Charging $40,000 To Issue A Patch Makes Games 'Better,' Microsoft?

from the ctrl-z-returned-to-your-'edit'-menu-for-a-mere-$20,000 dept

The uglier side of working within walled gardens was made apparent late last week when indie developer Polytron announced it would not be releasing a new patch for its Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) hit Fez. (More specifically, a patch to fix the original patch, which corrupted a certain percentage of players' saves.) The issue at hand wasn't a lack of desire to throw man hours at a finished game, but rather that Microsoft's XBLA policy only allows for one free patch, with subsequent patches requiring the game to go through a recertification process at a cost of $40,000.

Plenty of articles were written on all sides of the issue. Microsoft's policy on patching has its heart in the right place. It simply wants developers to release polished products, rather than dump unfinished software into the XBLA market and let paying customers do the beta testing. (If only Microsoft felt that way about its own software, but that's an entirely different rant…) But surely there's more than a fine line separating buggy shovelware and a developer trying to improve the gameplay experience for its paying customers.

Some of the articles focused on Polytron's obligation to fix the game despite the cost, especially considering the bug left unpatched affected gamers closer to end of the game. Other press has focused on the fact that Fez's mastermind, Fish, is a bit of a polarizing individual (understatement) and somehow, as such, is possibly just being a crybaby/dick about this issue.

The best commentary on this issue looks at something these others have missed with their focus on contractual obligations, Microsoft/Fez behaving badly, or whether paying customers should be unwilling participants in a contractual feud. Rob at the inexplicably-titled We Make the Cops Look Dumb (home of Mersey Remakes) says they're missing the point. This isn't about everything surrounding the patch and its attendant $40,000. It's about making (and selling) great games.

I’m uncomfortable with any debate that can argue around patches being seen as bad things to have, things that customers or services need to be protected from. Patches are to improve games. Patches are to make games better. Arguing against patches is to argue against the right to have better games. This is a ridiculous thing, beyond absurd. I’m uncomfortable when an imaginary line is drawn between services where patches are ok and where patches are not. Why is a patch to an iThing seen as desirable but XBLA not, beyond the whims of Microsoft?

Rob also looks at some of the other arguments, many of which we've seen used in the comment threads here at Techdirt, especially when dealing with artists finding themselves being manhandled by contractual details. This one in particular surfaces (too) often: “Too bad. They signed a contract.”

I’m uncomfortable when people feel comfortable pulling the getting into bed with the devil argument, you signed a contract for fame and fortune and now, this is the price you must pay. I’m uncomfortable because it leaves no room for nuance, it leaves no room for context. It becomes a moral argument with nothing that hinges around whether something is fair, whether something is unfair, whether something is even viable. I would not like to be the person to cast such a judgement because I would not like to be the person if something went titsupus contractualus for me, to have the same argument thrown in my face.

This argument has always bothered me as well. Those espousing it seem hold two contradictory thoughts: that those holding the contract (label, studio, etc.) are somehow both massively benefitting the artists (simply by being the “infallible” system) and allowed to screw their signed artists without being called out for it. So, if the contract allows for screwing of said artists, it's just too bad. Legalese trumps any effort towards making it a mutually beneficial situation.

Then there's this argument: it's ok if this creator gets screwed because he's a jerk on the internet/IRL. This is like saying police brutality is ok as long as the person being beaten is a criminal. Is this rhetorical device still cool if you're the one who happens to be the jerk? Or worse, you could be one of the “good people” that “bad things” happen to.

I’m uncomfortable with the “but it’s Fish” train of thought because next time, it might not be Fish. It might be me. It might be you. It might be your friend or a developer you love not a developer you love to hate.

Then, of course, there's the “helpful” percentage of the crowd, always willing to suggest how things might have been done differently. It's one thing to suggest a solution while suggestions are still being welcomed. It's quite another to roll in post-mortem and point out everywhere the victim went wrong.

