Patches: Too much? Too little?

By Kieron Gillen on June 3rd, 2008 at 6:55 pm.

Yeah, I went there. I went there. Yes, I did. 'There' being 'Google'.

Two stories caught my eye. Firstly, Cryptic Comet – as well as revealing Solium Infernum – announced their next free content patch for Armageddon Empires. The innuendo-provoking Tip Of The Spear is primarily about increasing the utility of infantry troops through new advanced training cards. It’s due on the 17th of July, the anniversary of the game’s release. Which is nice. Secondly, Crytek announcing that the long awaited 1.3 version of the Crysispatch “almost certainly” isn’t going to come out. And not in a skipping straight onto 1.4 way. They’re just not going to bother. Which is less nice.

So… how much patching can a community actually expect?

And this is more about the debate than me having an answer. I’m interested in what you lot have to say. Perhaps clearly, in an ideal world, we’d expect a developer to work on patches eternally, making sure balance problems that come up are tweaked and new hardware is supported. But as anyone who’s seen my beard will know, it’s not a perfect world. It’s a cruel and limited world full of horror.

One common argument is that ongoing patch support is the thing which separates the best teams from the second-raters. There’s a reason why Blizzard is Blizzard, and it’s because they’re still patching Starcraft even now, y’know. Similar things can be said about Valve. The idea being, because they actually put this enormous effort into post-patch support, the community rewards them with loyalty and money.

But, at least from my perspective, I suspect the argument is almost completely back to front. The only reason why Blizzard and Valve can do things like that is because of their enormous success. If it was a choice – as it often is for some developers – between getting people to work on their next game or going bust, they choose the former.

Which leads back to the opening question. It’s easy to see what we would prefer – but what is actually acceptable. It’s easy to say “Until it’s perfectly balanced” – but considering how long balance patches stretch out after even something like Starcraft, you can assume that’s abstractly forever. Is it reasonable to make such a demand?

You also start to question the actual rewards for a developer doing so. Look at Tilted Mill, who have apparently rejuvenated their underwhelming Sim City Societies through a string of patches. However, as the comments thread to that previous piece shows, they’re not actually getting the rep for it. It’s just a game people have decided is substandard, rather than one which grew into something considerably more charming. I find Tilted Mill’s persistence on that game openly admirable. I suspect if I were a developer, I’d have said fuck it and got onto something else as quickly as possible.

(Which is one reason why you should be thankful I’m not in development. Were I Vic, I suspect I’d put all my energies on Solium Infernum rather than this post-sales support, because I like new things. And demons.)

There is that old developer saying: The game’s only late until it ships, but it’s shit forever. However, if you ship, and then fix… well, is the game still shit? Can you overcome the reputation like Tilted Mill are trying to do? If there’s any developers out there, I’d be interested in your take on the patch-issue.

So – yes. No answers. Just questions. Perhaps I’ll patch them in later, eh?

Before I leave, the full quote of Crytek’s statement…

At this time, there almost certainly will not be a patch 1.3 delivered for Crysis. We are aware that this news will disappoint many of you, and we would like to apologize profusely. There is a good reason for this and we hope you understand when you hear more about the reasons why in the very, very near future. Please realize this was an extremely difficult decision, but please do know that we are listening to your comments and are making more consistent community support a high priority.

We are confident that the things we are working on will be appreciated by the community, and we hope for your continued support. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact us.

Does make you interested in what the good reason is. If it’s an add-on pack which includes the patch content… well, that sort of thing, I suspect, falls beneath what I’d consider the Good Faith Patch standard.

And finally, Clarence Carter’s Patches, which should put our problems with games being a bit buggy in perspective. Remember: A rain may come and wash all your crops away.

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77 Comments »

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  1. Jochen Scheisse says:

    I would like to point to the situation for DOW: Soulstorm, where the developers (who went belly up half a week after releasing the expandalone) left some pretty game-breaking bugs in the game, especially for a multiplayer game: The 2 most important are probably an unlimited req exploit for the Sisters of Battle and a bug that makes you lose all your req when you use the Eldar Harlequin’s whip ability…but there are more. Relic has successfully avoided to adress these problems since promising a hotfix 2-4 weeks after release. People have waited fpr half a year so Relic would finally solve the problem they reportedly have with patching the versions bought online. But I have given up hope, and due to the insanely bad show of Relic here, I have decided not to buy any Relic games in the future. I guess Starcraft 2 and WiC will help me over DOW 2…but should they ever release Homeworld 3, I’d probably be screwed.

