There have been a lot of high-profile cases of AAA games launching with bugs so bad you couldn’t even play. While the Cyberpunk 2077s in Fallout 76s of the world get a lot of attention, pretty much every game has its launch day bugs. Which begs the question: why?!
Launch day bugs are more common because both players and companies now expect games to be regularly updated and patched throughout their life cycle. Games no longer ship as complete, self-contained packages, but are instead an evolving piece of software. Gaming companies have also gotten more aggressive with their release schedules which causes crunch and launch day bugs.
We’re going to take a look at 5 infamous games played by the launch day bugs as well as why these problems happened.
5 PC Game Launches Plagued by Day One Bugs
Before we get too far deep into why PC games have such poorly optimized launches these days, we should take a look at the history of bad launch bugs.
In no particular order, we’ve rounded up five of the messiest launches in PC gaming.
1. Final Fantasy 14
We’re starting off with both one of the biggest launch failures and one of the biggest success stories when it comes to turning around a buggy launch: Final Fantasy 14.
The initial launch of Final Fantasy 14 was met with negative appraisal from critics and fans alike. The game was riddled with bugs, poorly optimized, and virtually unplayable especially when compared to the high standard that Final Fantasy games have been held to.
The development of this game was plagued with problems. Everything from the chosen engine the game was designed with, to pressure from corporate executives to release the game sooner, wound up damaging the final release.
Eventually, Final Fantasy 14 was pulled from stores and a new team was hired to relaunch the game. Since then, Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn has gone on to become one of, if not the, most successful MMORPG games out there.
2. Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077 is a major lesson for just how much a buggy launch can cost a game developer.
When Cyberpunk 2077 was first released, critics gave it rave reviews. However, it was quickly revealed that the game’s developer, CD Projekt Red, only allowed reviewers to test the game on high-end gaming PCs.
When the game was played on the more moderate gaming PCs, or consoles like Xbox and PS4, the game was buggy to the point of being unplayable. Not only did the graphics constantly break down, but there were even save file corruption glitches that cost players all of their progress.
PlayStation went as far as to remove the game from their online store and Xbox added a warning before players could purchase the game. CD Projekt Red quickly burnt through all the goodwill they had built up due to this buggy launch.
3. Assassin’s Creed Unity
Assassin’s Creed Unity with another game from a famous game developer with a good reputation that absolutely tanked thanks to launch day bugs.
Assassin’s Creed Unity was hit with both visual and gameplay bugs. You’ve probably seen the memes of some pretty unsettling floating eyes and lips where NPC faces should be. That was just one of the graphic problems that Assassin’s Creed Unity launched with:
Assassin’s Creed games are famous for their parkour gameplay, but that core gameplay mechanic was broken thanks to bugs when this game came out.
Ubisoft saw stock prices tank after this buggy launch. They quickly issued several patches in a row designed to fix these problems, but also gave fans refunds as well as free games to make up for the problems.
4. Fallout 76
Fallout 76 experienced some of the most devastating launch problems that a game can have.
It had all the graphics and gameplay bugs that we’ve already talked about with other titles. When people first hit play on this game, they were met with a nearly empty world filled with broken graphics and mechanics.
Fallout 76 is a lesson in how a game that launches with bugs could continue to be buggy throughout its life cycle. Fallout 76 has been hit with everything from companies like ZeniMax admitting that they misled consumers about the game, to Bethesda CEOs making a mistake after PR mistake as they attempt to play catch-up thanks to the poor performance of this game.
Even though today’s Fallout 76 is much better than the launch version, it’s an important lesson in how a buggy launch can make even a promising game fail.
5. SimCity (2013)
We have to turn back the clock and talk about the dawn of launch day bugs. SimCity 2013 was one of the first games to require players to be online in order to access even single-player modes. However, the online features entirely failed thanks to launch day bugs and players couldn’t get on the game at all.
Eventually, the game’s developer had to roll back their online features and allow players to enjoy the game while offline.
Why PC Games Are So Buggy Nowadays
If it feels like games are much more buggy or than they were years ago, it’s because they are. Let’s take a look at the three big reasons driving why games are so buggy today.
More Work Goes into Games Than Ever Before
It’s always been challenging to make video games. However, the amount of work that goes into a single game is more demanding than it’s ever been. AAA video games are getting closer to the budget and work needed to make a AAA Hollywood movie then an old-school Super Mario cartridge.
Case In Point: The as-yet-released Star Citizen game has already cost an estimated $340 million in game development costs, and this figure is expected to rise each year until its 2027 release date.
This increased work causes glitches in a few ways.
The first is that there’s simply more coding games than ever before. The more information you have in a new system, the more likely it is to spit out errors every now and then.
With everything going on, it’s also harder to keep track of problems with software and get them fixed in time. Companies are financially incentivized to push out games before they’re done.
Compare the launch of a game that took its time, like Elden Ring, with a game that was kicked out the door half-baked like Fallout 76 or Cyberpunk 2077. It’s clear that developers that take their time have better releases.
How Games Make Money: It Has All Changed
Today, video game developers make money on more than just the sale of their games. Developers add DLC, in-game purchases, pre-order bonuses and other microtransactions that incentivize players to spend more than the post printed on the side of the box.
We no longer see games as simply as something that we buy once, but as something that has ongoing charges like subscription fees and the cost of additional content. All this additional content adds the potential for new glitches whenever a game gets a major update.
Companies also know that players expect games to be a little glitchy and for those problems to get patched out later. This means that they can push more rapid release schedules in order to chase higher profits and quicker turnaround.
PC Games are Different Types of Software Than They Used to Be
Here’s another thing that has been causing some of these glitches. The type of software that a PC game is has changed since games have gone online.
You used to just purchase a CD-ROM, or even a floppy disk, of your PC game and you were good to go. You would have to enter a key printed somewhere on the inside of the box to unlock the game, but that was all there was in the way of Digital Rights Management.
Today’s games are baked into their DRM. You have to be online to access much of the game’s content as well as get updates. It’s expected that games will receive major and minor updates throughout their life cycle rather than shipping as complete and self-contained packages.
This means that developers can rely on fixing bugs after launch rather than having to have everything squared up beforehand.
Are Console Ports More Buggy Than Native PC Games?
Porting a game from a console to a PC is a complicated process. Whether or not you’re going to be stuck with a PC launch that has a lot of bugs comes down to a few factors.
Some games are much easier to port than others. This is especially the case for games that were designed in a way that’s more compatible with PC. A lot of games are also designed with a PC launch in mind which simplifies the process.
The faster a console port is made, the more likely it is to have a lot of bugs. You need to have the development team fully handle the port in order to make sure it goes smoothly. It’s not as easy as simply flipping a switch inside the game.
Did You Know? A United Nations meeting decreed that Saints Row 2 was the world’s worst PC port in the entire history of the universe. The fictional 2009 UN Meeting decided that SR2 was practically unplayable at launch, and is still quite buggy to this day.
How to Fix Launch Day Bugs Fast—Well, Maybe Not So Fast
In truth, there’s really nothing we can do to fix launch day bugs on our end. We are stuck waiting for the game’s developer to push out updates that will fix the problems that make launch days less than ideal. However, there is one big thing we can do as consumers to help lessen the impact of launch day problems.
You might already guess this first one, but the best thing you can do is to simply wait. Launch days are typically a mess. It’s servers (sometimes) crash, and there are awkward play experiences. Waiting a few weeks, or even a few months, ensures that the developers will have time to work out the bugs and you’ll have the best initial experience with the game.