Using Patches as a Crutch


I would like to begin by clarifying that this is not a review of Dead Island.  This article is meant to highlight a growing trend in the video game industry that I find unacceptable.

Patches and title updates aren’t a bad thing when used properly.  Hydrophobia was released in working condition, but it was plagued with design flaws that annoyed players and led to a lot of complaints.  In response to criticism, developer Dark Energy Digital set out to revamp their entire game for free in order to please those who felt let down by the title.  This gave us Hydrophobia Pure, an update that reworked the map, controls, physics, dialog, HUD, cutscenes, camera, and even graphics in the game.  They had clearly put a lot a love into their game and wanted to make it better once flaws has been brought to their attention.  I think that we can all agree this is a perfect example on how to improve your game with patches.

We start having a problem when developers and publishers use patches as an excuse to catapult sub-par products onto store shelves.  Dead Island is the latest example of this, releasing a day one patch that contains thirty-seven changes ranging from minor tweaks to a fix for a glitch that would make your entire inventory vanish.  Dead Island was heavily reliant upon provocative advertising for sales, so the guys in charge of the release were more than willing to cut some corners in order to honor that heavily publicized release date.

I want to make it clear that the people behind Dead Island were well aware of these problems when they shipped this game.  Due to the incredible complexity that games have today, there are guaranteed to be glitches somewhere.  We tend to trust that the developer will hire testers to iron out all of the major issues and give us a smooth experience.  A minor quirk might get through and make a funny video for Game Fails, but those hiccups are rare and difficult to replicate if the testing process was handled properly.  The important thing to recognize in this situation is that the millions of hours of combined play time that a game gets after its wide release creates an opportunity for finding glitches that is hundreds of times more effective than any group of game testers could be.  This is not, however, how the Dead Island crew discovered their problems.  The speed at which this patch arrived means that they had to have been working on it before the game even reached reviewers.

There are three problems that this creates for players.  First, all of these reviewers complain about the game feeling unfinished and unstable, but we get a day one patch that they never had.  How do we know whether or not the problems addressed are the same ones that colored their reviews?  Players like Philip Defranco are still mentioning glitchy experiences after the patch was meant to fix them.  This undecided final quality level will likely be more than enough encouragement for PC players with itchy fingers to download the game illegally.  There’s also no guarantee in this situation that players will be allowed to download the patch when the developer would like them to.  Each platform has its own process for approving game content, and any mixture of technical difficulties could delay the patch.  Finally, every time you create an additional step that one must take in order to reach the optimum experience in a game there will always be a group of players that do not take it.  You may be able to assume that Steam players will get every update automatically, but there is still a percentage of players on the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 that don’t connect their consoles to the internet.  You can make all of the rude comments that you want about how they need to get with the 21st century and whatnot, but these are loyal paying customers that do not deserve to be swept under a rug after they pay $60 for a game.  Whatever content makes it onto the disc, glitches and all, is the only version of the game that a developer can guarantee every player will experience.

Ultimately, that’s the moral issue that we run into in this situation.  The game that comes on the disc is the game that the developer and publisher are saying is worth your money.  There may be a free way to improve it somewhere at some time, but the contents of that box are the experience that you’re being sold.  It’s disgusting to know that they’re willing to put out something that they know is flawed just so that they can meet their heavily advertised release date.  As a result they come across as a high school student who failed a test that he didn’t study for last night but is promising that he’ll study really hard for the next one.  Whose fault is this?  As a consumer I have no reason to care.  All that I am concerned about is the fact that I’m being sold an unfinished game in a box that proudly displays the names of a series of companies that shouldn’t be so pleased with themselves.

I’ve heard people joke that playing a shooter online during the first few weeks is the same thing as playing the beta, but how far from the truth is that?  If we continue to be so accepting of issues like these there won’t be much left to stop publishers from simply testing each title on us.

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5 Responses to “Using Patches as a Crutch”

  1. Well said. Gamers today are willing to put up with awful sh*t for their money. Publishers see that they can go along with it, so they just continue.