I’m uncomfortable when people say “you should have just released on Steam in the first place” when contracts were signed at a time when Steam was still 12 months away from showing its indie selling claws to one and all, when its notorious difficulty to get greenlit was at its peak. When other services were seen as behind the XBLA curve. I’m uncomfortable with hindsight being used as a stick to berate people with.

That's a tough one to avoid. Nearly everyone who's ever posted a comment or written for a blog has at one point or another found it impossible to resist playing a few downs as armchair quarterback. “What you should do next time” is definitely preferable to anything containing the past tense (“What you should have done…”), but neither does much to address the actual roadblock in question.

Rob's main concern is one that should be the main concern for gamers and developers alike: making great games. And Microsoft, for all its well-intended ways, is aligning itself against that very goal.

Right now, I’m just uncomfortable with the whole charade that’s sprung from a statement which points out the ridiculousness of a system that can penalise people for wanting to make better games. And I’m uncomfortable with how comfortably we let this shit slide over us.

Say what you will about Fish's divisive personality or the rigged system that is XBLA. Talk about how an indie studio with a million paying customers shouldn't complain about costs and time. Point out rival services and their advantages. But don't forget that underneath it all, a developer wanted to improve its game and the gatekeeper decided that the developers and customers would be better off if everyone “played by the rules” and nothing got fixed.

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Companies: fish, microsoft

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Comments on “Charging $40,000 To Issue A Patch Makes Games 'Better,' Microsoft?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“And Microsoft, for all its well-intended ways, is aligning itself against that very goal.”

Actually, Microsoft seems to have the right idea here. They want the best games released (not half finished crap) and they want the developers to have one solid (and free) shot at addressing any issues that might exist in that game.

I suspect their goal is also a more subtle push towards sequels, that is to say rather than constantly dicking around with an existing game to add features, levels, or whatever, it is better for a developer to release an entirely new product (or extension pack) and go from there.

“Then there’s this argument: it’s ok if this creator gets screwed because he’s a jerk on the internet/IRL. “

No, I think it’s the creator pays the freight if they cannot manage to test their patches completely, and rush to put something out in that manner. It’s not about being a dick, it’s about doing your job – and accepting responsibility when you fail.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I totally agree. Microsoft wants games right the first time. But it realizes no one is perfect, so it gives one freebie patch.

That forces you to make sure your game is done. And if it’s not done, it forces you to make sure your patch is done, ’cause you’re not gonna get a third chance to get it right (without paying a lot of money).

Fish failed with both. I have no sympathy for him. Either he simply doesn’t give a frick about testing and quality (or his customers) or he’s simply a lousy game developer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It must be nice to be able to get everything in life done right on the second try. As for the rest of us who are only human, it’s nice to be given the option to respond to customer feedback when unexpected behavior occurs.

Who does this policy help? Microsoft. And only Microsoft.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Don’t you find it strange that we never needed updates to our Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, PS1 and PS2 games? Those games shipped in working condition.

And don’t you also find it strange that we didn’t start needing updates until the capability for updates was added by Microsoft in the original Xbox?

Maybe Microsoft has finally figured out the mistake it made and is trying to set things right.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

To be fair, there’s a game foe Playstation 2 called Ar Tonelico II and it comes with a bug near the end of the game that freezes the PS2. It’s not critical to the game (you can finish the game normally).

Amusingly some guy released a patch that fixed the error so you could enjoy the buggy part. Obviously you need a modded PS2 to enjoy the fully working game.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Absolutely true! Never needed to update those games, and when there is a glitch, a bug, a horrendious imbalance of gameplay, freezing, tearing, and other annoyances, we should stand up and say,”Don’t fix it!” Horrible controls and flightly camera angles? Haha, we pressed the disk. We are done!

