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Is It OK to Fix Games With a Patch?

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
Video game patches we're meant to be fixes to essential issues and exploits that were discovered AFTER a video game's launch, but these days it feels like patches are being used as a crutch.
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A video game patch started out as, well, just that, a patch. A quick fix to an issue that came up after a video game was released. Maybe a bug that wasn’t discovered during testing, or an exploit to a multiplayer game that gives nasty players a bigger advantage. But as time went on patching a game became a big crutch for developers and no players are starting to resent the idea of a patch to a game because often that means its fixing majpr issues that the game never should have shipped with, or at the very worst, adding content later down the line, that was PROMISED at launch.

The main argument against major post release patches and patching in content is that many gamers feel they shouldn’t be necessary or have ever been allowed to happen in the first place. Back in the day, you bought a game in a box from a store and the developers were unable to tamper with it at all: that was the finished product, for better or worse. Today, however, the creators of practically every game will keep tweaking after release, much to the ire of many an impatient gamer. The biggest gripe by far is day one patches; after all, when you buy a game on release day the assumption is you’ll be able to play that game on release. Those against day one patches would argue that developers should test their games properly and make sure that any issues that can be resolved are resolved by the time it ships. The competency of studios is inevitably called into question, especially when games like “We Happy Few” or “Agony” which release with an enormous range of technical issues. In the latter case, “Agony” had promised mature content that was cut before the game came out. Yikes! Considering “We Happy Few” spent two years prior to release in early access, it seems strange that so many issues were present. But since such problems, which crop up in more games than they don’t, can be game-breaking and render a title completely unplayable, surely it’s better at that point to release a patch than to let the game flounder and sink?

It would be wrong, however, to lay the blame for extensive patching and re-coding at the door of the development studio. The real culprits are the large publishers who want to force their titles out for a certain release date, usually the fourth quarter of the year to coincide with Christmas when sales peak. When “Assassin’s Creed Unity” released in 2014, it was awash with so many glitches it became a laughing stock and permanently damaged the reputation of the “Assassin’s Creed” series. This is more the fault of Ubisoft sticking diligently to the yearly release cycle with little respite for the developers themselves, meaning they didn’t have time to polish the game before it had to ship. While “Unity” runs smoothly if you play it today, thanks to patches, at the time it left a sour taste in many gamers’ mouths. Studios are still under tremendous amounts of pressure to meet their publisher’s deadlines rather than take their time, which is responsible for quality control slipping across the board.

At the other end of the spectrum are studios like Naughty Dog and CD Projekt Red, who both take a meticulous, perfectionist approach to their IPs. Game-breaking issues are few and far between in “The Last of Us” and “Uncharted”, while CD Projekt Red have said they’re not afraid to keep delaying the highly-anticipated “Cyberpunk 2077” if it leads to a better game. There’s some speculation that “Cyberpunk” may not release until 2020, meaning that it would have been in development for 8 years after its 2012 announcement. It’s also worth noting that both publishers have been accused of overworking their employees towards the end of a game’s development, a common practice in the video game industry known as crunch. But not all studios have the resources of these ones, nor the glowing reputation that leads AAA publishers to put their trust in them, meaning that while in an ideal world games would spend as long as they need in development, the current state of the industry means this just isn’t possible.

It’s a sad fact that it’s an industry requirement at the moment to release enormous patches for games to cope with demanding release cycles, but there’s still more to patches than meets the eye, especially if you’re buying physical copies of your games. Game discs are written weeks before the game comes out, but rather than cease all production on a title after the discs are written, companies continue working on their games right up to the crunch. This means that the additional content you get with a day one patch simply didn’t exist when the disc was being written, and also that issues may have been found after the game was supposedly completed. This is why day one patches are necessary, and while it can be argued that the games should be finished before the discs are written.

But what about patches and changes that could potentially revitalize what was previously considered a bad game? Take “Diablo III” for example. Server issues at launch, controversy over the auction house, and lukewarm reception left fans of the series cold. But, with the release of the game’s first expansion Reaper of Souls two years after launch, the game was completely revitalized, removing many of the things fans didn’t like about the game and adding a slew of new features. The same can be said of “No Man’s Sky” which has slowly but surely added in many of the promised features that were missing at launch, most notably with the recent “Next” update. Look, these games should have been great from the start, but without patches, they would have never reached their potential. We’re sure that the many players who still play “Diablo III” or the slew of players who have picked up “No Man’s Sky” since the big update are more than happy to have had these dramatic changes after the fact.

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