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.