Day one patches are good for gaming
24th Nov 2011 | 14:00
Familiar scenario: you buy a game the day it comes out, slit the cellophane wrapper and excitedly push the Blu-ray into your PS3's disc slot.
You can't wait - why the hell should you? You've been waiting for this game since it was announced over two years ago. The logo flashes up and... 'The Latest Update Data Was Found (version 1.01)'. It's the last straw. You slump pad in hand, teeth grinding as the blockbuster that's been in shops for less than a day is supplemented with a 700Mb patch - a vast tower of digi-scaffolding that takes an hour to unpack through your wretched broadband connection.
Whatever happened to the instant gratification of console gaming? If you wanted to wait for endless patches and updates you'd have bought a PC, right? PC players like patches. But at last it's downloaded. Start game and... Firmware update required? WHAT!
Calm down, angry souls. I feel your pain, but there's a bigger picture. Yes, day-one patches are getting bigger and more frequent, but the simple fact is this: they make your new game better.
Recent examples include Rage (day one patch fixed a huge graphics bug), Dead Island (fixed pretty much the whole game), and Battlefield 3 (all the small fixes DICE found via the multiplayer beta). They were all big, but they made things better - and enabled devs to meet release dates.
The big advantage of the day one patch is that last-minute delays are (almost) becoming a thing of the past. As projects get more ambitious, marketing budgets spiral and games push hardware harder, meeting deadlines becomes tougher to do.
Developers don't patch because they're "lazy" - as comment posters (themselves often too lazy to even type legibly) are so quick to label them - they do it because they have to. It takes between six and eight weeks to print and distribute a game worldwide - a team in the hundreds can do a great deal of work in that time, not least because they aren't wasting their days proving they're idiots via a little text box beneath somebody else's work.
So, instead of wandering off on holiday after three years of toil, they continue working to make things as brilliant as it can be on the first day you can play it.
So if it's not laziness or cynicism, what is causing the rise in big, day-one updates? It's survival. Financial years mean everything to large companies, and a big release slipping from one to the next can make their profit forecasts - so important to their continued existence - look horribly overblown.
Cashflow is an issue too, and if an expected injection of money doesn't come - after years of spending and investment - then payments to creditors could become impossible. Further, long-planned and hideously expensive ad campaigns can easily be derailed by a delay, wasting both money and consumer awareness.
A day-one patch can buy up to two months of extra time without affecting that all-important release date.
Where it all falls down is when you're not actually on broadband. Currently, 80% of PS3s are hooked up to PSN, and while 20% of players go without, the majority of post-release updates focus on the online multiplayer anyway. Is that acceptable? If the difference is between studios going under and living to make another game in harsh financial times, I say yes.
So, I salute the day-one patch. It's an inconvenience, sure, but no more. It might cost you an hour. If a dev has spent the last three or four years on a whole wonderful world, the least you can do is wait a fraction longer.
And it means we live in an age where the gamer is king. Games evolve - for free - based on what you want. Think the shotguns in Battlefield 3 are overpowered? The devs can balance that with a patch. Too many cheaters exploiting Modern Warfare 3 online? The glitches can be fixed and parity restored. The patch is a wonderful thing.
So next time you're cursing an update, stop. Make yourself a cup of tea and spend the time thinking about how much better your game will be with that extra six weeks of development time.