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The Net Makes For Lazy Game Dev

Monday, 6 November 2006 games internet other programming

This stems from a rant I had the other day about a brand new PC game, Neverwinter Nights 2, needing (well wanting, at any rate) an 82.7megabyte patch within 24 hours of release. In the last 10 years there have been two increasing trends that pose the gaming industry with both a drop in quality and a bandwidth shortage.

Trend One

The more the internet becomes prevalent in our gaming systems, the more we’re finding we’re able to fix problems via downloadable patches.

That’s good, right? We get the ability to download fixes and add-ons to extend our games for more for our money…

Trend Two

Games fly out their developers’ doors way before they’re ready, relying on Trend One to come and clean up… 500,000 sales later.

The fallout from Trend One means that everything we buy now doesn’t see the same levels of testing (comparable to complexity, naturally) because developers know they can skint on paying a load of people to test their software when they can sell it, get the money, and bat off the bug reports and eventually produce a fix.

Critical patches usually make the second wave of buyers but they’re rarely on the CDs and DVDs on the shelves, making all the all the people that shell out money for these things the unfortunate gits that have to suffer until they get the patch.

Why Is It Getting Worse?

To say this has everything to do with the complexity of today’s games is a complete misnomer. There are plenty of just-as-complex games on “fixed media formats”. By that I mean things like Nintendo DS cartridges or things that run purely from CD like a Sony PlayStation 2 game, where there is no install and the game runs exclusively from the media it came on. Both have networking available to them but neither have any scope to store the fixes. Well that’s not entirely true because the NDS can write to its media, but there aren’t any patches like that on any of the games I own.

And why don’t we need patches for these games? Because they’ve had a decent amount of testing before they’re chucked out across the world. Some people argue that PC games offer more hardware-variation related challenges but the same stands, if you’re going to release something, please have the common decency to test it before you push it out the door.

As more and more games shift from a fixed media to an installer system or one where patches can be applied, we’re going to find that more and more systems get affected by this blight.


Make a really big fuss.

There’s nothing here I have said that will change anything. Big games publishers will carry on pushing out the crap and we’ll keep buying it and patching it but next time there’s a really big bug in something how about we all make a really big fuss? The current standard is people heading onto Google and reading some forum post saying “yeah this is a known bug”. Most of us let it fly and wait for the patch. That’s not good enough! Email their support people. Phone their support lines (if they’re free). Make it known that publishing software that is so decrepit will no longer be tolerated and hopefully, in time, they’ll start testing things a little more comprehensively. Remember: it should be they, the developers, who pay for testing, not the players.

I should say, as you well know, this isn’t isolated to games. All software has bugs but gaming software has a standard that has slipped over the years to catch up with a Microsoft-style-approach to bugs.