With Top Gear currently between seasons, some fans of the show inevitably turn their attention towards the latest and greatest racing games available to get their fix of car based pornography. Those with Xbox’s have the Forza series to keep them satisfied, while a PlayStation user’s default choice would no doubt be Gran Turismo 5 or 6 – but now there’s a new option. Driveclub.
Driveclub was probably one of the most eagerly anticipated games for the PS4. It was announced a few years ago and we were teased with juicy looking renders of uber-realistic car models and the promise of groundbreaking original game elements. It was originally scheduled to be a PS4 launch title, before it was pushed back by almost a year for further polishing and tweaks. It sounded like a good decision to me – there’s nothing I hate more than developers pushing out an unfinished game and then patching the holes down the track. It turns gamers into glorified beta testers, doing the work that actual paid beta testers should have been doing in the first place. Driveclub was sounding incredibly promising then. Evolution Studios must be a developer who values their game and cares immensely about the experience players have upon buying it. But it all went wrong.
What happened? Well, here’s my experience.
Pre-ordering via PSN
A few days before release, Driveclub appeared in the Australian PlayStation (PSN) Store with a price tag of $79.95. A fairly reasonable price I thought, seeing as new releases here are known to go for $89.95 or $99.95. So who wouldn’t pre-purchase a digital download copy? It would obviously be the easiest option and the PS4 would silently download it on the night of release and have it ready to go the next morning. I fronted the money straight away and waited for the launch day to roll around.
Hoorah – October 8th at last! As expected, the PS4 downloaded my copy of Driveclub and had it ready to go in the morning. I found it strange that the 3x pre-order bonus cars that I was promised were marked as “Download Failed” but no matter, it wasn’t my biggest concern and I was sure they’d have it fixed later on. I launched the game and played through the first familiarisation race with no issues. As it turned out though, that would be the last bit of fun I would be having with Driveclub for the 7 days following.
How come? Well, to cut a long story short, my Driveclub license had an issue and the game was acting as if it was the PlayStation+ edition – which was essentially a demo version of the game which PlayStation+ users could download and try for free. I didn’t even have PlayStation+ and I was left with a $79 demo version of driveclub, with a single car and single track available to use. Thanks Sony!
I assured myself that Sony would be on the case. They’d correct the licenses later that day and everything would be sweet. Fast forward 3 days and nothing had changed. I phoned Sony customer support and outlined my problem. Surprisingly, they hadn’t heard of anyone having the same issue (I found a bunch here) and they suggested that the game hadn’t unlocked properly due to it not being released in the United Kingdom yet – an excuse I didn’t buy for the simple reason that the game had indeed been released in the UK already. I asked for a refund, on the basis that I could go out to the shops immediately and purchase a physical copy to start playing straight away. Which leads me on to my next point…
The fundamental problem with the PlayStation (PSN) Store
This whole experience puts a bold underline under previous suspicions I had about the PlayStation (PSN) Store, which is:
Why exactly are we paying more money for a digital copy of a game that we could go out and physically buy in a store for less?
I went out to Target and purchased Driveclub for $64.95 – or $15 less than the digital download copy cost me. So how is it that a blu-ray disc can be manufactured, stamped, boxed and then shipped half way around the world to a store that then has to pay staff to sell it to me – for less than the PSN digital copy and somehow still turn a profit on it?
Compare this to the PSN’s distribution model.
- Make game available for download on PSN servers.
- Pay for the amount of bandwidth required so I can download it.
So Sony, please justify to me why the PSN digital copy more expensive? We can’t even on-sell the game when we’re finished with it.
To top it all off, people who purchased physical copies of Driveclub had been happily playing it in single player mode without issues for days now. Multiplayer servers were down, but that is a whole other issue.
I’ll certainly be thinking twice before making PSN digital purchases in the future, and I strongly suggest you do too.
Insult to injury
Back to my phone call with Sony – they of course agreed that I could simply go physically purchase the game that night and start playing. They offered me a refund and said it would take up to 48 hours to process. This point alone is pretty amazing, considering I have read online about people in my situation who were refused refunds, and are still sitting here 1 week later with a rather expensive demo of Driveclub.
Not so fast though. Three days after the phone call, I received an email from Sony saying “We can see you have been able to access Driveclub since your initial call” and that they were closing the case. They apologised when I told them again about the situation, and then asked for serial numbers for all the Sony consoles in my household, to help facilitate the refund.
A few days after that, or a whole week after the Driveclub launch date, I received two promo-codes via email. “Great!” I thought, “the issue has finally been fixed!”. How wrong I was. I redeemed both codes via the PSN store. Each code turned out being a mere $15 credit, for a total of $30 added to my PSN wallet. Is this Sony’s way of having a laugh? I guess if you round the figures hard enough, you can somehow turn $79.95 into $30. You know, if you halve it. And then steal a bit more.
The problem is compounded further when you factor in the sheer amount of time it takes for Sony to respond to emails on the subject. You’re lucky if you get a response within 24 hours – and a more reasonable expectation is 2 – 3 days. I am yet to hear back from them regarding my missing money. Perhaps they spent it all on crisps.
PSN issues impact on gamers perception of Driveclub as a whole
When you look at Driveclub on its own, it is actually a very good game. As you’re thundering through a Canadian valley on a narrow piece of tarmac that snakes along a river, with 11 other super cars jostling and trading paint for position – it becomes incredible. But somehow all of this counts for nothing. Admiration for the game fades and is instead replaced by frustration, when you consider the issues that players around the world are facing.
Aside from a handful who having licensing issues like I did, every single person who purchased Driveclub has been unable to participate in any meaningful amount of online multiplayer racing, due to the servers going down almost immediately. For a game that is marketed as a “socially connected” racing game, I’ve never felt more alone. As if the extra year of delays was not enough time to prepare the required amount of servers to handle the load, Evolution Studios still haven’t been able to fix the problem 1 week after of the launch date – and their ambiguous updates on Facebook and Twitter set no guaranteed time frame on when we might actually be able to start using the most important element of the game. I managed to connect to the servers long enough to create a club, but they went down again before I could join a race. I haven’t been able to join one since.
The whole situation is extremely unfortunate. Driveclub as a concept has a hell of a lot going for it. But as an overall experience? So far it is one of the worst I’ve ever had with a game.
That was disappointing to read. One thing to make a great game, another to manage it well.
You’re completely right – and one month on things have not improved much. I finally got my refund and the servers have improved a bit, but the quality of online racing is still pretty bad. Extremely disappointing!