    So my case contradicts your argument. Relic’s fans have been loyal, I have bought every game of the DOW series, but as I realized that Relic does not only let 3/4 done games go gold, which seems to be normal these days, but that Relic also doesn’t finish these games with patches, they lost my loyalty.

    The special thing about companies like Blizzard is that they actually put so much work into the patches until the game is not only finished, but also balanced. That’s why I respect them tremendously as game designers and will buy every game by Blizzard without testing it. I don’t even expect that from most of the people who make games today. But at least let me have a finished product at some moment, that’s the least.

  2. Dan Forever says:

    I think patches as additions to a game, rather than fixing what should have been working on release a good thing in general.
    I think the success of games like Counter Strike is down to the updates the game receives, keeping the game (and hence, community) rejuvenated and fresh. With the move towards including adverts in games I think this will lead to additional sources of funding as people continue to play a game and see the in game ads.
    For an mmo like WoW I think fixing bugs and adding new content in free patches will keep people in the game paying the monthly subscriptions where they would otherwise have left to find other distractions.

  3. Janek says:

    Tip of the Sphere? That’s either a very strange typo, or a spellchecker being overzealous.

    Anyway, I guess there’s significant publisher-developer wrangling when it comes to support post-release, which is why that support does tend to be better when it comes from more “indie” devs. It certainly generates goodwill, just look at Stardock etc.

  4. Troy Goodfellow says:

    I really feel for the Tilted Mill guys since it’s not just that gamers aren’t giving them credit for it, but the mainstream gaming websites aren’t addressing the significance of these updates, either.

    If your game is good and has a good sized dedicated community in place, like WoW or Civ or Age of Empires, then you can be sure that people who are interested in the game can easily find out about what has changed.

    But if your game just isn’t very good (like Societies) or mediocre (like Combat Mission: Shock Force) then developers are really up against a wall in trying to regain any sales that they might have lost because of bad buzz or retrieve people who have moved on.

    It’s funny, but just as the PC gaming world gets more complex with regular patches, lots of user created content and mods and the revival of niche areas like wargames and adventure games, most of the gaming media has decided to scale back on any effort to guide readers on this stuff. Maybe it’s because there are so many internet communities and forums out there that can serve this purpose. But it still seems like an abdication of responsibility in some way.

    So, I completely understand why Crytek has decided to just not bother. They figure that they’ve gotten the sales they are going to get, and there’s no point helping out those who waited on the bargain bin if no one is going to give them any credit for it.

  5. Jochen Scheisse says:

    It’s probably obvious that the DOW Relic story majorly pissed me off. That’s because playing multiplayer is effectively all the game is good for.

  6. Alec Meer says:

    I’d be interested to see Sim City Societies sales figures – I’d imagine the Sim/Sim City branding means it’s actually selling quite well despite poor reviews, which would make meaty patches for it that much more viable.

  7. Homunculus says:

    Two games I’ve shelved, awaiting forthcoming m-m-m-monster patches that promise to elevate them, one official and one as a giant fan-produced mod; the Witcher and Knights of the Old Republic 2.

    I don’t see this as either good or bad, I’m just happy that some folks have taken it upon themselves to extensively enhance a couple of games I was already enjoying immensely.

  8. Leeks! says:

    Jonathan Mak said something interesting on one of those video ‘specials’ 1up has become so fond of this week. Basically, he said he doesn’t want his games to be perfect, because so much of their charm is in their quirky shortcomings. This is why level 3 on Everyday Shooter is so god damned hard for no reason, apparently.

  9. Troy Goodfellow says:

    I’d imagine the Sim/Sim City branding means it’s actually selling quite well despite poor reviews

    I think the SimCity branding could cut both ways. The name is very recognizable and with Societies EA was consciously targeting their large Sims audience to broaden the appeal even further.

    But as the series started get more complicated, it became a more hardcore product and a higher proportion of those SC4 sales, I think, were to an audience that was taking a wait-and-see approach to Societies.

    I’m sure EA’s definition of strong sales would be very different from ours in any case. They probably expected this game to be huge, able to cross both the city builder and mainstream audiences in the way that The Sims draws from a range of play styles.

