this embarrassment, of course, but shouting ‘FIRST!’ is rarely a recipe for success.

HTC feels the pressure of Samsung’s rampant success

If Samsung feels sore about its smartwatch flop, its domination of the Android smartphone market, supported the the recent Samsung Galaxy Note 3, is a decent tonic. And nothing demonstrates this better than the worrying news coming out of HTC. It just announced its first quarterly loss ever, a loss of $101 million after tax.

This isn’t a disaster yet, but HTC has all the hallmarks of a company with serious problems. Since 2011 its stock price has fallen by 90% and its share of the global smartphone market is now less than 3%, below the likes of ZTE, Lenovo and Huawei. It peaked at over 10% in 2011. That’s a big drop.

The sale of its stake in Beats will guarantee a pretax profit in Q4, but that won’t plug the massive chasm between its marketing muscle and that of Samsung. A good follow-up to the HTC One is vital, because HTC will only get so many chances to turn its fortunes around. It only needs to look at BlackBerry for evidence of that.

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Next, read our Samsung Galaxy Note 3 vs Note 2 comparison

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