Vlambeer dev explains why day one patches are a modern necessity

Ben Parfitt
Vlambeer dev explains why day one patches are a modern necessity

Folk are en masse bemoaning the huge day one patch that will bring with it a wipe of No Man's Sky's servers, but launch patches are a side-effect of the modern console games industry.

That's according to Vlambeer's Rami Ismail, who has in a lengthy blog post explained the structures that lead to developers releasing often quite sizable launch day patches for new console releases.

When you make a game for console you have to realize the systems developers and platform holders are dealing with weren't built for 2016. These systems are legacy systems, built upon legacy systems, built upon legacy systems,” he explained.

Many of these systems are unwieldy, complicated, intricate and really built for teams that can afford to hire more people to read the manual and figure out the systems. These systems come from an age before indie, and some of the manual pages still refer to mailing copies by postal mail.”

Of these systems Ismail, cites certification (cert) as one of the biggest hurdles. Unlike on PC, where studios are left to navigate any potential launch turmoil themselves, console platform holders still employ a system where games are checked for technical competence pre-release.

The list of cert checks is extensive. Does the game crash? Does it deal with the controller being unplugged? Does the UI stay clear of the outside ten per cent of the screen? The process is a long and involved one, and has to be scheduled in ahead of release to ensure a game hits its launch date.

Certification is a big thing. The process for it is also a big thing. In most cases, you have to fill out a weirdly complex form for your submission, and then ‘book a slot' of sorts, or wait until you get an OK to submit your game,” he added. Since the people testing games aren't infinite, you need to let people know when you're submitting your build. So you check which dates are available, and usually there's a free slot a few days from today. If your build isn't in a certain amount of time ahead of that, your slot can be lost, and you'll have to ‘book' a new one.

When the slot starts, and your game goes into certification, there's a variety of reasons your submission can be rejected, in which case your slot can be lost too. Then, the teams start testing, and they report certification violations to you. If any of them exceed a certain level, your submission fails, and you have to start from square one and fill out the form, find a free day to book a slot or wait until certification starts, and submit a new build.

What I'm trying to say is that certification could take a week, and in the worst cases, it could take months. It could delay your game. At the end, though, the game that launches checks every checkbox. You've got your proverbial ‘Seal of Quality'. Your game is allowed to launch.”

For boxed games the timescale is even greater, meaning titles must be sent off for cert anything between one and half and three months ahead of release. A day one patch, however, can be submitted in as little as one week ahead of rollout.

Knowing that, it should be easy to see why day one patches are often huge'. For a game that goes on disc, the ‘gold' build that went through certification is one to three months old by the time the game launches,” Ismail explained. That gives developers half a month to two and a half a month to do a month and a half to three and a half months' worth of work to make the game ‘perfect' while still hitting the release date with the patch.

One could argue that developers then, should make certain that a game is perfect when they submit it to disc, which is not an invalid stance. It's just an impractical stance. If you've got months to improve upon a game that went through cert, do you think you would leave those months? Do you think audiences would appreciate a developer just kind of doing nothing for three months? Anybody arguing that a game should be done when it goes ‘gold' is living in the 90s.

Day one patches aren't necessarily a failure on the developers or the platforms side, they the result of people that care about what they make, trying to deliver the game the audience expects by the date they expect it, while everybody involved is struggling with outdated systems on cutting-edge technology. Everyone is trying their hardest. Nobody is doing anything wrong. The developer isn't lazy. The platforms aren't malicious. Day one patches are simply a patch to a submission system that's old and convoluted.”