  10. cyrenic says:

    I think Stardock might be a good example of a developer without a wildly successful product achieving success by patching their games liberally. Though looking at their wikipedia page they have other products that might have allowed them some financial breathing room with their games.

    As far as Crytek ceasing support for Crysis, I’m sure they’re moving on to the next game in the series. They have to hurry up and develop that cross platform version to make up for the dismal 1 million plus sales from Crysis.

  11. CitizenErazed says:

    Patching – it’s an issue as old as the hills. And people have been shouting about developers releasing half-finished games and finishing them via patch for YEARS. Look at this, for example – that was ten years ago. Some developers will do it, some won’t. And generally that falls down to ‘If we don’t release this game now we go bust’ (Iron Lore, for example, who did go bust, but probably had a discussion about that regarding Soulstorm) or ‘we’ve got lots of funding, we can develop forever’ (hello Valve/Blizzard).

    So, are patches a good idea, and do I look to developers for them – well, yes and no. I don’t mind patches, but quite often it comes down to something the multiplayer community is whining for that completely kills the singleplayer game. If a game is released with a potentially game-breaking bug that’s never patched, that’s obviously a bad thing, but when a patch comes out because the vocal multiplayer forum hordes have been shouting about how their favourite unit was nerfed AND I’LL NEVER BUY YOUR GAMES AGAIN and that patch fucks the rest of the experience, that’s also a bad thing.

    What it comes down to, though, is a) do the developers have the money/time to patch the game, b) is the patch needed, and c) is the patch going to change our game for the better for the majority of gamers. If the answer to all three of those questions is yes, then by all means go for it, and I certainly think Tilted Mill have done themselves a great service by being willing to admit that their game wasn’t all they hoped, and fixing it (although if that was the case, why did they release it? They had EA’s backing on this one, and it’s not like EA is going to go out of business any time soon…). On the other hand, Company of Heroes: Opposing Forces REQUIRES three patches from a boxed copy before you can EVEN PLAY THE FUCKING THING. Singleplayer or anything. Bad move there.

  12. Larington says:

    I tolerate patches because I have to. And I regard the fact its become perfectly acceptable to release broken games merely because they can just be patched later as a travesty which should never have been allowed to happen.

    Ok, so maybe you missed one game breaking bug and lightning struck twice on that particular game project, but this happening should be the exception to the rule, not a common occurence. Heck, one of the reasons consoles are so popular is because you can just chuck the disc in the machine and play without having to wait for a patch to download, but I understand even that is changing now.

    Frankly, I regard broken games leaving the printing press as a sign of deeply unprofessional conduct which shouldn’t be allowed to happen by any large modern games publisher (Or any party who has an interest in a game selling well).

    I’ve even run into a case where the patche executable for a game didn’t bother to check the version number of the game breaking both patches as a result (Because the 1.2 patch didn’t bother to make it clear that you first needed to install the 1.1 patch, thanks Blacksite, you’ve made me hate the game even more, and the publisher that forced development to use alpha code in the release candidate, if the information I saw was correct).

    All that said, expanded content patches are a very nice thing which I tend to applaud, unless they break the game.

  13. Dinger says:

    First, Crytek’s “good reason” is going to be their next product, using the same engine.

    Patches either fix broken stuff or add new stuff, or do a bit of both.
    Fixing broken stuff is now part of the equation: games are complicated things, and no QA can catch everything, especially in MP titles. So continued patch support is an obligation.
    It also helps for games with copy-protection schemes. While pirates will go after patches for “high value” targets, many mid-range games don’t get the same attention from pirates: their whole ecosystem is built around downloading and playing the newest thing, not the flavor of last month.
    adding new stuff does build up good will, but let’s face it, it’s usually because the developer likes the game. Besides, there´s all that really cool junk that didn’t make the cutoff for the initial release. And in any case, you need something to keep the testers motivated.
    Oh, and if you plan on keeping the code around, why not bring some stuff out in patches?

    There is of course a crass economic argument for patches: for games, especially those available via digital distribution, I’m certain that to every patch corresponds a spike in sales. How big of a spike is a different question.

    Still, no amount of patching is going to fix the impression left by a half-finished or fundamentally busted game. “put it in a patch”, I suspect, is often an expedient of the committee design table with disastrous results.

