Polytron versus Microsoft – Whoever Wins, We Lose
(This is another edition of /RANT, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
At the time of writing, gamers who care one whit about FEZ fall roughly into two camps — one camp that is saying “Fuck Microsoft” and another camp that is saying “Fuck Phil Fish.” The reason for all this fuckery is the announcement from Fish that Polytron would be re-releasing a famously buggy patch for its critically acclaimed puzzle-platformer, due to the platform holder’s exorbitant costs for re-certifying patched software. In short, patches cost money on the Xbox 360, and Polytron determined that the price of issuing a second patch was not worth the price that Microsoft demanded.
For a little history, FEZ had some problems when it launched — they didn’t affect everybody, but there were some game-breaking glitches that ruined save files and could render the entire game unusable. Naturally, a patch was made and put through certification, but it turns out the patch had its own set of problems, carrying a risk of corrupting save files while the game updated. Rather than leave it up and risk wrecking more games, the studio decided to pull the patch, and we all patiently expected a new one to arrive … except it never did, and according to Phil Fish, it never will, due to this cash issue.
“Microsoft would charge us tens of thousands of dollars to re-certify the game,” read Fish’s statement. ”Had Fez been released on steam instead of XBLA, the game would have been fixed two weeks after release, at no cost to us. And if there was an issue with that patch, we could have fixed that right away too.”
My first instinct, as a woolly liberal who’s gotten increasingly sick of publisher greed, was to blame Microsoft. That’s what Polytron’s done, and it’s certainly what the studio was hoping everybody else would do. However, as the day has wound on, I have been swayed more by the “Fuck Polytron” crowd who quite rightly point out that, regardless of Microsoft’s policies, FEZ was released with a game-breaking glitch and later was subjected to a game-breaking patch — a patch that will now be reissued and forever risk ruining more copies of the game. While Fish claims that less than 1% of consumers will be affected, that number still exceeds zero, and it’s not acceptable. The relative rarity of a broken product does not make the broken product better, especially for those who fall victim to the breakage. It’s irresponsible to put a patch up knowing that it could potentially do more harm than good. It’s also the core root of the matter concerning Polytron’s decision to not pay for a new patch.
A responsible developer would pay for the damn fix. You can only milk the underdog indie reputation for so long, and I think Polytron’s squeezed as much as it can from those supple udders. After selling over 100,000 copies of the game at ten bucks a pop, the FEZ developer has made enough money to pay for this patch. It might not want to pay for it, and the price tag might still be demanding a lot for a company that isn’t a major corporation, but nevertheless, what’s been asked of Polytron by consumers is not unreasonable — pay to fix the broken game you have sold, and are still selling, to people. Until this issue is resolved, that’s the truth of the matter — Polytron knows its product is faulty, and will continue to sell it. No matter how much one tries to apportion blame to Microsoft, the fact is that Polytron is the one with the responsibility to fix this, a responsibility that it has chosen to shrug.
Let us not also forget that Polytron is looking for sympathy for being in a situation it willingly entered. It’s all very well for the studio to complain that the patch would be free on Steam, but whose fault is it that FEZ is not on Steam? Who inked an exclusive agreement with Microsoft, and whose job was it to know what that agreement meant for the company? Again, this rests on Polytron’s shoulders. Nobody forced it to bargain with the proverbial devil. Nobody ordered the studio to pledge fealty to Xbox. In fact, I quite recall many consumers feeling snubbed by the decision, preferring instead to see it on Steam and getting uppity that it was a console exclusive. The fucking user base wanted it on Steam in the first place — it was Polytron that wanted it on Xbox Live Arcade.
So absolutely, this is Polytron’s fault. The company needs to stop shirking accountability and passing the buck. It’s duplicitous, and more than a little craven. However …
This is not to say Microsoft is free of guilt, here. Furthering my idea that consoles are more and more becoming shitty PCs, the concept of consumers having to wait around for patches because Microsoft wants total control over their release — and expects to be paid for allowing studios to treat customers with a shred of decency — makes me fucking nauseous. Regardless of Polytron’s irresponsibility, we should not forget that what it said was, ostensibly, true — this game would have been patched two weeks ago had it been released on Steam, and it would have happened at no extra charge to the studio. Meanwhile, according to Tim Schafer, Microsoft wants around $40,000 per patch.
On a service it’s charging consumers to use.
And is ad-supported.
The attitude of Microsoft, the need to dominate, and the entitlement complex that drives this expectation for more cash at every turn, is a huge part of what’s poisoning the console market right now. Platform holders want to own the games they allow on their systems, they want to own when and how those games are improved, they want to own how the players interact with them. Ownership at every single level. I use the word “domination” a lot when talking about how major publishers in the console space act, because it’s a word that carries strength adequate enough to relay exactly what these companies want to do — they want domination. Unquestioned rule. From head to toe, inside and out. They lust after it with such jealousy that things like this are allowed to happen. It doesn’t matter how the end user is punished. What matters is that Microsoft gets its bite. The bite it feels it deserves, for doing nothing. No, worse than nothing — for acting as a useless fucking barrier between the developer and the customer, getting in the way like a troll under a bridge, demanding its toll for safe passage along a path that should never have been blocked.
It is certainly Polytron’s fault that the game was released faulty. It is Polytron’s fault that it signed a deal with Microsoft and willingly played by its rules. It’s Polytron’s fault, now, that FEZ will remain broken with a patch that could do more harm than good. However, do not let that obscure Microsoft’s role, which is ultimately more unreasonable and has a wider-reaching negative effect. Don’t forget that Microsoft, in the first place, is an entitled spoiled brat.
Whoever wins, they’re both losers in my eyes.