Why are so many games publishers taking buggy software to market?

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BugFinder's technical director Martin Mudge.

The games industry has a problem.

The last few months have seen some of the industry’s biggest publishers release a slew of highly anticipated titles, all of which had been whetting the appetites of games enthusiasts for months. But a serious failing with a lot of these games became evident on their long-awaited launch dates: they simply didn’t work properly.

The latest ‘World of Warcraft’ expansion pack from developer Blizzard has suffered from server bugs prevented many fans from playing, prompting speculation that Blizzard’s reputation could sustain damage.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s latest Halo game was released with ‘matchmaking’ bugs that have blocked players from linking up online. As some have pointed out, the importance of this feature to the game’s popularity may mean lost sales.

Sony’s Driveclub has experienced such persistent server issues that the game’s developer, Evolution, has offered fans premium content for free by way of apology. The bugs were so severe on Ubisoft’s new Assassin’s Creed game, however, that 12.8% was wiped off the company’s share price.

Reputational damage, lost potential sales, substantial hits to bottom lines – why are these companies, leaders in their industry, taking buggy software to market and giving their customers a poor user experience?

The answer is development delays caused by the complexity of these games’ online elements, coupled with a need to launch on the scheduled release date.

Ubisoft, in particular, was under pressure to release on time after other titles had been significantly delayed, while a spokeswoman referenced the ‘incredibly complex’ task of readying Assassin’s Creed prior to launch.

Blizzard and Sony, on the other hand, were not prepared for their software to hold up under the number of fans trying to access it, despite a beta version of Driveclub having been tested pre-release. Blizzard has informed fans that ‘additional oversight and testing’ are now required to make sure that fixes to World of Warcraft don’t introduce further problems.

The significant challenges faced by these publishers – development delays and immovable deadlines for software releases – will be familiar to any brand with customer-facing sites and apps. The negative consequences of releasing buggy software are similar too – defects preventing customers from accessing a brand’s site are likely to result in reputational damage and a potential advantage to competitors.

The best way to prevent the threat of bugs, for brands and games publishers alike, is to conduct comprehensive software testing prior to release. Given that delays are inevitable in any software development project, such testing needs to be completed in a short timeframe, while effectively weeding out any critical bugs on a site or app.

Software also needs to be tested on a wide range of unique devices and operating systems, in order to ensure that the vast majority of a brand’s customers are able to use its sites and apps, regardless of the Smartphone or tablet being used.

Finding a crowdsourced software testing partner would enable brands to achieve these twin goals of testing rapidly with wide device coverage. By maintaining worldwide communities of thousands of professional software testers, crowdsourcing companies can deploy testers to test a piece of software on hundreds of unique devices simultaneously, often in just a few days.

By ensuring that thorough, effective testing is performed in the last few days prior to release, brands can ensure that they avoid the negative PR accrued by games publishers in recent weeks, while engaging with their customers by providing a flawless online experience.

Martin Mudge is the technical director of BugFinders.

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