Working condition is different from perfect condition. Is there a problem with obsessive tweaking causing breaks, and releasing a game with a ‘patch when it is done’ mentality, yes. However, holding up old games as some bastion of proof that the system is broken cannot be rationally compared. The need for patching is not, in itself new. It is the abuse of the ease that should be seen as the problem, and nothing more.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

His point is that it wasn’t almost guaranteed to have updates back then. Surely it’s easier to patch any bugs now and it is quite an improvement. It was either you launch an working thing or you have to recall the media.

Also, think about it a bit. If Toyota, Ford etc deliver a car that needs “patching” it’s damaging for their image. So the ideal scenario is to launch a car that doesn’t need such procedures. And if they need, it’ll cost a lot of money to repair. So I can understand the idea behind charging. And the point that older stuff didn’t really need patching still stand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

If cars need a “patch”, like mine, which is a 2002 Subaru, you get a recall notice in the mail. My car is 10 years old. They issued the patch 10 years on. It didn’t hurt my impression of the company, it IMPROVED IT. (Rusting lower control arms. Now I have brand new ones)

Every car manufacturer has recalls. Some handle them better than others. Its the same as issuing a patch.

No matter how many times you play it, drive it, fuck with it, there is NO BETTER testbed than the public. You could spend 50 YEARS debugging a game, thinking you’ve got every last little glitch, bug, or bad control mechanism down pat. On release day I guarantee there will be calls. And a patch will be issued. You cannot, in any way, predict the behaivior of the millions that will buy your product.

When I worked for a Fortune 500 company, I tested software. I found things that the developers “never intended” to be used together, and they caused bad things. It wasn’t malice, it wasn’t bad development. But I found it in testing. I’m sure for everything that was caught in testing, there were another 10 that were discovered in the field. We did weekly test releases, and they didn’t go gold until weeks of testing were performed.

So to say that “they should get it right the first, or the second time” is bullshit, because no matter how much testing goes into something, someone ELSE will find something no one else will have thought of. Its just that simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Considering that 1)most games during those generations came from Japan months or years after hitting the market there, giving developers plenty of time to fix any problems, 2) they were constantly adding patches to each subsequent disc pressings and 3) some games still had game breaking bugs, I believe this statement is way off base.

This mythical era when games didnt need patches never existed, patching was just transparent to western gamers.

I for one was thrilled when I no longer had to play buggy games that could never be fixed or buy “game of the year editions”, and this is why Ill never buy a Microsoft console.

Tim K (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Don’t you find it strange that we never needed updates to our Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, PS1 and PS2 games? Those games shipped in working condition.

Actually that’s not true. There were lots of bugs in games. True, they did work, but so does this game. According to what I read it happens to about 1% of people who patch. How can you be expected to catch every bug, especially when it happens to such a small percentage? As to games not having patches before, they did, but they were done and new versions were released, so people who bought the original game had a different version with different bugs then someone who bought it 6 months or a year later. One specific example of that is Super Smash Brothers: Melee. There were bugs in the original that my friend has, but in my copy that I bought years later, they are fixed. I’m not saying devs don’t release buggy games now, I mean almost every game on the Wii was just kinda thrown together and not done right (part of the reason Nintendo isn’t doing so well now after the hype ran out), but a game/software will never be 100% working with no bugs when initially released.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Actually, games from that era were often released in second printings with bug fixes. Final Fantasy 3 for the SNES (FF6 in canon numbering) had a number of bugs in the original release of carts. However, Square Enix released the game in a second printing with a number of those bugs fixed. The original carts are worth far more now than the second printing.

Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I was thinking the same thing. Practically all NES, SMS, Genesis, SNES, TG-16, etc. software was play-tested before it went out. And even in instances where bugs existed, the vast majority of them were very difficult to find and gamers reveled in finding them anyway as they often lead to bizarre exploits, inaccessible areas, et al. In fact, most of the speed runs posted on YouTube for retro software makes use of at least a few glitches.

