Microsoft Has a Bug Problem

And no, an exterminator can’t fix it.

Author’s Note: Video version can be found here.

In case you missed it, Microsoft is buying ZeniMax Media (and all of its associated studios including the well-known Bethesda Game Studios) for $7.5 billion. This is just the latest in a long line of gaming acquisitions that began in 2018. Microsoft has also purchased Undead Labs, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games, and both InXile and Obsidian Entertainment (not to mention the fact that the company has even founded a new studio called The Initiative in Santa Monica). This is an absurd amount of purchases if I do say so myself. What makes the Bethesda acquisition different from all of the studios I just mentioned is the uncertainty over whether Bethesda’s games will still appear on other gaming platforms like the PlayStation 5.

This is just a guess but I’m willing to bet that it will be many, many years before we have all the answers in regards to where Bethesda’s games will appear. I find it funny that both Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo will still be PS5 exclusives at launch (they will also appear on PC for what it’s worth). The question really becomes will all of these acquisitions prove successful for Microsoft in the long run. We are talking about a serious amount of cash now. As with the exclusivity question, it will likely be many years before we definitively know the answer to that question.

We’ll know for sure when Microsoft starts shutting down studios, won’t we? I kid, I kid. But, I’m not here to talk about that. I’m sure everyone and their mother has already heard or read or watched someone talk about this latest Microsoft purchase and what it means for the future. Instead, I’m here to talk one particular aspect of Microsoft’s buying spree. I’m here to talk about bugs.

Yes, we’re talking bugs. No, not the creepy, crawly kind of bugs. I’m talking about bugs of the “Dragons flying backwards” variety. Ever since Microsoft began acquiring studios, I noticed that many of the new studios were well-known for having bugs in their games with the possible exception of Playground Games and Ninja Theory. I don’t ever recall hearing about bugs in any of these studios’ recent releases. The other teams, however, are a different story.

Let’s start with Undead Labs. In case you didn’t know, Undead Labs is the developer behind the State of Decay series. The first game in that series came out of nowhere (at least for me it did) in 2013. Releasing near the end of the Xbox 360’s lifespan, it was a fun game by all accounts but it was riddled with bugs of all shapes and sizes. To make matters worse, when State of Decay 2 came out, it also came with a raft of bugs. I have no idea if these bugs have been fixed (I haven’t played either of the State of Decay games so I wouldn’t know) but these games have become famous for them.

Now we move on to Compulsion Games. This studio is, for all intents and purposes, the forgotten member of Microsoft’s recent acquisitions. It’s first game, Contrast, had its fair share of bugs. That game was eclipsed in the bugs department, however, by the studio’s second game, We Happy Few. I remember watching videos of that game when it first came out and they were actually fairly entertaining given how many bugs there were. My favorite video was of a man sitting on a bench. After a moment of sitting, he then proceeded to slide down the street while remaining in the seated position. Both Contrast and We Happy Few are creative and stylish games in their own right but you have to admit that they are full of bugs and glitches.

InXile Entertainment is yet another studio that struggles with bugs. I won’t go through the whole list since the studio has developed a large number of games over the years but I will mention a few here. The one game that comes to mind is The Bard’s Tale IV: Director’s Cut. When that game released, InXile itself advertised the game by saying that it came with “thousands” of bug fixes. Despite these fixes, the game still had tons of issues. It has a fairly good review score on Steam nowadays but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it was a mess at one point.

Wastleland 3, the first game InXile has released after the acquisition, also has its fair share of issues. I texted my friend to ask him if he liked the game and, completely unprompted mind you, he mentioned the bugs in his return text. You can’t make this stuff up, folks. If that doesn’t prove my point about there being too many bugs in InXile’s games then I don’t know what will.

This next one is a little unfair, I know, but it ties in nicely with what I’m talking about here. The game that comes to mind when thinking about Obsidian Entertainment and bugs is Fallout: New Vegas. That game has a metric ton’s worth of bugs, glitches, and other problems. I said that it was little unfair to fault Obsidian for these problems because they were using an engine from another developer (to be named soon) and they reportedly made that game within an insane timeline of only eighteen months. In fact, now that I think about it, I can’t fault Obsidian at all with the number of bugs in New Vegas. The fault lies with this next studio.

Quick, when I say bugs, which studio immediately comes to mind? I would be very surprised if Bethesda Game Studios isn’t the first studio to pop into everyone’s mind. If it isn’t, then you must have never played any of their games. The bugs and glitches in Bethesda’s games are legendary (it’s important to note that I’m only talking about Bethesda Game Studios here and not studios like Arkane, Id Software, etc.). From the aforementioned backwards-flying dragons to the PS3 version of Skyrim which is still broken to this day to, most recently, Fallout 76 where each “update” only made things worse. Bethesda has a long history of games that don’t work quite as intended.

I remember purchasing the Skyrim: Special Edition when it first came out on PS4 and I, naturally, started playing it. I got past the dungeon after the dragon attack and ended up at the first village in the game. After I had talked to an NPC, the items on the tables around us began jumping up and down and falling over as if there was an earthquake. Problem was, there was no earthquake. It was just yet another glitch in a very glitchy game (the weird thing is that I don’t remember that many bugs in the original release of the game when compared with the Special Edition). After I saw that, and this is a true story, I stopped playing the game and never went back to it (until I needed footage for my channel, of course).

In my view, the first few studios I mentioned in this post (Undead Labs, Compulsion Games, and both InXile and Obsidian) have an excuse for all of the bugs and glitches in their games. The reason is simple: all of these studios were small and independent teams before being purchased by Microsoft. Thus, they probably had neither the time nor the resources to polish their games to perfection before releasing them to the wider public. While this may be true for them, what’s Bethesda’s excuse?

Out of all of the studios Microsoft has acquired, Bethesda has the deepest pockets by far. So, why do so many of their games have so many problems? One issue is the outdated engine Bethesda uses. Todd Howard, the director of Skyrim, has stated that Bethesda has put a lot of effort into updating their engine for the upcoming Starfield. He claims that the updates will allow them to make better games. I hope that this is true since Bethesda’s engine desperately needed an overhaul even before Skyrim, in my opinion. I’m excited by the updates but I’m gonna need to see it in action first.

So, what does this have to do with Microsoft and its gaming strategy? Well, it’s one thing if these studios’ games had bugs before becoming a part of Microsoft, it’s quite another if their games continue to have a large number of bugs after gaining access to Microsoft’s resources. It would be bad for both Microsoft and the Xbox brand if their games are full of glitches. I asked earlier how we’d know if all of these acquisitions will be successful or not. Well, for me personally, one bellwether would be if the games from these studios have fewer glitches in the future. A few of these studios, like Bethesda, have a lot of fans for now but I question whether people will stick with them if the games themselves don’t improve. That, in my mind, will be one of the biggest indicators of Microsoft’s future success.

Before I go, I should mention that I know it’s easy for me as a person who can’t code to criticize developers and their buggy games. I get that but, at the same time, people are paying money for their products and I think that a certain level of quality should be expected. As I said, the smaller studios have an excuse because they didn’t have access to a lot of resources while making their games. That excuse won’t hold water in the future though since they are all now a part of Microsoft and will presumably have access to the company’s deep pockets. Long story short, I hope that Microsoft addresses the issue of bugs in its games going forward.

Thanks for reading! Which studio, out of all the ones that Microsoft purchased, is your favorite? For me personally, I can’t wait to see what Obsidian does in the future. Thanks again for reading.

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