The game of the week for this week's Retro Weekly is one that is very close to my heart: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Day 1 Patches are Sinking the Gaming Industry
As we inch closer to the inevitable release of the next generation consoles, I’d like to take a look back at one of the biggest problems with the previous generation of gaming: the day 1 patch.
Overall patches are not a bad thing. They provide developers the opportunity to deliver the best experience possible by eliminating any minor bugs or glitches that might have accidently made it through the testing phase. This was the norm for the early part of the PlayStation 3’s and Xbox 360’s life, as a result developers were able to deliver a much higher quality product.
However, developers stopped utilizing patches to fix a few issues here and there, and instead transformed them into safety nets. What should have been an easy and effective way to optimize a gamers experience was transformed into a tool to extend the development cycle. Day 1 patches stopped being back up plans, and became industry protocol.
Some may argue that day 1 patches are in fact good for the industry; that that they allow developers and publishers to release games at a much faster pace because they can work on bugs between when a game is finished and when it is finally distributed. Yet what good is releasing a game as quick as possible when the product that is delivered is broken and unplayable? Developers and publishers cannot sit back and rely on a later patch to fix all the problems purposely overlooked during the development cycle. While most gamers now have access to high speed internet, a substantial number still lack this luxury. What happens to them? Does an industry so desperate to increase sales simply alienate a large part of the gamer population for the sole reason that they cannot access the patches sent over the internet? What if for any reason those that do have regular internet access can’t connect on the day of the games release? Why should anyone be forced to have a different, and ultimately worse, experience simply because developers were so desperate to release the game that they left it seemingly unfinished!?
The day 1 patch started off as an unsettling trend, but is now a complete nightmare. More and more games are being released despite being plagued by bugs and glitches, and some are completely unplayable. Take for example some of the most recent releases. When Assassins Creed III made its debut the game was full of bugs. Ubisoft released a day 1 patch to try and fix a number of them, yet even with so many issues resolved dozens still remained. Nevertheless Ubisoft’s gaff was far overshadowed by EA and the train wreck that was Medal of Honor Warfighter. 110 bug fixes came in its day 1 patch, and EA practically begged players to download it so that they wouldn’t have to see the abysmal experience that EA had prepared for them on the disk. Perhaps the biggest offender of all has been Gearbox with its release of Aliens: Colonial Marines. The game was launched despite bugs occurring all throughout the single player campaign. Yet what was so troubling about this particular example was that the patch wasn’t even ready till a significant number of hours after the game was made available. That’s how bad its gotten, developers are not even bothering to look at their own product before releasing it. A patch that was desperately needed, yet not readily available as soon as the game went live, shows that either Gearbox was too lazy to take look at their own product before they sold it to consumers, or that they just don’t care. Either reason is just absolutely terrifying for the future outlook of the industry.
The transition to the next generation of consoles marks the ideal time for developers and publishers to take a long hard look at their practices, and understand just how poor they have become. There was a time when the data on a retail disk was a finished product, one that had undergone extensive and thorough testing to ensure that the highest possible experience was delivered: the industry thrived during this time. Quality has gone out the window for the sake of quantity, and yet publishers continue to ask themselves why sales are down. It may baffle publishers, but for us gamers who actually sit down and experience the final result, it’s pretty apparent what the problems are, and just how much worse they are becoming. There are many sinkholes that publishers must avoid to improve the quality of the next generation, avoiding day 1 patches is just a single example. For the sake of the industry and, more importantly, all gamers, I hope that they realize where they are going wrong and make some speedy changes.