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Friday, June 14, 2013

Timely and Responsive Patching!? Not in my Game Industry!

These days a game can often go on for weeks or months in a "broken" state in which exists some serious imbalance. Planetside 2 players right now would probably agree that aircraft are in an especially bad place right now, but SOE has no plans to fix them until the next major patch. Developers seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place; letting the imbalances sit can drive away players that are affected by them, but knee-jerk patching and repairing could cause even more problems.

When discussing some of my thoughts on the whole "cheapness" and "emergent gameplay" debate with a friend we got to the question of "If something is broken, why do many developers allow it to remain for so long?" The first example that jumped into our minds were the long periods in WoW when specific class combinations were flat out overpowered in Arena. We recalled the early days of season 1-4; especially 3-4 when the Druid/Rogue-Warrior combination dominated arenas. Even Blizzard admitted that it was a powerful pairing...and yet it took them an entire expansion to fix it; essentially telling the community, "Yeah it's broken, but not ENOUGH," and yet if there was a bug that allowed someone an easy boss kill (like Saronite Bombs on Arthas) those bugs were hotfixed within hours.

So fast forward a few years and I login to Steam and lo-and-behold, Marvel Heroes is patching. I gave the game a lukewarm review the other day. However what surprised me was how quickly they had addressed some player concerns. Hero tokens (the drops that open up new heros) now drop more frequently across the board. Defense has been improved substantially for most characters that rely on it; fixing much of the melee/ranged gap (or at least significantly improving melee sustain). All this within a few weeks of the games release, so to me it felt like a huge rush; especially when I am used to devs telling me that some major issue will be fixed in a patch that might be months down the line (it took SOE something around 4 months to release an optimization update for PS2).

But there is always a risk, did they increase defense too much? Did they increase the drop rate too much? Are they going to start losing out on revenue because heroes drop more frequently? They are walking that line between responding to legitimate player concerns but also potentially causing other drawbacks.

What do you think? Should developers be more responsive with patching, even if it risks some other instability? Or should they remain generally conservative and only patch after extensive testing? Is it wrong to make quick changes but then revert them if needed?

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