Patches: Too much? Too little?

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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