  14. BobJustBob says:

    Anecdotally, I’d be surprised if Simcity Societies sold very well. It was discounted by $10 within just a few weeks of release, and seemed to hit $20 faster than any game since Beyond Good and Evil. Not the signs of a game with a healthy retail presence.

  15. eyemessiah says:

    Sure, we can say that Blizz can only afford to patch their games to perfection because they already have megacredits coming out the arse, but surely they made some of those megacredits by being the sort of organization that cares enough about their games to look after them & the players properly?

    I’m sure that lots of good studios can’t afford to throw so much good money at their games after launch, and so they can’t achieve the sort of rep that Valve & Blizz have but they sure as hell aren’t going to get anywhere without trying.

    Maybe some studios can get away with not bothering and still make truckloads of cash, but the PC market is like a runty, snarky, cynical little orphan who’s only wish is that it had some REAL parental figures that would give it some love. I have to believe that those who abandon broken unfinished games end up paying for it and those who put in the overtime reap something of a reward for it. Sure Blizz & Valve had some other advantages but I don’t believe that they didn’t give a damn until the got crazy ass rich.

    Also, as Dinger says, games are starting to stick around a lot longer, what with the whole digital distribution thing. I am just about to sign up to gametap pretty much for the sole reason of having a go at some previous generation (possibly B list) games that I skipped the first time round.

    In a way its worse for a game to still suck after all this time rather than just sucking at release!

  16. egg says:

    I swear to god I read “next content-free patch” instead of “next free content patch”. Gee.

  17. Galbrezu says:

    The company that made Crysis seemed only interested in graphics honestly and it showed. The story was weak and only about 50% of the game was fun and I don’t even bother to play a multiplayer FPS game unless that’s it’s primary focus.

    Most the people who I’ve talked to have echoed the same things and I don’t even think Crysis deserved the accolades it got.

    My point being is that i really don’t see this game as one that was going to spawn a strong multi community or even foster a lot of the replay value I’ve gotten out of other single player FPS games like Bioshock that warrants the continual patch cycle, so long as the bugs are worked out and the single player experience is solid and bug free, the developers goals for a single player game have been accomplished.

    On a side note I REALLY don’t think that Starcraft, Half Life 2 and Sim City Societies were very good games to compare Crysis to. All three games have a very solid multiplayer component (Referring to CS/CS:S/TF2 with HL) whereas Crysis felt like it had the same 32 player deathmatch mode that all FPS games have tossed in.

    Offtopic Edit: Whoa, cool comment editing system, not often I see AJAXy stuff done right.

  18. ReturnToNull says:

    Moar MOAR! I demand more patches. It could be a perfect game, but I would still want to see those patch notes.

    Maybe I just enjoy reading patch notes too much. I recall Lord of the Rings Online’s patch notes. The developers were really cheeky with them, and it was great. Then there’s Valve with TF2… come Wednesday or Thursday I start compulsively checking every once in a while for the patch that just might come. It’s like a weird metagame waiting on patches seeing what’s changed in the notes and then finding and confirming it in game. Sometimes they’re necessary, but disappointing where they fix some server side issue, or funny bug. The truly interesting patches are balance, or content related. One day I might get lucky and be playing a game where they patch out the entire core of the game by redoing it from scratch, causing the forums to explode! Hilarity, new stuff to explore, and stuff to examine abound. Le sigh.

  19. steve says:

    There are scenarios where developers are unable to patch a game because the publisher refuses to allow it. That is, the dev is contractually bound to fix certain things, and publishers are bound to test the fixes. But if the publisher decides the testing isn’t worth the time/money, the patch will never be released.

  20. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    If Crytek wanted to get away with this easily, they should just have shut up in the first place. No announcements and no cancellations. Just tell us what will be published in the next 7 days.

  21. Legandir says:

    Will we see an rps verdict on the “new” Simcity societies? I doubt many places will re-review it and i’d be very interested to see how much of a difference the changes make

  22. restricted3 says:

    So, the guys from Crytek keep shooting themselves in the foot.

    I read somewhere (sorry, don’t remember where) that there was an expansion from Crysis in the work. If that’s the reason, they should confirm it or shut up.

    If it’s simply because they’re abandoning everything PC (bwahhhhh piracy, mommy!!!), they should wonder why people don’t want to spend their money on them. First, sky high hardware requisites, and now lack of support because they *think* they didn’t sell enough?!?!?

