The launch of Batman: Arkham Knight is likely one that will go down as an infamous example of a title released before it was ready. Although the console versions of the game ran smoothly at launch, aside from a problem with populating the PS4 leaderboards which has since been fixed, the same cannot be said about the PC release. The port, which was not created by primary developer Rocksteady Studios, was plagued with a multitude of problems from day one, including framerate struggles, audio glitches, and frequent crashes.
The disappointing PC launch did much to undermine the work that Rocksteady Studios had done with the title, making many players forget about the large number of good reviews the game received. The video game community has been burned all-too often by AAA releases that have struggled on launch, including the likes of Assassin's Creed Unity and Halo: The Master Chief Collection. All in all, Batman: Arkham Knight looked set to be another black mark on the industry's treatment of the customer.
After all, the initial actions taken seemed to follow a path that is all-too familiar for many. Rocksteady offered up a disappointing temporary fix to the PC port's problems, suggesting players drop their in-game graphical settings to minimum. The next move, however, was surprising. The PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight was pulled from stores until the issues were resolved, with publisher Warner Bros. Interactive even suggesting that players should look to receive a refund for their purchase.
What, exactly, lead to such a bold decision from Warner Bros. Interactive and Rocksteady? The answer may well lie with a recent, and radical, change to the way in which Steam operates. Valve revealed only last month that the hugely popular PC gaming platform would finally offer users refunds for games purchased, stipulating that a game can be returned within 14 days, as long as the player has under 2 hours of playtime.
This was seen as a huge coup for consumer rights within the video game community, particularly with the flexibility that Valve provided. The developer explained that any reason could lead to a refund being requested, with the Steam Refund announcement stating that "maybe your PC doesn’t meet the hardware requirements; maybe you bought a game by mistake; maybe you played the title for an hour and just didn’t like it." All in all, it was a fluid refund process that promised to give video game fans an important stake in their own purchases.
Although the immediate profits of the Steam refund change were clear, it may well be that we have already seen one of the first positive side effects of the move. With Steam refunds ever-so-easy for users to process, publishers and developers may now have to take more care to offer good customer service. Warner Bros. Interactive's openness regarding Batman: Arkham Knight, and the decisiveness at which changes were actioned and patches created, is perhaps the first real victory of Steam refunds.
After all, Warner Bros. Interactive has had a mixed past when it comes to dealing with large-scale problems with its games. Perhaps the most obvious case study of the publisher's previous reaction to bugs is Arkham Knight's predecessor, Batman: Arkham Origins. The 2013 title, which was not developed by Arkham gurus Rocksteady, suffered from tremendous, game-breaking glitches when it was first released.
Although Warner Bros. Interactive initially stated it would work hard to fix the game's problems, that plan was soon to change. The publisher disappointingly backtracked on its bug fix priorities, instead deciding to focus on the game's story DLC. Given the huge problems the game was still facing at that time, such a move to pursue money-making DLC at the cost of the core game lead to a hugely negative reception, tarnishing the at-that-point excellent name of the Batman: Arkham franchise.
It's not the only time when Warner Bros. Interactive has disappointed players with a title's launch, either. Just this year, Mortal Kombat X was released, and although the game received an overwhelmingly positive critical reception, the PC version of the game had a number of serious problems when it launched in April. Chief amongst these was the fact that players who had pre-loaded the game were seemingly unable to access any of the game's features upon release, leading to a wave of complaints.
Eventually, the issue was solved, although - similarly to Batman: Arkham Knight - many still complained about problems with the game's framerate and gameplay bugs. Primary developer NetherRealm Studios proceeded to release a patch to fix the PC port's problems, but there was an unfortunate side effect. As it turns out, the patch itself deleted a player's save data, an issue that then had to be resolved by the PC port's creator High Voltage Software.
In neither of these instances did Warner Bros. Interactive offer PC players the chance to receive a refund on their purchase. In spite of the similarities between the cases, the publisher has only chosen to actively speak about refund availability for Batman: Arkham Knight. Of course, it may well be that Warner Bros. Interactive has made a radical change to its openness and business strategies, but given how closely the problems with Mortal Kombat X, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Batman: Arkham Knight are, along with the reveal that Warner Bros. knew about Arkham Knight's PC problems for months, it's speculated that it could be the outside influence of Steam refunds that has forced the publisher's hand.
Either way, however, it is a good move for the industry as a whole. If Warner Bros. Interactive has taken the matter into its own hands and decided to offer a more open and communicative relationship with its customers, then the industry is all the better for it. Meanwhile, if Steam refunds are going to change the way that these AAA publishers have to proceed with bug fixes and the refund process, then the consumer yet again will benefit. Let's hope that, either way, we continue to see a swift response to correct issues with new releases.
What do you think, Game Ranters? Do you believe that Warner Bros. Interactive is responding to the changed policies of Steam? Or do you think that the publisher is going to turn over a new leaf with regards to bug fixing? Let us know in the comments below!
Batman: Arkham Knight is out now for PS4 and Xbox One. The PC version has been suspended from sale until its issues have been corrected.