  2. i knew that once consoles became internet aware they would suffer the same quality drop that PC gamers have suffered with patch-ability. That was one good thing about CDs and cartridges, that was the FINAL version period. sure they can fix issues, but even basic testing should find major issues.

    You also didn’t mention the $ cost of the patches. you may not pay for the patch itself, but it’s still your bandwidth that your paying for (especially when so called patch is 100s of mb!)

    Imagine if Windows couldn’t be patched!

  3. Bastion wrote that Dark Energy Digital have provided a “perfect example on how to improve” a game with patches ala “Hydrophobia Pure” with their game’s nearly-complete revamp and redesign.

    -I disagree. . . Merely rebuilding an entire game due to complaints and poor design elements via patches and DLC does NOT provide justification for POOR game design or buggy elements being present in any original release in the first place. . . .

    As far as borked game elements “coloring” reviews; it might also be argued that many reviewers will also judge a game, not on its merits; rather on its distant “potential” with future modifications!?!

    But, any “future” changes, via patch, mods or DLC should have NO bearing on any game’s initial review and accrued score.

    Many professional reviewers and many users have scored DEAD ISLAND 8.5+ on many sites. In spite of the salient facts that the game (on various) platforms has erased achievement/trophy support in-progress, erased savegames and all progress, while often simply refusing to even launch. . . . THIS kind of product deserves an 8.5+ review score? -The game won’t SAVE properly and that kind of bug is a gamestopper and still DEAD ISLAND deserves praise for future excellence?

    Ooooh, with that kind of review-logic, let’s look forward to a redo of BRINK or BULLETSTORM, CALL Of JUAREZ and raise their crappy scores ahead of time. Heck, maybe some inventive dev will go dig-up that ol’ trashy E.T. game and reissue that with patches to grandiose fanfare and stellar reviews based upon some magical notion of future impress.

    Games, now, are short compared to last-gen. Remember, DQ8 running 100+ hours and more and being impresssive all the way through? Today, FPS run under 10 hours, average. Many Action-RPGs ala FABLE run under 20 hours with few lengthy games even being made, excepting of course, WHITE KNIGHT CHRONICLES and SKYRIM, and a others like FALLOUT or a FINAL FANTASY edition. . . -There are others, too; but, not many, and the point being, that while games, generally, have gotten shorter and many now are even devoid of working content, the bugs and borked elements found in modern games have increased exponentially!

    TL; DR

    • SlainSeraph Says:

      @bugbear1

      I can see where you are coming from, but generally don’t agree with any of it, other than maybe the review scores thing.

      Your final paragraph in particular is a load of crap. First, you’re comparing a pure JRPG to FPS’s in terms of length? Really?! FPS’s are ALWAYS far shorter than a pure JRPG. Second, games that are 100+ hours have always been extremely rare and are almost always JRPGs like FF and DQ or are very open ended WRPGs like the Elder Scrolls series.

      FPS’s and action-RPGs on the other hand have always been short by the nature of the design of their games. Any Zelda game can be completed in a couple afternoons and FPS’s are still just as short when you look at gaming history. Try seeing how long it will take you to run through Doom 3.

  4. @Aussie:

    “Many professional reviewers and many users have scored DEAD ISLAND 8.5+ on many sites. In spite of the salient facts that the game (on various) platforms has erased achievement/trophy support in-progress, erased savegames and all progress, while often simply refusing to even launch. . . . THIS kind of product deserves an 8.5+ review score? -The game won’t SAVE properly and that kind of bug is a gamestopper and still DEAD ISLAND deserves praise for future excellence?”

    Agreed 110%. I honestly didnt know about the bugs in Dead Island before I bought it and but a solid 20 hours into the game to log back in and be back at level 2 not once but twice. I’m a pretty lenient guy but this honestly made me nerdrage. I went to the official dead island forums and complained and the bulk of the asshat fanbois there had the nerve to tell me “You shoulda read the forums to know about how to avoid the glitch before you played.”

    Um..WTF?

    I honestly wont buy their games ever again. Thats how pissed this bug made me. It is literally a CRIPPLING GAME-GAMEBREAKING BUG and it happens to thousands of people, how could something this HUGE get shipped with the game?

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