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A publisher gets a taste of the disappointment it served to gamers

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Around 11 p.m. Thursday, I nearly lost it. The servers kept kicking me off, and I kept restarting. The seventh straight disconnect brought me perilously close to hurling something expensive and smashy across the room. "I can't discuss this rationally right now," I told a friend offering advice over email.

I was not playing a video game. I was trying to download OS X Mavericks to do a clean reinstallation on my sludged-up three-year-old iMac. Even this. I thought. Even trying to download a goddamn operating system.

October was a terrible month for the online gaming experience, as sports fans well know. NBA 2K15 brought the same empty promises of improved online support that it makes every year. Worse, NBA 2K15 doubled down with ambitiously expanded features like MyPark, when it appears it had no way of guaranteeing that would work any better than last year's online modes.

I'm not sure if things really have improved for NBA 2K15 or if the noise has simply died down from user fatigue, but there is no reason to trust this series will ever have anything shorter than a three-week post-launch window where large chunks of the game are unreliable, if not inaccessible. The online failures absolutely kneecapped what should have been 2014's Sports Video Game of the Year. NBA 2K15 got eight day-of-release reviews scored 90 or better. It currently Metacritics at 83, its lowest score in five years, because later reviews had a chance to see the online problems and properly handed out harsh grades.

Online failures tanked what should have been the year's best sports game.

If the disappointing review scores aren't enough to jerk a knot in some shot-caller with 2K Games, then maybe what happened this week to Evolve, 2K's upcoming four-on-one monster-hunting romp, will.

The PlayStation 4 rolled out a new firmware package earlier this week that is just shot through with contemptible failure, from its completely useless YouTube sharing feature to a needlessly altered "Rest Mode" that appears to crash the entire console if a disc is in the slot. 2K politely pointed to this update as the reason Evolve's alpha cannot run on PS4, (it briefly dinged Destiny, after all) and said it was working with Sony on a solution.

I can't be the only one hoping that involved a lot of hold music with technical support.

It sure sucks when the thing you were promised just shows up broken, doesn't it? You're powerless and taken for granted. You're subordinated to the priorities of some big corporation with its own ideas for how people should use what it makes. Ain't that right, 2K?

Those feelings have defined the righteously pissed-off video gamer for far longer than "GamerGate" has been a thing, and I wonder how many people at a major publisher and studio are feeling them this weekend. In addition to being a valuable data-gathering experience for Turtle Rock Studios, Evolve's "Big Alpha" was also a major promotional opportunity for 2K Games. It was supposed to end today. It's officially been postponed on the PS4; who knows if it'll actually ever run on that platform. (Update: After publication, 2K said the problem was resolved and Evolve's alpha is extended to Tuesday on all platforms.)

It sucks to be powerless and taken for granted, doesn't it?

I don't want to write that this kind of thing is "the new normal" because that communicates some acceptance of an unacceptable relationship. But if Electronic Arts can weather the embarrassments of Battlefield 4 and SimCity from 2013 and be OK, there's no reasonable expectation that any of this will change. NBA 2K14 went through a horrid six weeks after its launch on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 last year, but still touted to investors all the microtransaction money it was making in the three quarters that followed.

In addition to riding out this fiasco with firmware 2.00 (hint: don't ever use "rest mode," for any reason) Sony appears content to write off the failure of DriveClub, which still can't get its act together. The free edition of that game, promised to PlayStation Plus subscribers and now indefinitely postponed, is the least of Sony's worries. More relevant would be what Sony does, if anything, for those who spent $60 on a game predicated on social interaction and online play, and who still can't access those features a month after its launch.

If this is a new normal, it means no one should be buying anything with substantial online components on the day of release — certainly not digitally, which doesn't offer a disappointed gamer the chance to trade in the game and recover at least some partial store credit for another, non-broken game whose singleplayer modes aren't hitched to a server. Intriguingly, it makes the preview weekend that EA Sports offers through the EA Access program a useful try-before-you-buy window, and not just for those who subscribe. If subscribers take to forums to complain about online troubles in their preview weekend, you know to stay away. That said, EA Sports' online components have been as close to bulletproof as anything in the segment.

Everyone wants this stuff to work, and I think sports gamers are tolerant of the idea that, in filling the contractual obligation to their leagues to launch each year, there's no chance for sports games to beta-test online features. That doesn't mean it's acceptable to place more of the experience behind an online connection, and hype the hell out of those features, when last year's edition couldn't get the job done.

And if a publisher isn't going to learn from that mistake, then seeing one feel some of the pain and controller-throwing disappointment that its customers have experienced is good enough for now. Who knows, maybe a console maker will actually listen to it, too. No one seems to be listening to us.

Roster File is Polygon's news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games. It appears weekends.