Letter from America

GTA Online not working: rubbish. But not the end of the world.

This week was all about GTA Online. Or rather, its entertainingly shambolic launch. I haven't been paying too much attention to how the general UK gaming public has reacted to it, but over in the states there's been an endless amount of complaints, many of which are mind-boggling in their vitriol and anger. Of course, this is to be expected, but at the same time, it does throw up an interesting discussion. I made a Twitter quip about GTA Online's issues sorting out the people who've played MMOs and understand server issues from those who have no clue, and that elicited some interesting responses.

One person branded me a “Rockstar apologist,” which I did rather like. But I wasn't really defending Rockstar at all. The reality is, they messed up. Rockstar is so secretive, that I can't imagine there was a particularly large beta testing phase of the product. At least, compared to most MMOs these days that have extensive open Betas that go on for months. So when GTA Online opened its gates and its servers began to feel the sheer weight of a fairly large portion of the 15 million people that bought the game trying to play together online, I can only imagine what happened: Bzzzzzzzt. Smell of plastic melting.

I also talked to some people who played the “I paid my £50 for the game, and it wasn't ready, and that's unacceptable” card. That's a very valid and fair point, and I have no argument with that. Yes, money was paid for a product, and we should expect it to work. But just because you paid money for it, it doesn't guarantee that it is going to work. Many people accept that, but the loudest complainers just don't seem to be able to.

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Get to da choppa! Best getaway vehicle ever.

The reason for my Twitter quip is that as most of you know, I'm from the prehistoric age of gaming. I remember when making things work was a nightmare. When you used a phone line to play online, and if someone called, you were screwed. I played all of the early MMOs and have experienced everything from server glitches and meltdowns to Lord British being murdered in his own game by a wily cleverdick who figured out how to do it. That was truly epic, by the way - one of the best gaming moments ever. I've had characters disappear for days, seen server wipes and full game rollbacks of several days. Those early days had many disasters, but most of the time things worked.

These days, online games have become fantastically reliable, and we've seen endless smooth launches of products. Blizzard's recent expansions have been astonishing in their seamless transition from old to new - at worse requiring you to log in and out of the game when the new expansion was turned on. Rift's debut and expansions have all been similarly flawless, and there are many other multiplayer games that have worked great right out of the box. This of course should be expected. But really - and the whole point of this rambling piece and my original tweet - stuff can still go wrong, and will.

It's great that modern gaming technology works so well. But the fact that it does has created in quite a few players an unrealistic expectation of guaranteed reliability. At the end of the day, if someone wants to pop a vein over that, I guess that's their prerogative - but to me it just seems like there's a distinct lack of perspective, to a point where it's unhealthy. Listening to these people, you'd think it was the end of the world, and that somehow they're being personally robbed of something. It's not broken forever. It will be fixed. You can still play the single-player game. And you can even go and do something else in the meantime. Get a grip!

Anyway, assuming Rockstar finally fixes everything and you want to play GTA Online but aren't quite sure where to start, I put together some beginners hints and tips that should help you along. I actually really enjoyed writing this, taking me back to the 80s and 90s when I used to write tips columns for the various magazines I worked on.

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This is what GTA Online is all about. Lively banter, witty repartee and many a josh and a jape.

With the next-gen machines just around the corner, I thought it high time we looked at the launch games lists and started picking some winners. So this week we took a look at the PlayStation 4 lineup, and each member of the team picked their three favourites. My list features a funky platformer, a great racer, and a predictable shooter.

Breaking Bad finished this week, as I'm sure many of you know. I thought it was utterly fantastic - and perhaps one of the best TV shows I've ever watched. Jeremy was inspired by its brilliance, and asked the question: where's the Breaking Bad video game? It's a really smart piece about whether such a game could ever exist.

We took a good look at Super Mario 3D World and enjoyed its sheer craziness. Nintendo are suffering a few woes, and I think Wii U is going to struggle in the face of its two juggernaut competitors, but it's still going to feature some must-have games, and this looks like one of them.

Wind Waker is a similar standout game. Its transition from GameCube black sheep to modern day critical darling was put under the microscope and examined. If you're into nerdy game minutiae, this will likely pique your interest.

Finally, I thought I'd wrap up with our piece about how much a Steam Box will cost you. So far, I'm still not quite sure exactly how the new SteamOS works, and how a Steam Box really differs from a PC with a very long HDMI cable, but I'm interested to hear more. In the meantime, this is what we know.

See you next week!

Jaz Rignall is editorial director of USgamer.net, the American version of Eurogamer that proudly serves PG Tips to its visitors.

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