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.

Just saying.

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.

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14 Comments on Polytron versus Microsoft – Whoever Wins, We Lose

The Kodu

On July 20, 2012 at 7:59 am

Here’s the stupid thing/s
First the fact they have said they will patch the game, they are willing to correct it but its paying to correct it that’s becoming the issue here. Look at the likes of hActivision where COD 4 and COD MW2 are broken messes of games yet the company made over a billion dollars on MW3 yet within a year they give up supporting the previous game. these are full retail games too and its impacting more than 1% of the userbase. I’d say COD WAW has a 90% affected rate with the hacked lobbies etc

With Microsofts patching thing, technically the patch must be certified to make sure it will cause no problems, there has been a new problem so MS failed to check the patch correctly so they screwed up in the job the studio had already paid ten thousand dollars for them to do. Now Microsoft wants another then thousand to do the job right because they didn’t find the issue ?

So while it might seem like them being tight and not wanting to pay that money could be what the dev team is living on working on their next title until it gets picked up by a publisher.

The mad thing with Microsoft is that their xbox live indie games service lets the developers patch the games for free (and many are rightfully taking advantage of this to add DLC to games free) but the extend of control on that is also mad. Microsoft charge $100 a year to publish on XBLIG then on top of this fee take 2/3rd of the sales money from the game for you hosting it on their service and using their facilities such as the XNA app hubs , which the developers have already had to pay to use. Sure some companies are happy to pay that as they’re starting out and done well a game can made close to the same as a standard XBLA release can (for the top XBLIG releases).

I think Microsoft need to really rethink their plans with the ad hosted service still charging £30 a year for gold when Sony and playstation plus are now giving free games. And no the free kinect games Microsoft have been releasing to try and pretend the kinect isn’t failing, don’t count.

Mr Glassback

On July 20, 2012 at 8:34 am

Thanks for a great article.
No one else seems to care that these sorts of things are on the table from the outset. Nobody sprung these patch costs on Polytron, they knew about it and signed on the dotted line anyway.
Of course Microsoft are arseholes, but grow a pair of bollocks Phil Fish and admit you ed your own game up, instead of trying to recruit the huge numbers of Microsoft haters to jump on your cause.

Rho

On July 20, 2012 at 9:58 am

Not a big fan of consoles with their overpriced games, exclusive titles and month-before-PC releases, I can’t help myself but think “this is what you get for diving in that market”. It all could be so much easier and less drama if somebody just sticked with good old PC.

Axetwin

On July 20, 2012 at 11:30 am

Im sorry Jim but Im going to most vehemently disagree here. Yes, Polytron let a game breaking bug through and they DID try to patch it, which means they’ve already paid the 40k (yeah, its 40k per patch for XBL and PSN) once. Now yes, that patch featured its own gamebreaking bug, but it only occurs less than 1% of the time. How do you test for a bug like that? You cant. This isnt a Bethesda game where if they spent 5 minutes testing their game prior to release they could see just how buggy it is. A bug that occurs less than 1% of the time is impossible to test for, so its not fair to blame them for releasing a buggy patch.

The fault here still lies with Microsoft. They expect indie developers to pay THEM to publish a game on their platform and then charge them an exorbitant amount of money for each patch whether the game is broken or not. ESPECIALLY when that game is ment to be a timed exclusive for their platform. Microsoft was the one that ultimately decided to now allow Polytron to fix their game without first asking for ANOTHER 40k surcharge.

I think what Polytron should do is completely forsake XBL. Its what Valve did with TF2 and theyre no worse off for it. Since FEZ was a timed exclusive, they should just fix all the problems with the game, then release the fixed version for PSN and Steam when the time comes. Issue a verbal apology to XBL owners. See if they can work out a deal with Sony and Valve to allow owners of the XBL version of the game a free copy through PSN or Steam.

Axetwin

On July 20, 2012 at 11:39 am

Oh, one other point I forgot to bring up.

You said they sold 100,000 copies of the game at 10 bucks a piece. That means they made a million bucks off the game. Ok, fair enough. HOWEVER, after they’ve paid MS for the ability to publish the game on the 360, and of course after MS takes their cut from each sale of the game, paying the first 40k for the first inevitably broken patch, paying any development costs which include employee wages, paying off anyone that gave them startup money for the game in the first place, and finally starting their next inevitable project, how much money do you think they actually walked away with?

Almier

On July 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm

@Axetwin
Yes, having to pay that much for a patch is ridiculous, but it’s still Polytron’s fault for making a deal with Microsoft in the first place. They could have chosen steam instead. And that is what matters.
It’s the same thing with ME3′s ending, BioWare knew the risks, but they still decided to choose EA.

SevenCell

On July 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Both parties are at fault here.
However, I’m definitely swayed by “ Polytron”.

Kevin

On July 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Polytron made a deal they now realize was raw, but at the time they were perfectly okay with. In the business world, when you do this, you suffer the consequences. Perhaps it is something to think about going further. Had Fish not spent his time bashing PC’s, he probably could’ve signed a deal with Valve, instead of signing one with Microsoft.

So yup, no flipping sympathy whatsoever.

Enrico Mezzatesta

On July 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Jim does Sony charge the same amount for patches ?

Axetwin

On July 21, 2012 at 3:48 am

@Enrico yes, yes they do.

Laszlo

On July 22, 2012 at 3:56 am

Didn’t he say something like that he doesn’t want to release it on PC, because “PCs are for spreadsheets”? And now he’s whining how Steam would be much better. He appears more and more like a complete whenever he says something.

Ron Whitaker

On July 23, 2012 at 5:49 am

@Axetwin – The first patch on XBL is free. Polytron didn’t lay out any cash to launch it.

jimjam

On July 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Who cares about that poxy platform game?

Who is dumb enough to PAY extra for online connectivity?

Because who is, is the loser.