Once upon a time, in a bedroom far far away, a child placed a game cartridge into a console, pressed the power button and started playing the game….
“What!?”, I hear you cry, “No dashboard update? No game update? Preposterous!!! Stop this nonsense at once!”
However the story I speak of is no fairy tale, its narrative is rooted firmly in reality. There was a time where you could simply take a game out of its case, whack it in the console and start playing. The duration between not playing and playing could be measured in mere seconds! I may have neglected to mention the bit where the game froze up completely, the child had to remove the cartridge, give it a decent blow and restart the game – but hey, nothing’s perfect!
Ok, so I may be a tad guilty of viewing the gaming world through rose tinted retro glasses. A forgotten golden age of gaming where everything was perfect and soo much better than the monstrosity we’re faced with today. The reason its a forgotten age though, is because it didn’t really happen like that. Despite patching being a bit of a pain in the rear, especially on those unfortunate occasions where a sizeable update coincides with a quick half an hour gaming session, the benefits do out-weight the drawbacks. The ability to patch games post release means that not only can bugs be fixed, but enhancements can also be made. Its a win win (bi-winning baby) situation….well that’s the theory anyway.
Patching is handled differently, with varying degrees of effectiveness, platform to platform and even game to game. Lets start with the worst offender, the Playstation 3. For some unknown reason, PS3 game patches are massive, frequent and it would appear they can only be installed consecutively. This nasty combination is loathsome at the best of times, but apply it to an older game that has been subject to heavy patching and the situation becomes absurd. Little Big Planet requires no less than 27 updates, each of which has to run in sequence and some being over 100mb. Or to put it another way; the night you decide to play the game for the first time, is not actually the same as the night you get to play the game for the first time. There is no on screen option to opt out of doing the update, but pressing the circle button actually works as a stealth bypass option. Don’t get too excited though as the game will keep interrupting you in the middle of gameplay to remind you it needs to be updated.
Online games rarely offer you any escape at all. If you want to continue playing them, you have to download the latest updates. BF3 likes to label its larger updates as “optional” but its unclear as to why. BF3 updates are optional in the same way that breathing is optional. Yeah, you can opt out of the latest massive 2gb update, but good luck finding a game – there aren’t any! Given that BF3 currently requires over 9GB of “optional” updates, I can only assume Dice decided to use this labelling so they have an excuse for the disgruntled 4GB xbox 360 slim users that have been patched out of the game! “Hey, don’t blame us! Those updates were optional”
See this is one of the biggest problems with patching, you get very little say in the matter. Some games on PC still make you hunt down the patch and manually install it. Although its more time consuming, the auto update alternative that most games today employ is negated by the fact they don’t give you any information on what they are actually changing. At least when you hunt down a patch for yourself you generally find out whats included in it and if you actually want it. However, due to the blind, often compulsory auto-updating of games, you tend to only notice patched content when its something you find detrimental. “Why can’t I find a normal game in BF3?” They patched it? “Why doesn’t my shotgun kill people anymore?” They patched it. “Why is smithing levelling soo slow now?” They patched it!!! MAG released a nice big 2.0 game update packed full of changes intended to enhance the game. Admittedly it was done with the best of intentions, but the upshot was it caused random game crashes that didn’t occur before the patch. Given the choice, I am sure that most gamers would have preferred if it was reverted back to its pre-patch (working) form.
Despite the issues, most are more an annoyance than actually being terminal. The same cannot be said however, for the time that Forza 3, undeterred by not actually being connected to the internet, demanded I update my game via the internet and wouldn’t allow me to access my game save until I did so. I wasn’t even trying to play online, I was simply trying to continue my offline career! In all my years of gaming, its stands as one of the most ridiculous issues I’ve been subjected to. Not being able to access my offline game because I wasn’t able to get online.
Patching doesn’t need to be bad, it doesn’t need to be broken and we shouldn’t really need to live in fear of it. Developers simply need to learn the simple rule of; “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Test your games a bit more before you release them and stop abusing the patch system. Heed your mothers advice. If you keep playing with that thing, its going to fall off!