When we bought games back in the 80’s and 90’s, we were confident what we were getting was a finished product. Developers actually cared enough to extensively play-test their software and give gamers a finished product. The problem with patches is that it encourages developers to rush software to market and then apply a fix later, even though everybody doesn’t have their newfangled consoles connected to the internet. Furthermore, patches usually cost extra money out of gamers’ pockets, to say nothing of DLC which up until this generation was all included for free as an added incentive for gamers to make a purchase.

Another problem with contemporary gaming is how developers are trying to do away with the second-hand market, or find ways to make people pay a surcharge directly to the developer in order to utilize online/multiplayer and other content. To make matters worse, much of today’s software requires you to be online in order to play. So what happens when the online functionality of these games disappears? You’re left with a non-functional piece of plastic. Wonderful.

Yup, I’m totally biased towards retro gaming.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Bullshit, this policy doesn’t “only help Microsoft” it helps the consumer too.

Look no further than every game ever made by Bethesda. Buying any game they produced within 6 months+ of it’s release means you’re paying full price to be a beta tester. Fallout 3 and New Vegas are great examples, both shipping with save game corruption issues which took months to resolve and still apparently many problems exist according to their support forums. NV, on PC, crashes for me several times a day and yet the lack of anything stopping them from patching it has yet to produce a patch to fix the game outright crashing to destkop, locking up when loading a new area, or even simple, stupid things like fixing Rex (a companion character) from getting stuck in “wait here on this spot for human PC” mode constantly, even though hes set to follow me. Because I stopped moving to hack a computer and read its contents for just long enough.

And don’t give me that tired old line about how big, open world games are sooo hard to QA and bug fix. That’s shit. They want me to pay full price, then I expect to get what I paid for: a fully working game. It’s not as if they advertise on the box or in marketing that there may be extreme, gamesave corrupting issues with the game, so as far as I know, I am buying a working product. The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series are so immensely profitable that they easily afford $40k to put out many patches that still never fully resolve anything and yet somehow cannot hire any QA staff at all. It’s Bethesda’s SOP.

I’m of the opinion that some developers genuinely would put out more patches to fix games such as Fez, but others would completely abuse it, others like Bethesda. Seeing as how a large majority of games these days require at least one post-release patch, I’d be shocked if more dev’s didn’t start seeing their customers as beta testers, were restrictions and fines like $40k to patch your products a second time and beyond lifted. Some dev’s would ruin it for everyone. To head off off the obvious “but Bethsoft is a big corp and indie is not” well indie dev’s like Fish can ruin it for the other indie devs too. Most average people, casual gamers, are never going to know theres a difference between an indie like Polytron and Bethesda, just that games suck ass these days because they’re buy-in beta tests.

Karim says:

Re: Re: Re:

I have no sympathy for him. Either he simply doeM’t give a frick about testing and quality (or his customers) or he’s simply a lousy game developer.

You don’t know much about software, do you?
Because if you did, you would know that there is no such thing as bug-free.

By your rationale, Windows users should be paid by M$ for testing their broken excuse of an OS, or at least be able to use it for free until it is stable (i.e. Forever)

Demoliri (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I completely agree with this. It usually takes microsoft over a year and a hundred patches to make a new OS stable.

Now while there is a HUGE difference between getting an XBLA game stable and an OS stable, only 1 free patch is still not enough. Perhaps for a short period after a patch launches the game can be re-patched to allow for hot fixes for bugs that only appear once the game goes live.

Rich says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You are also talking about MUCH simpler systems, and thus, much simpler games to write. Graphics, sound, A.I., game play are much, much, more complex nowadays. Gamers demand it. There is NO such thing as bug-free. Even those old games had bugs (you just apparently never ran into them). There are even fan sites that collect lists of bugs in classic games. Take a look a Pac-man or Super Mario Brothers. Two, relatively speaking, simple games. They have well documented bugs in them.

