Have Developers Become Too Reliant On Post Release Patches

Some gamers have taken offense to the amount of content available at launch and the bugs which have necessitated patches without weeks of launch. At the same time, games are more complete than they have ever been before with loads of content and follow up to maintain the integrity of the game. Games have become increasingly more complex as technology has grown as well which can create incredible obstacles for developers to overcome. As things continue in the direction in which they are headed, there’s a chance that developers could, in some gamer’s minds, become too dependent on post release patches to fix bugs. Let’s look at the good and bad of issue before making a judgement call.

The Good

Growing up, I can remember playing John Elway Football with my younger brother. If you selected a certain play in specifically the right manner, you could have super speed with the ball carrier. This was my first encounter with an exploit in a video game, which caused a considerable amount of punching in our home. Fast forward 25 years and things have drastically changed. Game exploits are just one of the ways that post release patches can be a good thing.

When Destiny first launched its Beta back in the summer of 2014, some of the weapon tuning began on a public scale for the first time. On April 12, 2016, the next round of weapon updates to the same game will conclude in their most recent effort to keep the game moving forward. Post release patches can add great balance to games that need them. While those men and women in the test lab can be the best in the world at their craft, when a game hits the open market, there is no way to simulate the data that one could receive.

The Bad

While the positives reach the highest of quality heights when considering patch notes, the lows can be pretty convincing as well. Theoretically, if any issue arrises post launch, it can be fixed by a patch. This solution extends from in game issues like textures and exploits all the way up to server issues. One major concern, however, from gamers is possibility that developers will begin to lean on patches too much rather than doing the work ahead of time to produce a quality product. The bottom line of the almighty dollar has power and sway over many elements of game design, and the timing of a game’s release is not immune to it. With the promise of a post release patch to fix issues as a scape goat I can only imagine the pressure developers must be under to deliver.

A second thought regarding the negative aspects of heavy dependance on post release patches is the devaluing of the initial product. This drives a wedge between the gamer and the developer in terms of what the value of a game should be. If the gamer feels they have been sold short because a bug in a game renders it unplayable or fails to enjoy aesthetics of a game because they are waiting for a patch to fix an issue, then the initial purchase of the game can leave one feeling cheated. Please note I am not saying this is the reality of the situation, merely fears I have heard expressed in my own fire team chats.

The Resolution

Let us take a moment to step back from this emotionally charged issue to view it with fresh eyes. While it’s true that there could be temptation to push a game because post release patches could fix overlooked issues, this does not mean that developers and designers have to give in to the pressure. The developers and designers I know, albeit a small sample size, take great pride in their work and the product they develop. Any bugs that have been exposed post release have been a mortal scar on their image in which they take so much pride. To say that they might be tempted to slack off could be said about any other position that leaves room for correcting their own mistakes. While no one is completely above reproach, it does seem that more often than not game developers take the high road and do their level best with integrity. Until the market has been tarnished on a wide spread scale then it is our duty to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding honest mistakes.

The other side of this argument is that because of the great complexity of games being developed now, some things are simply unknowable until a certain number of non feasible people touch the product. Stress tests and the like are common place for any developer who will be releasing a game on a large multiplayer scale. Textures and data are being processed at record rates on the newest consoles and computers. While game makers are working tirelessly to keep up with the growth rate, it is an unrealistic expectation to believe that they can handle it all.

There is also a negative motivating factor for games that needs post launch patches. They hit the pocketbooks of game company where it hurts, their cash, by needing post release patches. After the initial release of a game, the rate of sale will most likely gradually diminish until new content or a sequel is released. To keep employees working on a game that can no longer generate revenue for players who have already purchased it takes away from their bottom line. The very act of patching a game is an act of love for the product itself.

The resolution for the increasing complexity of games causing patchable problems and the time line crunches is trust and a change in the expectation level of gamers. Gone are the days when gamers should expect a perfect game on release day. I do not say this to slight developers on any plan, rather I say this to speak truth to those who buy titles on a regular basis. The only way to heal our community is to grow closer as a community. Use social media and other platforms to get to know the hearts of those making the games you love. After meeting them and hearing their thoughts, often it is impossible to believe they would ever do anything to harm their most prized creation. This simple act can grant us the grace needed to move past old expectations of what a completed game looks like, and look forward to what gaming development will resemble in the future.

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