Patches: Gaming’s Band-Aids

Konami recently announced that the company will be releasing a patch for the Silent Hill HD collection. The patch promises to fix many “frame-rate and audio-syncing issues.” And it will only be released for the PS3 version of the game.

The Xbox 360 version of the Silent Hill collection will receive no such thing. Konami’s explained their reasoning behind the decision: “Plans for an Xbox 360 title update have been cancelled due to technical issues and resources.”

That’s code for it’s going to cost too much to fix. For those not in the know, Microsoft has a different patch policy than Sony. After the first patch, Microsoft charges developers $40,000 for the next patch. Konami clearly doesn’t think a budget collection is worth the cost.

Konami is the major offender here. The company knowingly released a buggy, unfinished game. The problems were bigger than expected and the company decided that they’d rather cut their losses and allow the game to remain broken. To add insult to injury the company ended their press release reminding people that the game is available for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 in stores nationwide. Not only is the game broken, but they will continue to sell the same broken game with no promise of a fix.

Microsoft is guilty here as well. The company’s patch policy is created with semi-good intentions. The idea is that if companies need to pay for patches, they will do a better job at getting it right the first time. However, the $40,000 price tag for one patch is a huge financial blow to developers. While Konami is no tiny company, $40,000 for a game that is not guaranteed millions in sales is a steep price to pay. And smaller developers might as well call it quits. The creator’s of the Xbox Live Arcade title, Fez, recently canceled a patch update for this very same reason.

FEZ will remain unpatched due to Microsoft policies.

Another problem with Microsoft’s policy is that it discourages the creation of patches not intended to fix problems, but instead add features. This is also probably by design. Microsoft, a company known to discourage free DLC, can more easily steer developers towards the pay-route. Why pay 40K for a patch that adds multiplayer modes in a game when you can make charge $10 for it as DLC? Last year Nascar 2011 released a DLC patch for both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game. The 360 patch cost consumers $2 while the PS3 patch arrived for free.

Patches have fixed the problems of numerous games. The PS3 version of Skyrim would remain a disaster if there was not a patching system in place. However, the ability to so easily fix a game later has given many publishers the power to release a broken game with less backlash. Game reviews often say that a game had several problems, but the developer promised to fix them with a day-one patch.

The fact is, some problems just won’t get noticed in a normal development cycle. And that’s where patches are nice to have. But using them as a crutch when you need to meet a development deadline is a problem that is hindering the gaming experience. Nobody wants to pay $60 for a game only to find out it has serious issues on day-one. It’s also a serious issue when developers are unable to fix their own games due to policies that were created with less than noble intentions.

Perhaps keeping games in the oven a bit longer would benefit everyone. More developers would be able to circumvent the policies of companies like Microsoft and more gamers would receive finished games on the day they are released. Just a thought…