I specialize in fault tolerant software (because the software I work on has a human safety factor), and I am telling you bug-free does not exist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You really think there were no bugs on any of those console games? I know for a fact there are multiple N64 games that had a v1.1 cartridge released after bugs were fixed. You think those games didn’t have glitches? Are you retarded or are you being purposely obtuse?

It doesn’t really matter though, as you’re clearly deadset on being a fucking know-it-all. Keep on being perfect, broseph.

Mesonoxian Eve (profile) says:

I remember those comments and I wish I could modify the text so I can produce the largest post ever stating one word: SKYRIM.

Given how massive this game is, it’s obvious not everything is going to mesh well.

To charge $40,000 to fix all those meshes, as well as listen to customers’ ideas for potential additions, is absurd, leaving Bethesda to take the hit on the backlash. Just go read their forums.

But you know, if Bethesda needs my help, all they have to say is “KickStarter” to cover the $40k fee, and I’d be there.

I concur: I want a good game being improved to a better game.

And Microsoft’s goddamn reason is absurd given many games released on disk require a damn update the first time they’re loaded.

I can’t think of a game I’ve installed from disk that didn’t require an update.

So… maybe get the game right before it’s pressed on disk?

LOL! EA, take notes (for the love of gaming).

MrWilson says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree, in the sense that its been years since I’ve played a game that was fine out of the box. It seems that the simpler the game, the less it needs patches. The problem is that today’s newest games aren’t simple.

I might agree with Microsoft’s $40k charge if it charged itself that much for each of its patches on the XBOX and used that towards a fund for more freebie patches for developers.

Microsoft doesn’t hold itself to such a standard so it shouldn’t hold others. It wants polished, perfect games in an imperfect world with imperfect code from imperfect developers.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Eh.. Put aside Behemoths like World of Warcraft that have shitloads of graphic objects that evolved during the years of developments and expansions you have games as complex today as they were in the past. You got better graphic quality sure but how different is Quake from Modern Warfare 85 for instance? Or Diablo II from Diablo III? Obviously there are some cases where it is more problematic to deliver a finished version bug free but..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“I can’t think of a game I’ve installed from disk that didn’t require an update.”

Depends on your definition of “disk”.

I certainly remember a lot of old DOS games (that came in diskettes) that never had any updates and worked like a charm.

Then again, they had to, because, back then, you didn’t have any easy way of pushing out updates. But still, sometimes, they tried to, even though it was expensive and not at all easy (I seem to recall some “computer magazines” bringing patches for some games).

Unfortunately, today, where patching is mind-numbingly easy (heck, I implemented an auto-patcher for a work application, and I’m just a lowly programmer), you are hit with an idiotic $4k fee to patch your game.

Stupid times we live in.

Doug D (profile) says:

What I’d suggest to Microsoft is, instead of “one free patch, period, game over, the end”, how about “one free patch with no restrictions on scheduling it, plus, a new free patch is permitted after certain precipitating events”.

The main events I’m thinking of are things like: new revs of the hardware and new dashboard updates. Because, those things can introduce changes to the platform that impact older games.

Heck, just look at “Uno” for one example. A long time ago, they updated it to add support for the old pre-Kinect video camera — you can have a video chat with the people you’re playing Uno with. But that feature doesn’t work if your camera is a Kinect. Shouldn’t “update video-using games so they can support the Kinect camera” something it’d be in Microsoft’s interest to do?

If devs know they’ll get a free patch once every year or so, very expensive otherwise, this still has the advantage of encouraging them to be prudent and not just assume they can patch like crazy to fix things after release, but with a “safety valve” of sorts. Or so it seems to me.

Donnicton says:

Part of the reason Microsoft has those price gates are because of indie developer abuse.

Because of the team of QA testers that Microsoft has to verify and certify each patch for proper functionality on the console before giving it the green light to push out, indie devs would dump their own QA teams(if they had any to begin with) and just throw patches at the Microsoft QA team, and if it doesn’t get the go ahead for one game-breaker or another, they tweak it and try again until it gets approval.

