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Don’t Patch-ronise Me

The online console revolution’s been great, no doubt about it. The Dreamcast of many moons ago was one of the first to pioneer this technology and it worked remarkably well considering nearly everyone was running on the old 56kb/s modems. Move on another generation and the good ol’ Xbox revolutionises the way we perceive online console gaming with the masterful Xbox Live. Now, move once more to the current generation; PlayStation 3 has kicked it up a notch from its previous effort and the Xbox 360 has improved on Live a fair bit. They’ve brought as the delights of downloading an old retro game that may take your fancy or even a full game like Warhawk if you so please. It’s allowed me to message my friends via the media of voice and text, send them photos, download movies and of course, play games online. Tired of actually having to leave your house to play with your friends? Well getting your console online is the solution to your worries; now you can play each other from your very own bedrooms at Halo instead of trudging over and huddling around a spilt screen. I love it and I‘m sure I‘m not the only one; it’s revitalised my interest in gaming, and playing unpredictable human players is far better than repeatedly beating the crap out of the AI every time, anyway.

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But sadly, this bundle of online goodness has come with a dark side. I’m talking about patches, not the type worn by swashbuckling pirates, the type that developers release to fix and improve their games. “Patches aren’t a good thing Mr Murray? Have you gone insane?” I hear you ask dear reader, but I assure you I have not. Yes they’re obviously a good thing in the respect of fixing a little bug here and there, but not in the respect where it allows developers to release broken games. Yes, broken. Why is it acceptable for games companies to release games where the online portion of the game is that badly coded it’s near-impossible to play? Sadly there have been many culprits of this since the launch of the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Saints Row was one of the major criminals in this shameful con; the online was that badly coded that in the vast majority of games I joined I was either stuck to the ground, or gliding around the level with all the grace of an ice-skater hit by a truck. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t best pleased, and after a quick trawl on the Web I found everyone else was having the same problems as myself. So a couple of days pass and the game’s still unplayable, a representative from THQ then acknowledged there were some ‘issues’ and assured as they were working on a fix for them. Fantastic! But sadly by the time they eventually did patch the game to make it barely playable, about the only people left playing online were achievement whores and people who wanted to retain their positions on the leaderboards.

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So developers think it’s alright to release a broken game and charge us £40/$60 for the pleasure? I sure as Hell don’t. Imagine you went to buy a chair, on returning to your home with said chair you realised that it only had three legs, after phoning up the manufacturer they apologised and said they were working on a new leg and it should be with you within a month (that might fix it). Would you accept this? No you wouldn’t, you’d take it back for a refund, which we should be legally allowed to do with games that don’t do what they say on the tin.

Yeah I suppose you could trade the game in or eBay it, but it’s unlikely you’d receive the same amount as you paid for it, which you should, but there are some titles you can’t even sell on to make back some money you splashed out; Xbox Live and PlayStation Network titles. A recent example of the release of a broken XBLA title comes in the form of Mr. Driller Online, released only last month. It’s quite strange for a game that has ‘online’ in the title to not actually work online. Message boards have been swamped by people who paid 800 Microsoft points (roughly £5/$10) for the game, only for the online portion to be laggy to the point of being unplayable, hard to connect to games in the first place and randomly disconnecting people. So they’re stuck with a non-refundable game with an unplayable online mode. Which I for one deem as unacceptable. I’m sure at some stage Namco-Bandai will eventually patch Mr Driller, but that isn’t the point, the game should be fully playable from the off.

The ability for patching games at a later date should not act as an invitation for developers to distribute them unfinished, surely it can’t be that hard for them to test how well it works online? It’s not acceptable and I wonder how many games pass quality control in these states. So here’s a message to all those lazy developers out there: test games out properly, instead of lumping us with a half-finished mess and fixing it after we’ve parted with our hard-earned cash.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in January 2008.

Gentle persuasion

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