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To Patch, or not to Patch – That is the question

In a world where gaming satisfaction is only a minute away with the advent of high-speed internet and next generation consoles, it makes me think back to the games of old, and what our new tech could have done to salvage them. Hit the jump for more!

In a world where gaming satisfaction is only a minute away with the advent of high-speed internet and next generation consoles, it makes me think back to the games of old, and what our new tech could have done to salvage them.  This idea came to me after recently playing 2K Sports NBA 2K10.

Now mind you, I’m typically not a “sports gamer,” and haven’t played a basketball game since the Sega Genesis era, but I decided it was time to re-enter the fray… so I picked up 2K’s latest basketball flagship.  This wasn’t a purchase made on a whim, either – I did some serious research beforehand including weighing the pro’s and con’s of 2K10 versus EA’s NBA Live.  After reading several glowing reviews, and letting the game’s communities speak independently for the titles, I had made my decision.

NBA 2K10's NBA Spokesman, Kobe Bryant. (Credit 2K Games/NBA 2K10)

Fast forward, three hours later, I was left sitting in front of my TV with my controller strewn across the room in a rage.  In all my years of gaming, I’d never quite encountered anything as frustrating.  The game would frequently hang and lag to a point where it was unplayable, the defense mechanics were impossible, and on top of it all the highly touted “My Player” mode rated me badly when the two previous issues came in to play.

Now I’m not saying the game is all bad!  I still play it weekly and it helps me get my basketball fix when I’m stuck indoors.  Needless to say, my hopes were high that they would release a patch to repair some of the issues that plagued the game.  After visiting the official game forums (http://2ksports.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=178), I could see that many fans felt the same way.  They were in an uproar that after spending $60 dollars on a non-refundable game, they were unable to play it… at least effectively.  The developers quickly promised a patch that would fix the issues, and fans were waiting anxiously for its release.

I wondered, how has the industry came to a point where a game can be rushed out the door in a nearly un-playable state.  In the past I’ve worked in Quality Assurance departments in two different game studios, and both had a clear-cut role – to make sure the game came out playable and bug free.  After playing NBA 2K10, I didn’t feel it was QA’s fault either.  The game clearly needed to get out the same time its competitor hit the stores, and in time for the holiday season.

But in a world where a patch can be downloaded in minutes this most likely wasn’t a concern for upper management.  I feel bad for those without an internet connection, but those players are probably few and far between.  Now rewind, to the days of old – Christmas 1982.  After seeing commercials of ET’s hand magically unwrapping an Atari 2600 cartridge people were excited to get their hands on Atari’s new blockbuster title, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

  The game had been developed in six weeks and in terms of game-play didn’t come close to the systems other titles.  Would a game as bad as ET have been salvaged by a patch?  I wonder!  Back in 82’ people were still hanging out on Usenet, and there was no such thing as a “patch.”

Atari ET Cartridge (Credit http://xbox360cheat.org/)

Other games fit this mold, too.  Games like Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, Battlecruiser 3000AD, and Daikatana were plagued with issues and rushed launches.  Patches were a new development in the game industry, and these titles received limited support.  Nowhere near what we’d expect to see streaming onto our consoles today.  They are known as some of the worst titles of all time, just because they came out buggy! 

The few that I referenced are a tiny fraction of the list of games that came out prior to the internet gaming revolution.  Now, almost every game that releases requires a post-launch patch… sometimes before you even open the box.  So, in a world before patches, were developers better?  Did the lack of game updates lead to the release of better games?

I pose the question to you all, were we better off before patches?  I’d like to hear about some of your experiences and horror stories.  After all this I’m still on the fence, but I’d definitely like to see some more developer accountability after constantly releasing bud-laden titles just to stay on deadline.

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