Comment of the Week: Day 1 Patches Show Publishers Decide Release

Earlier this week, Game Front writer Phil Hornshaw published an article positing that it might be time to stop buying games on release day, which seemed to have resonated well with our readers.

This week’s top comment comes from R.J. (and it’s totally not because his name is similar to mine), with a trifecta of solid points:

“The trick of pre-order bonuses lost its appeal to me when it became common practice to sell said bonuses at a later date. Initially, the bonuses really were just for those who pre-ordered, but then the companies figured out that they could make even more money by selling this content later. When that bonus is sold for 99 cents, it should say a lot about how important it really is. Besides, if the game ends up being good, then it isn’t so bad to buy some DLC, especially if you’ve waited and bought the game at a lower price.

“Patches on release day just show who is deciding when a game comes out. It’s the publishers picking when it works for them (holidays, fiscal years, etc.) not the devs who would actually know whether their game is ready for the public. When a game has a big patch on the first day, I get very nervous about it because I’m left wondering how many other bugs there are that they didn’t test thoroughly enough to find.

“I also agree that the practice of withholding review copies are requiring reviewers to wait until release day is extremely shady. If publishers truly believe in their investments, why are so many of them afraid of informed consumers? If the game is actually good, then early reviews shouldn’t matter. Is it any wonder that the few games that do get advance reviews also get positive reviews? Even if the publishers are worried about reviewers deliberately low-balling their game, they can factor that into who gets a review copy of the next game. Presumably, review copies are only sent to reputable sources, so the only thing the publishers really have to fear is being called out for a lousy game.”

That last point, in particular, raises alarm bells for me, because I don’t — for a single second — buy the cop-out piracy argument. If you’re withholding review copies, it’s because you have something to hide, period.

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6 Comments on Comment of the Week: Day 1 Patches Show Publishers Decide Release

Luther

On November 23, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Triple A Titles often times get a deadline for fix’s, just because a game has a lot of bugs does not make it incomplete as a product it just needs more final touching, and since they have to deal with production and distribution there is a large gap from when that final deadline was hit and people are getting the product in there hands, there can be weeks in between the time the devs had for the final deadline and release day so a lot of fix’s in that period happen.

The reason you don’t see this with some of the titles out there like Natural Selection 2 is because there is no delay or production and assembly of a physical copy, when they hit there deadline they compile the finished product and hit the send key so it shows up on steam and the rest is history.

You could say large patchs are a vary good sign for a newly released game, it shows that the devs are on top of there product and are working vary hard to give the customer the best experience possible. Its when you have a game with game breaking bugs and no patch that should really worry you.

R.J.

On November 23, 2012 at 7:38 pm

@Luther

Those production and distribution deadlines are still set by the publishers, though. Consider: a patch on day one means that the devs were still working on the game when the publisher said time was up. Deadlines are sometimes adjusted if a game is nowhere near finished, but a day one patch still means there were substantial bugs that existed and the game was still sent out anyway. The devs are still working on bug fixes to problems that they, or their testers, found, so they obviously didn’t think the game was done just yet. I look at it as something like taking an exam. The instructor sets the amount of time you’ll have to finish, and you have to get as much done as you can within the limit. Sometimes that will be enough time, sometimes it won’t, but you’re left to deal with it either way. Yes, you’re right that they have to deal with things like the time to replicate discs and ship them, but much of the time, the timing is selected because the publisher wants the game in stores by a specific date, rather than when the developers feel that it is ready. It just seems to me that publishers have become reliant on patches to get away with setting deadlines whenever they want rather than when it is realistic because they can tell the devs to keep working past whatever mark they set.

Some examples: Many of the problems with Dragon Age 2 have been attributed to EA setting a deadline of March 2011 for that game, even though it was only around 18 months after DAO came out. It is no coincidence that the deadline fell at the end of EA’s fiscal year. Mass Effect 3 was delayed from a holiday 2011 release, but only until March 2012. Given that EA wanted to build Bioware into its RPG brand, I sincerely doubt if that March date was selected because that was enough time to finish. It is far more likely that EA wanted to squeeze a hugely hyped game into a fiscal year that saw its stock lose much of its value.

