I used to do it. I used to try new technologies early and often. I watched them fail early and often.
I used Firefox before it was called Firefox. Before it was called Firebird, even. And even before it was called Phoenix, I used the Mozilla Suite. I bought first-run electronics, new products, pre-ordered books, music, and games… all that stuff.
I don’t do that anymore. Because it sucked.
There’s a thrill to living on the bleeding edge, a sort of adventurism without any real adventure. If you live connected to the internet and connected to the communities that grok this kind of stuff, you can really feel like part of an elite few that understand the zeitgeist before the normals really get it.
It’s a good feeling, to be part of that exclusive group. But it’s also hearbreaking and expensive.
If you’ve been there, you know what it’s like. The first run of anything is invariably rough, even for companies that are experienced in developing and releasing products. And you know how expensive it is. Buy a first-run Apple product and you’ll get the idea. It almost feels like a kind of sophisticated robbery. You want to be first to the gate? Well, we’ll take your money and we’ll take a little bit of your dignity.
The problem is that for every product that sucks, there’s a product that almost doesn’t suck, and for every five products that almost don’t suck, there’s that one jewel that absolutely blows your mind.
When you discover that jewel, it feels awesome.
The rest of the time it still sucks.
At least for me. I get it. There will always be a group of people that absolutely must have the latest and greatest. I get that. They are the beta testers of the world, who iron out the wrinkles for all those who follow. They are they advance guard of the techno-elite, the neophiles.
A market has sprung up to take advantage of these people, especially in the software market. Where we used to expect products to be released in some sort of state of semi-completion, now companies are rushing things to market that, frankly, should not be out on the market. And the neophiles pay the price.
I will give you an example. When I first got SimCity 4, I didn’t pre-order it, but I bought it on release day. No questions asked. I had no doubt, based on the pedigree of Maxis and the people involved, that it would be a great game. And it was. In fact, when it was released, it was a fully-formed, functional product. I played the crap out of it for years. I still do, in fact.
So you can understand how excited I was for the release of SimCity 5, which is actually just called SimCity (rather confusingly; people on the internet are calling it SC5 or SC2013 to distinguish it).
Except that a few things have changed since I bought SimCity 4 on release day. I have a life now. I have a wife, a house, a child, 2 dogs, competing interests on my time, lots of hobbies, and not a lot of disposable income. Or at least not as much as I had when I was a bachelor.
My outlook on purchases has changed. Whether this is because of my newfound obligations or because I’ve been burned too many times or because I’m older and wiser… I don’t know. But when it came time to pre-order the new SimCity, I took a long, hard look at what I was buying.
But I’m not the only thing that’s changed in 10 years. The release model for these new games has, at least for some developers, changed as well. I’m seeing more and more releases of games that are nowhere close to finished, and sometimes barely even playable, on release. They are shot out into the world and the people that pre-ordered, or the people that bought on release are, frankly, beta-testers. They go through the confusing and painful process of troubleshooting the game for developers, who then furiously as the case may be roll out patches. 6 months down the line, the game is in better shape, but in my opinion the damage is already done. Diablo 3 is a great example of a release done badly. But there are many, many more.
I was disturbed by what I saw when I did my research. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details of the decisions made by Maxis and EA, but since the release of The Sims, they’ve realised how much money is to be made selling downloadable content (DLC), not just the original game. Basically aftermarket parts for your game. That combined with the growing trend of social gaming, made Maxis and EA decide to adapt SimCity to these purposes.
Throw in the anti-pirating always-on internet connection, and you have a very different game from what you had in the past.
These were the warning signs that I saw. So I didn’t pre-order. I wanted to. But something inside me told me to hold back. And I did.
Then came launch day, and the severs were overwhelmed. People literally couldn’t play the game they had paid their $60 for. Then when the servers were back up, it turned out the game has all kinds of problems. Town-sized cities. Abysmal pathfinding. Graphical glitches. Region limitations. Functions disabled. No local game play. No mods.
There has been an outpouring of both rage and grief over this game on the internet. The people that bought it expecting it to exist in the grand tradition of SimCity are understandably upset. The people who bought it to play a cool game are also understandably upset.
And I’m upset because I wanted to buy this game, but now I never will. But I’m not as upset as I would be if I had bought the game on faith.
I have another example. I purchased a Nexus 7 out of the gate last year. I’m not sure why I was sucker for this one, but I was. There were a lot of problems with the first run of these devices. Squishiness on the frame, flickering on low light levels, and when it came to update time, and update that bogged the system down and made it run like an overloaded donkey.
I’m sure all these things have been fixed on the second and third generations of these devices. But they have been fixed on the backs of others, like me, who were first to the gate.
This is why I no longer live on the bleeding edge. I have an interconnected network of computers full of people more than willing to beta-test all these things for me. I’m not going to buy the new device, the new game, the new album, until someone else has heard it, played it, or used it, and not for a few days. More like six months.
There’s an endemic problem with review sites, especially for games and devices. The reviewers don’t generally have enough time to learn the tics and bad habits of what they’re reviewing. They drive-by review and move on.
The people that really understand how something works and whether or not they want to continue using it are the people who have lived with it for some time.
But I don’t want to be one of those people anymore. I want to learn from my experiences, and learn from their experiences.
No more bleeding edge for me.