The Watch Dogs Graphical Downgrade Is Understandable, But Is It Justified?
I’m sure if you’ve been around the internet during the last few days you would have caught wind of the latest controversy. That is, the likelihood that Watch Dogs received quite a major graphical downgrade since its 2012 E3 showing, which blew many minds around the world. Earlier this morning, we posted a comparison video which showed the rather alarming differences between then and now. In this write-up I hope to explore both sides of it, rather than just launch into an attack on Ubisoft and the game.
Let’s first establish and address one fact. It’s upsetting to say, but the reality is that E3 is not an indication of the final product. The reason why some games look amazing but later receive significant visual downgrades is simply because of window dressing. What I mean is that, the E3 demos take a section of gameplay, often referred to as a ‘vertical slice’, and beef them up to look as stellar as possible. For a random but relevant analogy, we’re sort of talking about the ways you see fashion models on magazines look so good from visual editing that they don’t even have pores on their skin. The demo you saw of Watch Dogs at E3 2012 of course did not depict the entire open world or the scale of the game. It was a closed off portion, small in scale, with the maximum graphical settings possible, meant to look good and sell the game the first time around.
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Now, understand that the above does not mean I condone this or say that it’s right. There is a grey area in the sense that you can get the developer or publisher perspective. They want their game to look as great as possible on its first showing. They want to make a lasting impact. Either that, or during the primitive stages of development when the game isn’t as large or filled up with cool stuff as it eventually will be, it’s more difficult to predict what sort of cutbacks would have to be made later down the line. Both of these are understandable. There will always be trade offs and sacrifices when creating anything of sizable or expensive proportions. But I think we can all agree that it is one thing to be understood, and another to be fair or justified.
Some would argue that what Watch Dogs did can be classified as false advertising in the worst case scenario, similarly to the Aliens: Colonial Marines saga. While not as horrifying, it’s a similar sort of situation, and it’s not like Ubisoft and Watch Dogs should get immunity because people are fans. While I’m not going to jump to condemn it as false advertising, there is definitely some validity to the claims and I certainly wouldn’t tell any gamer they’re “entitled” (I so hate that word) or “whiny” for complaining. In fairness, there is a sort of common courtesy one would expect from advertising, in the sense that what you see and what you’re promised should be what you get.
I haven’t investigated the legal ramifications of this, but bringing the law into anything turns things ugly and overly complicated, and could lead to a no-win situation, as was illustrated by our recent Titanfall South Africa saga. It’s not desirable to go down that road when there exists a solution more in the middle, as usual. Firstly, Ubisoft has recently come out and said on Twitter, in response to a fan question, that Watch Dogs on PS4 will look the same as what was shown at E3 2013. Note the year. They’re being honest in saying that the game will look like it did last year, and not 2012 when it was first shown. Similarly, Ubisoft has also said on Twitter that the Wii U version will look similar to that of the PS3 and Xbox 360 version. From this it is clear that they are not lying about the game’s graphical quality, so to accuse them of that would be a little bit unwarranted.
However, while they’re in the clear as far as recent honesty is concerned, I think there is one thing we can all agree on. That’s the fact that Ubisoft isn’t really winning any brownie points by acting this way, especially since their sensational reveal of The Division later turned out to not actually be entirely in-game footage. The sad part is that, despite Ubisoft’s talent and ability to create exciting new IPs and projects, they are going to, or already are getting, a reputation of amazing gaming minds first, and seriously disappointing later. It’s going to force gamers to develop a cynicism about their newly revealed projects, and rather than be excited for the game a focus will be, as it is now, on why major cutbacks were made. Over-promising and under-delivering is the worst way to go.
I think most gamers would want to see a first reveal that is more in line with what the final product will be. In other words, consistency. Even better, many gamers would be over the moon to see a case of under promising but over-delivering. Of course that would be idealistic, since a publisher and developer wouldn’t show a game in a first reveal that doesn’t look as good as it could possibly be, or at least dressed up enough to look rather dreamy. The most likely scenario will pretty much be that cutbacks will be made as development progresses, the game gets bigger and costs rise. That’s the case a lot of the time. But I think if that’s what we should be expecting, then it is only fair that the cutbacks are not major, so that the result doesn’t look like an entirely different game.
That, I believe is fair. It can’t be an Aliens: Colonial Marines level of a downgrade. Of course, the best scenario would be that the final product looks better or as good, but I think most gamers would be accepting of any title which receives only minor visual downgrades from its initial reveal to its release.
Therefore, if I have to offer a conclusion on this, I would say that the graphical downgrade of Watch Dogs is understandable, but I personally don’t believe it’s justified given the recent comparison video we’ve seen, which was linked at the beginning of this article. I think publishers and developers need to be very careful of venturing into ‘false advertising’ territory or, put more simply, becoming like the Aliens: Colonial Marines saga all over again.
I don’t think that’s unreasonable to expect. I’m sure Watch Dogs will probably end up being a good game, but it certainly didn’t need this controversy with consumers, on top of its delays. Ubisoft shouldn’t continue to make a habit of doing this, especially when the graphical downgrades seem to be as severe as they are with Watch Dogs. It can bring a fierce debate of fair advertising into play, and I for one cannot say that that would be unwarranted.
It is only fair to us consumers at the end of the day.