Patch culture is something that I am both grateful for and am wary of. Sure, they are a fantastic way to keep a game alive and well far after they officially launch, and I’m sure there are some games out there from before this era that would have been much better with a patch or two. However, I am of the opinion that while patch culture is a source of ridiculous amounts of good in the gaming sphere, like balance patches and content updates, there are certain ways certain companies have abused the system to the point where I don’t think the games of the past would be nearly as good with them.
Patches are a fundamentally good idea for game developers. It is essentially mistaken forgiveness in an environment where few are permitted in the first place. Whenever there is a game-breaking bug or unpopular feature in a game, they can now simply remove it before they receive any more backlash for the decision to implement that particular feature in the first place.
As I’ve written about before, Star Wars Battlefront II was salvaged by the removal of their loot boxes (another thing that isn’t completely bad in the wrong hands but was so misused by companies that I’m surprised that games even have them). Imagine if we were still in a time where the company would have to physically take back every copy of the game to change the code and give it back with no loot boxes. No doubt, EA would have been sued or, at the very least, heavily questioned by their addition.
A situation much like this happened with GTA with what was called the Hot Coffee Controversy. When Grand Theft Auto San Andreas initially released and was receiving all the praise that games of its ilk typically received, a particular segment of cut content was discovered in the code of the game that would change a certain fade-in, fade-out cut scene that implied consensual sex into a minigame where you played the couple having the implied sex. This caused a number of legislators across the globe to increase the age rating of the game from the typical mature rating of GTA games to an adult-only rating, which would heavily impact sales because only porn games usually get that rating. Certain countries didn’t have it and didn’t do anything about it, while Australia simply banned the game altogether.
Despite the fact that people couldn’t even access this particular minigame without going into the code and modding it back in, Rockstar was forced to take back all the copies that it had shipped out and completely removed the minigame from the discs completely returning their game to the mature rating.
With the audience that games have now, imagine forcing a publisher to take back all the copies of the game to patch them all. I seriously doubt any major publisher or developer would even exist with that kind of industry standard.
That’s why patches were such a fundamentally good idea. I made it clear that patches were a fundamentally good idea because now that patch culture has been around long enough that every company has the ability to use it, the downsides are beginning to rear their heads in ways that people already know about but probably didn’t think of from a patch culture perspective.
Patch culture can be an issue because of the loopholes created when a company has the idea to exploit the system. One major example of this is Crash Team Racing.
At launch, Crash Team Racing was considered as just another cart racing game with characters from the famous Crash Bandicoot franchise. However, one particular aspect of the game was suspiciously absent: there was no monetization besides purchasing the game. This may seem like a positive story, but that’s because there’s a twist that many saw coming. A later patch added micropayments to the cosmetic portion of the game, leading to some people to groan about the addition without really thinking about what that means.
You see, almost all games with microtransactions or monetization of any kind have a particular label: “This product has in-app purchases”. When normal consumers see the label of this game, that label will not be present because the ratings board has already stated that the game does not, in fact, have in-game purchases despite the fact that it definitely does. That is what some people are suspecting is the reason why Activision, the publisher of the game, did not implement the micropayments in the launch: to avoid the scrutiny given by this label. Hiding monetization in games that are obviously skewed towards children is only one of the many ways patch culture has created ways to hide their nefarious practices.
Patch culture has also caused issues with the removal of tech in games. Tech in most games are unintentionally added maneuvers or exploits that are found within the game and then used to supplement the game increasing the skill cap and the depth of it. What patch culture has done to tech is give developers and publishers a death grip on the game’s tech.
In the world before patch culture, these glitches were the bedrock of certain genres. Wave-dashing, while not integral to Super Smash Brothers Melee, would be a completely different game without it and the tech itself can be found in many other platform fighters. Rocket Jumping, an exploit of Quake’s engine, is now a foundation of games of its ilk, like Team Fortress 2 and Quake funnily enough. We’ve seen what tech developers patch out of the game to make their games more accessible in games like Overwatch. That game is a tech graveyard because whenever there is something in the game that they didn’t intend on purposefully implementing there, they remove it to keep the game simple and accessible for everyone.
As I have said before, patch culture is something that I am very grateful for because it makes games I previously couldn’t stand far more tolerable. However, it’s just a matter of time before another developer does something equally as sketchy with this power, like releasing their game in a nearly unplayable state and, after patching it to an almost tolerable standard, releasing it on a far more popular platform that garners the praise that they didn’t receive from the veterans of the game, thus wiping away the many years of context behind the entire the game gets. I can’t think of any Fallout:76 that could possibly do that.
Edward Park is a second-year BSED English major in the writings track. EP909756@wcupa.edu