It was a horrible setup that really did nothing but bog down patch releases for everyone, thanks to a few scheisters.

Bengie says:

Re: Re:

PS3 charges by data transferred, which can be a lot more expensive than MS’s $40k when you think about how many people rent games and have to patch them.

Over a few years, several patches go out or DLC high rez addons. Soon people are renting the game and downloading 5GB of high-def addons and you’re losing money.

I’m not sure how often this happens, but I’ve heard of concerns from small game devels talking about taking a loss on game sales because of getting charged for data.

Anonymous Coward says:

Encouraging low quality software

Anyone who develops software knows that it’s virtually impossible to write 100% bug-free code. Microsoft is encouraging low quality software by providing a negative incentive to deliver patches/fixes.

They are also encouraging smaller developers to abandon their platform and go with steam

DanJ says:

M$: the mark of perfection!

I have been selling and servicing M$ crap since 1989. In all those years I know of no single piece of M$ software that did not require multiple patches, some required multiple hot fixes to the patches. Just recently they released a patch to a 17yr old DOS bug that was well known and ignored. Do you remember WinNT SP 6a, boy talk about quality control. Seven service packs and many hot fixes to patches really speaks to M$’s dedication to quality. This is not about QC, it’s about a profit center. A way to trample the little guy, nothing new here.

Doug says:

Microsoft pays for its own patches

Microsoft is intensely aware of exactly how much it costs to patch a piece of software. You think they don’t pay when they distribute a patch? They don’t have to charge themselves because it is coming out of their own pocket.

Microsoft made a deal with a game studio. The deal included a free patch, and after that free patch, subsequent patches would cost $40,000 each. The game studio knows what it is getting into up front — there is no surprise, no fine print. The $40,000 covers administrative costs, bandwidth costs, and QA costs (not to ensure that the game doesn’t have bugs but to ensure that the game won’t take down the XBOX Live system and to cover certain “due diligence” aspects required of Microsoft as the game’s distributor). These are real costs passed on to the developer.

Microsoft doesn’t expect games to be perfect from day one, which is why it includes a free patch in the package. But after that, patches cost the studio because they aren’t free for Microsoft either.

Finally, it isn’t quite fair to compare bugs in an operating system to bugs in a video game, but even then, it is silly to think Microsoft doesn’t pay for those as well. Each patch issued through Microsoft Update costs Microsoft many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Microsoft isn’t claiming that you can make a game bug-free in just one patch. It is simply providing a program that provides one free patch, and the game studio can make use of that as it wishes. If it thinks it will need more than one patch, it can adjust its budget to take into account that subsequent patches will cost $40,000.

DanJ says:

Re: Microsoft pays for its own patches

M$ pays for it’s patches the same way Bill Gates pays for his philanthropy, by marking up the cost and passing it on to the customer and a lovely tax loophole to boot. How do you think that he accumulated 50 billion dollars and how many bodies did he climb over to reach the peak of this pile of money? Microsoft has never paid for anything but their customers sure have. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no quarrel with profit but dictators spewing hippocracy from atop an ivory tower is always bad. The good part is that we can now see and describe “the kings new clothes” for what they really are. The bottom line is that this is just business and M$ is saying that “this is my sandbox and this is the cost to play in it or you you can take your pail and shovel and leave”

qazzy123 says:


… wow microsoft. Awesomenauts is a game for ps3/xbox360/pc and is a big hit on all 3 platforms. it is an indie game and charged at $10 and has many patches. on pc it is at patch 1.6 and what version is the console’s game at (btw this game was made for the consoles but ported it over to the pc as well) 1.1!!! we are at 1.1 yet a system that the game wasnt even intended to be played on gets the patches more frequently and earlier why? cause you charge WAY TOO MUCH!!! lower it down to about 30k or 20k you allready get a shit ton of money for xbox live just lower the patching price for at least the smaller games that cant just shit out 40k and give it to you like activision or Dice.

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