    (and, again, we’re speaking more than a million units sold for a game with really high requisites and nothing special apart from the graphics)

    Why can’t companies learn something from Valve?

  23. Alec Meer says:

    Legandir – I’m planning to take a look at it myself soon, at least, though that may be for another publication. Even if we don’t cover it here (though I hope we will), bear in mind the Destinations expansion is out soon – which should mean a whole bunch of places take some kind of second look at the game.

  24. Radiant says:

    ‘Patching’ or updates are also the main reason why people stick around playing and checking out a mod.
    A well maintained mod will easily overcome an underwhelming first release if ready maintenance is in the pipeline.

    Is anyone really upset that Crysis isn’t being patched?
    I mean we’ve already played through the game once what have they done with the patches in the interim?

    Saying that one game which was heavily patched and added to that still gets a play through is the og Ghost Recon on the PC [not GRAW the original one].
    That game fully patched and with the add on packs installed is one of my all time favorite pc strategy/shoot em up games.

  25. malkav11 says:

    The only patches I expect from a developer are whatever patches are required to get their game 100% functional, with all intended content playable and complete. Ideally, of course, that’d be the case right out of the gate and we’d all go home happy. But it doesn’t happen much. Balance? I don’t really give a rat’s ass as long as all of the singleplayer content is fun. Added content? Sure. Lovely. But *expecting* that from a publisher, especially for free, strikes me as being a bit greedy.

  26. Nimic says:

    If you want someone who won’t stop patching until it’s a good game, look no further than Paradox Interactive. I don’t think it’s more than a year or two since they released the last patch for Europa Universalis 2, and that was released in 2001.

    Of course, it’s a well known “fact” that Paradox games often contain huge bugs out of the box. That was certainly true for the first games, but the reputation has stuck with them still, even though their games now mostly have the small bugs that almost every game has. Oh, and they keep patching them, of course.

  27. steve says:

    “Why can’t companies learn something from Valve?”

    If by “learning” you mean, “having a multi-millionaire leader who can fund development forever out of his own pocket if he chooses to do so,” then yeah, all developers should learn from Valve.

    Seriously, it isn’t fair to use Valve or Blizzard as examples of “how it should be.” They’re both so beyond successful that they’re in some alternate universe. If you want to argue that it’s because of their development, well… Valve had tons of money, and now has money coming in from Steam to fund continued development. And Blizzard wasn’t really “Blizzard” as we know it today until WarCraft II took off… and it hasn’t been an independent developer since 1994-ish.

  28. matte_k says:

    @ Homunculus- would that be the Sith Lords Restoration Project you mention for KotOR 2? That’s been going for so long, it’s killing me waiting for it. If it works, there’s a broken game restored to the developer’s original vision before Lucasarts got shirty about the release date…

    But then again, Neverwinter Nights 2 was buggy as hell, requiring some considerable patching, which makes me wonder who the hell works in Obsidian’s QA department…

  29. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    If Tilted Mill could get some [read: any] press for their hard work with patching Societies, it would be nice to see them rewarded for their ethical sticking point. It’s a bit sad that I’m not a city builder/manager sort of person, else I’d give it a second look based on word-of-mouth. It’s always nice to reward companies for sticking to principles you personally hold dear–like Stardock, for example.

    I had intended on commenting without saying anything relevant, and now I feel a failure for breaking with that intent. In the spirit of it, though…

    Kieron, in a perfect world, your beard would be insured and endorsed by the finest sponsors–whoever they may be over on your side of the pond. And it would also have streaks of dignified grey.

  30. Y3k-Bug says:

    @steve – What makes you think Gabe Newell would have the means to fund Valve in perpetuity, and if he could, why would he want to? I don’t doubt he put in some of his considerable wealth into the development of HL1, but they haven’t needed it since. HL1 sold like gangbusters.

    It seems odd to say that you can’t cite Valve and Blizzard as examples because they are wildly successful. Isn’t that kind of the point?

    @restricted3 – Did Crysis really sell a million copies? I was under the impression it sold less than 100,000.

  31. Y3k-Bug says:

    @restricted3 – Sorry, maybe I should actually look that stuff up before posting, PC Gamer reports over 3 million copies sold.

  32. steve says:

    “I don’t doubt he put in some of his considerable wealth into the development of HL1, but they haven’t needed it since. HL1 sold like gangbusters.”

