Beware the Lure of Bargain Games
The trend of companies becoming unwilling to patch flaws in bargain games threatens their attractiveness to consumers.
When the PS3 and Xbox 360 came out, both came with a hard drive to store downloaded items: game enhancements, avatars, music, video, dashboard changes.
But perhaps the best thing hard drives allow storage for is patches to remedy bugs in games. No longer was the game you bought at GameStop or Best Buy relegated to being exactly what you bought—and no more—in perpetuity.
You didn't have to hold your breath that a bug you read about on a forum would crash your game, leaving you to restart a save, or perhaps even the entire game. You knew that games could be fixed so that a bug that once may have stopped you in your tracks forever might be fixed in short order, allowing you to keep on your quest.
But now a few companies have thrown in the towel on cheaper games, basically saying, "yeah, we know it's broken, but we're not going to fix it. Too bad, so sad."
Mid July saw a well-publicized instance with indie title, Fez.
A patch released for the game did what so many patches often 'accomplish': it fixed some stuff, but introduced a newer, more serious issue, in this case sometimes causing corrupted save files.
Instead of fixing the patch, the Polytron Corporation opted to leave it as is. The reason was they'd have to pay Microsoft "tens of thousands of dollars to re-certify the game" if they patched the patch.
Now it's said that the new flaw affects less than 1 percent of gamers, but for those who shelled out the $5 and are in that small group, it's likely cold comfort. And it essentially says Polytron isn't willing to fix their product.
Granted, it's an independent studio which has made only about $1 million revenue from Fez, but even the big boys are letting down gamers.
Konami's cheap Silent Hill HD Collection was plagued with bugs. Konami is not independent; they had $3.24 billion in revenue their last fiscal year.
But they still let down Xbox 360 owners who wanted to relive the first few titles in the series. Their excuse was "technical issues and resources." Or in other words, 'we don't feel like taking the time or spending the money.' And that they did patch the PS3 version only added to the ire of 360 purchasers.
The sad thing is that before the game's release they acknowledged that the source code they were working from was incomplete and that there would be challenges. Even more sad is that that article ends with the line, "One thing to be thankful for: These days, most problems can be fixed with a patch download."
They did offer people who still had a receipt a free game, but the choices were pretty underwhelming, and none were what purchasers wanted: a working copy of the game they chose to buy in the first place (unless you also have PS3, for which you could swap versions).
So what does this all mean?
It's actually pretty simple. We've started down a path where companies are going to feel more emboldened to not bother standing behind their products.
Instead of being willing to perhaps even—gasp!—take a small loss to keep customers happy and maintain goodwill going forward, it could be pretty quickly that we glumly accept publishers just giving up and not taking advantage of one of the most important capabilities of modern console gaming.
As consumers, if you want it to end, send a message. The next time Polytron puts out a game, don't buy it. Tell them you don't trust them to fix their game if it's broken. It'll send a fast message to companies that if they have the means to fix what you bought and choose not to do so, you'll take your money elsewhere and let their games rot on the shelves, virtual or real.
It's up to us. Today it's Xbox Live Arcade titles and budget compilations being affected.
How long will it be until a publisher tries to pull the same shenanigans on a standard-priced $60 title?