Good or Bad: Patches
Over the course of time, video games have changed, as all technology does as we progress. However, for those of us who have been playing video games for much of their lives, we’ve noticed some considerable changes in the way that games are made. With the new age of “next generation” consoles and games being released; including but not limited to the now constant connection to the Internet, new standards in high definition and the most recent introduction, or some may say RE-introduction, to movement controls. The question we have to ask though, is are these changes good ones, or bad?
As with almost all of the newest features to now hit the next generation of video games, being constantly connected to the Internet has added a lot of options for developers for after their game is released. One such feature, and probably one of the more important ones, is the ability to release patches for your game. Most of the time, these patches are released in order to help fix a bug or mistake that made it’s way into the final version of the game. In some instances, it can be used to add new features that can be built into the general framework of the original game itself. In theory, patches can do no wrong, but at the same time, has this changed the attitude that developers take to creating their games?
With most developers, they are given a budget and a time frame from their publisher which they are bound to use to create their game, based off of what the developer says that they need to be able to do it. Unfortunately, there are many situations which arise in which the developer is not able to finish the game in time in order to make it the best game it can be. In select cases from this, the developer will push the game into the final stages of production anyways, even though the game may not be fully operational. One such example that could be used is the recent release of Fallout New Vegas. When that was released, it was nearly unplayable to some, as there were too many bugs still in it’s final release. In it’s defense, some of the bugs were comical, as with previous incarnations of the series, however, it still made it an incomplete game.
Following this, Bethesda Softworks worked hard to release a patch in order to fix all of the bugs that were found. However, at that point, was it too late? With a game such as Fallout, the history and name itself gives it a bit of a step up to other games, so while it may have been detrimental to their week one sales, after the patch is released, more people will, in theory, buy the game anyways. However, some smaller games can’t, and shouldn’t be able to afford not having the game looking it’s best when it’s first released, especially with a society that weighs so heavily on the review scores of mass game media sites.
One of the especially worst cases of patching is the day one patch. When you first start up your game, the first thing you see shouldn’t be a screen that says your game needs to be patched to be able to work properly. But on the flip side, the only other option one has as a developer would be to delay the release date of your game in order to polish it more and make sure to kick the bugs out of it. There have been some cases of that as well, and sometimes it’s for the better, as the final product is a much better working game, therefore making it worth the wait. Of course, not announcing a release date until the game is ready for one is the third option, however that’s for another time to discuss. There are many examples of games, though, that not only get delayed, but also have a day one patch, however small, and the most recent example would be that of Gran Turismo 5. After massive, and multiple delays, the game was finally released, but when you finally put the game into your PlayStation 3, you were given a download of a small patch, one again delaying you from playing this highly awaited game.
Not all patches are for the worse though. Many developers do something towards the opposite in fact. After their game is released, and even though they may have moved on to developing their next game, they continue to support their release with patches that improve the games stability, or fix bugs that some super sleuth players may have happened to track down in their intense play sessions. Sometimes some patches are even released to add additional features to their game, and the most recent example of that is the PC version of Super Meat Boy. Super Meat Boy was originally released on the Xbox Live Arcade, and is looking to make it’s way onto Wiiware sometime next year, but just earlier this month, they released a PC version of it on Steam. This game had nearly the same full feature set that the Xbox version did, but with the easy going nature of Steam, they are able to release patches as often as once a day, if not more, while on the Xbox, they are limited by what Microsoft allows.
In their case, their game was nearly perfect when first released, however due to some players having issues with a few features, such as the compatibility with certain controllers, they are able to quickly rework the coding of the game and push a patch to Steam players that day, allowing more people to quickly get back into the game. Another example from Super Meat Boy is the addition of a new character, Tofu Boy. Following the recent parody called Super Tofu Boy, created by PETA, Team Meat quickly put together their own return parody and added their own version of Tofu Boy to their own game, and allowed players to use him by inputting a code word in the character select screen. That update was pushed no more than a day or two after the PETA version had hit the Internet.
Patches CAN be a great thing for developers to utilize to fix problems with their games, but they shouldn’t be relied upon in the case of when the game is completely broken at initial release. As long as the game has been fully play tested, and the developer is confident that they are no major bugs which can affect playability for the majority of players, then the developer should be happy to release their game, and later fix any issues that hardcore players have found with a patch. If it is used correctly, both the developers, players and the media who reviews the games will be happy with the final products.