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Digitial Distribution: Quality Control

Posted on the 20 December 2012 by Findthebluekey @FindTheBlueKey
Digitial Distribution: Quality ControlIn the wake of the recent War Z outcry, and its subsequent removal from Steam by Valve, a number of questions and concerns have been raised. Much of it surrounds the developer, and how they thought shipping an incomplete game was viable, or if they thought it would just roll over. But one question that appears quite frequently is of great interest to me, "Why did Valve allow such a game on Steam?". This opens a hornet's nest of related questions, and a debate that was bound to find its focus on digital distribution sooner or later.
The question that I find the most pressing is, who is responsible for quality control in a digital environment?
It is a truly difficult question to answer, because quality control of consumer products has always been a difficult subject to rope in. But I feel like one idea is fairly clear, the responsibility of quality control rarely, if ever, falls with the distributor. I don't expect Wal-Mart to field test everything in its array of linens, or for Best Buy to have employees scouring every electronic device for usability issues. Say you purchase a laptop that is poor quality, not because its defective, but simply because the product is bad, would you blame the location that sold it to you? Or the company that manufactured such a sub-par piece of equipment?
The same is true for traditional game retailers as well. It would seem ridiculous for us to ask GameStop or EB Games to play through every one of the hundreds of games that line its shelves each year. We simply expect that the game on the shelves will be playable, and will contain the features that are promised on the box.
So why is the blame being shifted towards Valve in this case?
In my opinion, it's simply because digital distribution doesn't quite hold the same perception as a retail chain yet. We see them almost as a middle man, working with developers to bring us games we will like, rather than as a distributor selling games, just like any other. That in itself is where we go wrong. Valve cannot be held responsible for the quality of every game they sell, and the mere fact that they were willing to step in, do the right thing and honor refunds is miles beyond what any other retail would do. Do you think GameStop would give you a refund because you say the developer mislead you? Not likely.
So does the responsibility for quality control lie with the developer then? Well, not really. It is of course in their best interest to develop a quality game. It will sell more, it will build consumer trust and help to sell any future games the company publishes, but they are by no means obligated to do so. If a developer wants to spend their entire budget building a terrible game, that is there decision, and they will pay for it in the end(as Hammerpoint has already).
I feel the responsibility for quality control lies twofold. First, the publisher should be inspecting the game carefully before they pull the trigger on it, just as film studios have their eye on every aspect of a movie project. Publishers should also be making sure that all marketing materials, and any other front facing elements of the game are up to date and accurate. Beyond that, if the publisher has made the decision to move forward, and all the information is accurate, the rest is up to gamers. It's up to us to do our research before buying a game, to make sure it's what we're looking for, and to become educated consumers. False advertising is one thing(and I agree Hammerpoint tripped over this line entirely), but a game you purchased simply being bad is another entirely.
So, all in all, we need to give Valve a break on this one. They have proven time and time again that they have gamers' best interests at heart, there's no need for us to start doubting them now.

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