    I didn’t really mean Gabe Newell would fund Valve out of his own pocket forever, but having a wealthy owner probably gave Valve more independence than most start-up developers. They probably got a better deal, and they were able to delay the game without fear of shutting down. Most games are released half-baked because publishers refuse to pay a developer more money, even if they choose to delay the game’s release. (So that six months or year of extra work may be done by the developer for free.)

    (I’m assuming a lot here; I could be totally wrong, that maybe they were close to missing payroll when it shipped or something.)

    “It seems odd to say that you can’t cite Valve and Blizzard as examples because they are wildly successful. Isn’t that kind of the point?”

    My only point is that the successes came first, not necessarily the long-term support. You may buy a Valve game today knowing they’ll support it for years, but did anyone know this when they bought Half-Life at release?

    (Once past the initial success, however, the support gave it a much longer tail than most games. Who knows what would’ve happened if Half-Life tanked.)

    Blizzard mostly developed its reputation for support with Diablo and StarCraft, not WarCraft and WarCraft II. And if you’re talking about developers, Blizzard’s a weird example to use too, since it hasn’t been an independent developer since 1994.

  33. Burgerboy says:

    Ignoring the fact that major game-breaking bugs should have been picked up before release (Hard I know, but there are many companies out there that manage to do it). I personally expect, and demand patches until the major bugs are ironed out.

    Developers which go the extra mile to fix the minor bugs and spelling errors are the ones that go into my good books – and the ones that I keep an eye on whatever type of new game they’re working on.

    Those that dump whatever game they’ve just released to go work on their next whizz-bang buzzword laden project are the ones that get dumped by me :)

  34. Andrew Armstrong says:

    That extra mile is important – any multiplayer game won’t be worth playing if it contains the “Up down left right auto-win” bug.

    But what if a game is released and is already nearly bug free? It happens less and less nowadays – thus the patch mentality, and it’s creeping into consoles. However, some rare games go without patches, sell well, and simply don’t need them.

    In this case, if Crysis is fairly well patched (I can’t say!) I bet Crytek are working on the next instalment. Wasn’t that the plan all along? more “Episodic” like games? They are either going to release an expansion for this game, or an episode for it, or a new game based on it – which will be “good for fans” if that means, shockingly, they have to pay out but get a…well, I guess a game which will be patched a bit more then it is currently, heh.

    Just my take on it. However, some companies are better at bugfixing then others – or provide enough end-user tools to do their own fixing (and not necessarily of bugs, but balance and the like).

    It is a problem however; if a developer leaves games unpatched, their next game will not be as well received. People will assume bugs will go unfixed, leading to less initial sales anyway. If they can’t do the QA, and work, to get the main bugs removed before release then patching is a necessary evil – one that if ignored, really gets up peoples nerves.

  35. Mo says:

    As a small-time indie I’m not sure how relevant my developer take on patches is, but here it goes anyway …

    What is fair for the player to expect post-release? IMO, a game free of (major) bugs. I think that for the most part, developers want to provide this, but they aren’t always given the opportunity to do so.

    If your game is multiplayer, I think there is a certain responsibility to eliminate major unbalances/hacks. But the problem here is that, like Kieron said, 10 years later and Starcraft is *still* being re-balanced! Balance is a bit subjective at times, so it’s difficult to know when to stop.

    Looking at it from the other side, what is fair for the developers? This isn’t addressed too often, but patching isn’t an easy job. In terms of code, the tweaks are often simple to implement, but there’s a tonne of overhead that goes along with it. Infact, I’ve had a patched version of Smiley on my computer for almost a week now … it hasn’t gone live simply because I want to test it a bit more, I have to repackage the game, update the website, virus scan the files, etc, etc …

    Another aspect is that developers want to move on to other creatively challenging endeavors, ie, new games. :) Consider that I’ve spent the last year of my life working on Smiley and only Smiley, while I’m thinking of a tonne of awesome game concepts I’m dying to implement, you can understand why we are a bit reluctant to go back and fix up our old games.

    But as I said above, it is our responsibility to provide a bug-free experience whenever possible, so whenever possible, a balance must be created between working on “the next big thing” and patching old games. I think that is reasonable, but I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect every developer to put as much time into patching their games as companies like Blizzard and Valve do.