As a side note: It’s pretty cool to be the comment of the week.

Luther

On November 23, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Well like i was trying to say, you can’t blame publishers for bugs, that’s just the way it is when dealing with code in general, usually the devs go into a polish state before release, if the game is going into that type of phase then the game is finished in terms of being playable, but often times you see huge game breaking bugs that come about because of the polishing process, adding or changing GUI components can cause a lot of issues to come up and its vary hard to catch them all when the game is finalized for shipment.

Bottom line is you’ll always have bugs, testers will never catch them all because things are changing constantly all the time, but if you have a really strong team working on quality control then you shouldn’t have to suffer for vary long on a release.

Now add that with Time is Money, Once you start dealing with the banks and investors you have obligations to with hold plus even now when you want investors to see a nice quarterly profit instead of a loss its extremely important, not sticking to you’re guns can cause a company to fold or have massive layoffs like we have been seeing now for years in the gaming industry.

A bad example would be blizzard, thanks to there cash cow world of warcraft and some of there older titles they are one of the vary few company’s that where able to defy the hardships that most game makers have to deal with since there wallets are so full, they can afford holding off on releasing titles for long periods of time which is misleading for the gamers out there.

Anyways that’s my two cents, thanks for you’re time.

Axetwin

On November 23, 2012 at 11:53 pm

@ Luther – Yes, you CAN still blame the publisher for the day 1 bugs. The number 1 prime example is KOTOR 2. Lucasarts forced Obsidian to release game in its unfinished state. They knew the game was unfinished, they didnt care, they wanted the game shipped whether it was finished or not……and it wasnt. Now lets take a look at a more recent example. You really think Zenimax should be worried that the Elder Scrolls or Fallout wont make as much money if theyre not released a month before Christmas? Of course not, those are two titles that will sell themselves and yet they always have a set deadline and the games are always filled with day 1 gamebreaking bugs.

Youre right, games will always have bugs. But thats also a cop-out. I once read an interview with a game tester and he said most of the time when you come across a big bug that makes you question “how was this missed”, in actuality it wasnt missed by the testers but ignored by the dev/publisher. Which then makes you question “why werent these bugs brought up in the review?”. Well I can answer that, its because most of the time early copy reviews are accompanied with a list of things the reviewer is not allowed to mention in their review. Which means devs/publishers are aware of the problems, that theyre working with the mentality of “screw it, we’ll patch it later”, which suggests that the devs are being pushed to release games before theyre ready. Which is wrong.

@ RJ – First of all, gratz on getting COTW. Secondly, I saw you bring up ME3 as being delayed. The reason for that was because the game leaked not long before its initial release date, and the response by the early players was not positive. So one of the reasons the game was delay was to give Casey Hudson time to rewrite the ending. I also heard it was to further further test and polish the multiplayer but thats just a rumor.

Luther

On November 24, 2012 at 6:32 am

First off unfinished is not the same as a bugged release, if a game was unfinished then i would blame the publishers too, Kotor 2 wasn’t in a complete playing state as it was designed to be in.

As for the play tester even if what you said is true I don’t see an issue, and it kind of validates what I was saying already, polishing will generate huge game breaking bugs at times because you are adding or editing the visual look of the game for the finished product and that will cause huge problems, when a reviewer gets there hands on that build its a vary early demo that the testers and devs have yet to work on in terms to fixing it.

Michael Hamz

On November 26, 2012 at 5:20 am

Let’s see how ‘lol’ manages to bullsh*t himself that those who expect a full game for a full price are ‘whiny, needy and entitled’ as well as being a minority. No wonder we still get shafted when there are die-hard apologists still kissing everyone’s arses in spite of the blatant consumer decline.