In Defense of a $40,000 Charge to Patch Software

Tim Schafer spilled information with regards to the Xbox Live pricing scheme for patching software, tossing out a number that seems on the surface bewildering: $40,000. For a small publisher, a number like that is an insurmountable hurdle. For EA, it’s pocket change.

The question is why they charge a cool $40k, and the end result is positive (and not just for Microsoft’s bottom line). Consider it a punishment of sorts for issuing buggy software, or a deterrent to not do so in the first place. The end user experience is heavily degraded and can turn some more casual, and likely easily frustrated, customers away. Don’t ship with game breaking glitches, and you have nothing to worry about. Spend time polishing, consider those scenarios, and whatever is left can be ignored.

There’s a secondary benefit though too, and that’s the future of this current platform. Consider a game like Dead Island, which in the original state, was nigh unplayable. Unless a second printing (or a game of the year edition) shipped/ships with the fixed coding, Dead Island in 15 years will forever be a bug-riddled disaster.

As hard drives fail and that patching process becomes complex in a more underground style of preservation, the idea of containing this code becomes a futile effort. What is possible now over Microsoft’s network, that quick, minute or so update, won’t be available forever. How can we preserve, and thus justify the preservation, of broken art? The way games ship, to the point that the player should expect an update for a newly purchased video game, is deplorable.

Games are complex and it’s not an easy process to find everything. Certain things will -in almost all cases- slip through. It happens. But, when you have something like Dead Island which was so catastrophically defective, a pinch of the pocket book seems entirely fair.