    Mo

    PS: steve is right about Valve. HL1 was awesome because of Newell. Well-known fact: HL1 was written twice: first, as a bog-standard FPS, and then from scratch as the revolutionary FPS we know and love. Would not have been possible without Newell’s money.

  36. roBurky says:

    I think constant updating is kind of necessary to keep a multiplayer game maintain its following. See counter-strike, etc.

    And Valve says they always get a flurry of sales whenever they do one of the free weekends for their multiplayer games. So keeping TF2 etc fresh through updates, then ‘advertising’ with their free weekends allows them to keep selling their multiplayer game well past the point most single-player games stop being sold.

  37. Sucram says:

    If broken games aren’t patched customers are lost.

    If a company is prepared to offer long term support to a game adding quality content they will gain customers.

    It’s not just about the sales of a single product, it’s about company reputation.

  38. MeestaNob! says:

    Yeah Crysis sold 1M … I don’t see that as a failure at all. I imagine the development costs would have been well in excess of the usual (PC) game, but they (read: EA overlords) would have already budgeted for console revenue in the future (only a matter of time).

    And for the record, I think it was a very GOOD game, aside from an obviously rushed final level.

    I’m actually looking forward to Crysis 2, but I wouldn’t pay for a Crysis MP add-on. Those sorts of fixes are most certainly the domain of the patch.

    EDIT: Wiki sources PCGamer UK July issue as saying Crysis has sold over 3M? I doubt that is correct. EA shareholder reports show over 1M according to Wiki.

  39. Dinger says:

    When we were teenagers, my brother tried to convince Robert Silverberg to donate his beard so he could get “extra credit” in his English class.

    If Valve’s lesson is ‘start with a ton of money and use RAD so the version you release is 2.0, not .89,’ then it’s still a damn good point. But I think the intended ‘lesson’ avered to was ‘make a game that most gaming PCs will play well.’

    Turning a patch into an retail opportunity can kill a game (joint ops:escalation?).

    ‘content patches’ are extra credit: they give the developer an opportunity to express passion and pride in her work, and to put revenue aside. But just because fans demand your beard too doesn’t mean you have to give iit to them.

  40. minipixel says:

    > There’s a reason why Blizzard is Blizzard

    Yep. Let’s not talk about the sorry state of Diablo 2 Ladder, major bugs, duping and lack of balance still 8 years after the release :(

  41. Thiefsie says:

    I’m on the fence with this. I think Crytek are being piss poor going back on their original intentions obviously for an alternative retail opportunity. But then again, does anyone play multiplayer Crytek? How rarely does a single player game successfully maintain a multiplayer fanbase and vice versa? (I suppose Half/Life is the exception?)

    On the otherhand, I did not buy the Witcher even though I did intend to play it, but by god I am definitely buying the redux version now just in support of their move to fix some problems with it in a substantial way.

    I’d be more happy if more games were released with proper SDKs and other mod developing stuff, unlike say Oblivion, Thief 3, etc etc. Let’s hope Fallout 3 is a bit more moddable off the bat.

    That addon to COH was a total joke, and doubly so for Australians who couldn’t authenticate right of the bat. Patching was slow and rather pathetic for a brand new game.

    BF2 was a prime example of patching being done pathetically bad and minimally as possible, you could easily tell once it shipped EA locked up one sole programmer in a room to look after the game for the rest of time while everyone jumped in to re-skin BF2 for 2142, which still is buggy, albeit less so than BF2 thankfully.

    Then of course there is the weirdness of Vampire the Masquerade, and it’s splintering of fan base depending on which patches you were using. Wierd!

    What am I getting at? I don’t know. I suppose in summary it is a lot easier to come up with pathetically poor examples of patching than really good ones. And that possibly is the problem right there.

  42. RichPowers says:

    Yep, lack of post-release support is one of the (many) reasons why I loathe EA. They release shoddy, buggy, unoptimized games with such frequency that you can’t blame it on coincidence; EA either hates us or has pitiful QA or both.

    BF2, BF2: Special Forces, BF2142, the C&C First Decade Collection…all of them EA games that’ve caused me headaches. The First Decade Collection is the most shameless, since you can tell EA barfed every C&C game onto a DVD in about 10 minutes without giving two shits whether or not any of them work.

  43. malkav11 says:

    The Vampire splintering occurred after Troika had already folded, leaving a game that was still significantly buggy. Everything since then has been two competing schools of fan patch. And fan patches are interesting, but you can’t rely on them happening.

  44. UncleLou says:

    I’d be interested to see Sim City Societies sales figures

    I’ve hardly ever before see a game hit the bargain bins so quickly. It was half-price literally two or three weeks after the launch, dropping even further afterwards.

    Interesting to hear that they improved it a lot.

  45. Howard says:

    Kieron your view is, as ever, right on the mark. I am a little tired of companies like Valve and Blizzard being hailed as the standard to which all competitors should be held. Sure Starcraft, WoW and the current STEAM games are patched free of charge to within an inch of their lives but that is because they have financial security, not because they care.
    Diablo 1, for example, DESPERATELY needed a patch or 9 but never received it because back then, Blizzard were small potatoes. The same could be said for Starcraft even when it first shipped as the multiplayer was badly unbalanced. Valve are somewhat different as their start in life was quite the oddity. Everyone forgets they they were essentially nothing more than a small time Quake 1 mod developer (HL1 was just a project written in the freeware version of the engine) and but for Sierra taking an interest in them we may never have seen their games. Sure their succes was deserved, Half Life 1 was awesome, but had the world not been so geared toward FPSs at the time it launched, thus ensuring success, we may never of heard of Valve again.

    Upshot is, patches are great but I only expect them as long as the game is not functional (if it is offline) or as long as the bugs are still gamebreaking (if it is online). Extra “free stuff” long after release is always gravy but is not always to any avail.

  46. Fat Zombie says:

    Beard… beard…

  47. Freelancepolice says:

    Matte_k
    “But then again, Neverwinter Nights 2 was buggy as hell, requiring some considerable patching, which makes me wonder who the hell works in Obsidian’s QA department…”

    This is wrong wrong wrong. Granted there’s probably a couple of instances of this being true but more often than not it’s simply angry consumers blaming an area of development that is such an easy target in this case.

    QA can’t decide which issues to fix, they can’t decide when to release the game, they can’t allow for a few extra development months. The fact of the matter is QA often get a raw deal and are easy to blame for something that’s out of their control.

    can you tell I used to work in QA?

  48. The Sombrero Kid says:

    from a programming perspective tweaking, bug hunting/fixing and patching are BOOOOOOOOOOORIIIIIIIIIINNNNNG! i’d much rather get into something new and exciting which is why i’m writing this instead of porting this game like i’m suposed to.

  49. Crispy says:

    @Howard.
    Kieron your view is, as ever, right on the mark. I am a little tired of companies like Valve and Blizzard being hailed as the standard to which all competitors should be held. Sure Starcraft, WoW and the current STEAM games are patched free of charge to within an inch of their lives but that is because they have financial security, not because they care.

    Actually the reason Valve has financial security is partly due to the fact they patch their games regularly. The more you patch, the harder it is for pirates to keep up and the happier your customer base. The happier your (multiplayer) customer base, the more people playing and the more popular the game, which translates to more new players being introduced and more sales generated. The less piracy, the less lost revenue.

    Maybe EA pulled the plug on Crytek’s patch testing because Crysis hadn’t shifted enough units for it to be financially viable?

    Anyway I think there is a growing trend to fix games in post-release patches instead of releasing them ‘when they’re done’. This is now especially affecting the next-gen console market (now downloadable content is possible), where Sony and Microsoft will give publishers provisional passes on titles with the assurance that their list of fixes will be implemented in a patch soonafter release.

    I think it’s more understandable for multiplayer games to be patched post-release. Single-player patches should primarily be fixing hard-to-find bugs that slipped through the net (as opposed to bugs already located by QA that get waived to hit a financial deadline), and perhaps adding minor extra content that may have had to be sidelined for the initial release.

    More companies should be working on proper releases. This is the true sign of a good developer/publisher. If this is what you want to see more companies doing then the answer is simple: reward the good developers by buying their games and ‘boycott’ (interpret that as you may) games that are obviously rushed releases.

  50. Okami says:

    @Freelancepolice: Sometimes the QA is to blame.

    I’ve worked with great QA departments in the past and with… well.. let’s not go there, ok?

    Of course, if you’ve got a bad QA department, you probably have really bad project managment, otherwise you’d just fire the sorry bunch and get yourself some good testers, so it’s still kinda lame to just blame the QA.