OPINION: When "big man little man" syndrome goes too far

Ben Parfitt
OPINION: When

We're living in the new age of indie development. And at the same time we're witnessing the weakening of the mega-publisher.

But that doesn't mean we should always side with the little man in the battle. As Polytron's Phil Fish has just proved.

The developer this morning issued a statement explaining why it's refusing to fix a product that it has already sold to customers. It's Microsoft's fault, of course. Obviously. Here's the full thing:

We’re bringing the first FEZ patch online.

It’s the same patch.

We’re not going to patch the patch.

Why not? Because microsoft would charge us tens of thousands of dollars to re-certify the game.

And because as it turns out, the save file delete bug only happens to less than a percent of players. It’s a shitty numbers game to be playing for sure, but as a small independent, paying so much money for patches makes NO SENSE AT ALL. especially when you consider the alternative. Had FEZ been released on steam instead of XBLA, the game would have been fixed two weeks after release, at no cost to us. And if there was an issue with that patch, we could have fixed that right away too!

We believe the save file corruption issue mostly happened to players who had completed, or almost completed the game. If you hadn’t already seen most of what FEZ had to offer, your save file is probably safe. It doesn’t happen if you start a new game.

We believe the current patch is safe for an overwhelming majority of players.

The patch fixes almost everything that’s been wrong with the game since launch. The framerate issues, the loading, the skips, the death loops, everything! All that stuff is fixed! And right now, nobody can get to it since the patch was pulled. For 99% of people, it makes FEZ a better game.

To the less-than-1% who are getting screwed, we sincerely apologize. We know this hurts you the most, because you’re the ones who put the most times into the game. And this breaks our hearts. We hope you dont think back on your time spent in FEZ as a total waste.

Microsoft gave us a choice: either pay a ton of money to re-certify the game and issue a new patch (which for all we know could introduce new issues, for which we’d need yet another costly patch), or simply put the patch back online. They looked into it, and the issue happens so rarely that they still consider the patch to be “good enough”.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but in the end, paying such a large sum of money to jump through so many hoops just doesn’t make any sense. We already owe microsoft a LOT of money for the privilege of being on their platform. People often mistakenly believe that we got paid by Microsoft for being exclusive to their platform. Nothing could be further from the truth. WE pay THEM.

So we’re going to go ahead and put Title Update back online, and for a vast majority of people it’s going to make FEZ a better game.

Thank you for your understanding and continuing support.

Sincerely,

The Polytron Team"

Right, let's get something out of the way from the off. Microsoft would do well to take a good look how it deals with indies. Because, in this respect, Steam and Sony are putting it to shame.

However...

I'm utterly dismayed by Polytron's letter. Or let me rephrase that – Polytron's excuse. The “big man little man” argument won't save them this time. I'll take each point in turn:

paying so much money for patches makes NO SENSE AT ALL”

No sense at all? Personally, you see, I would argue that fixing a product which thousands have already purchased from you in a defective condition does actually make a lot of sense. No? Well, I'm one of those customers and I'm pretty fecking annoyed.

the save file delete bug only happens to less than a percent of players”

Oh, right, well that's fine then!

We already owe microsoft a LOT of money for the privilege of being on their platform. People often mistakenly believe that we got paid by Microsoft for being exclusive to their platform. Nothing could be further from the truth. WE pay THEM.”

Really? Polytron has to pay Microsoft for the privilege of publishing exclusively on its platform? Polytron has paid for robbing itself of the right to bring Fez to other platforms and a far wider audience? Either that's bullshit or Fish is a fool.

Microsoft gave us a choice: either pay a ton of money to re-certify the game and issue a new patch (which for all we know could introduce new issues, for which we’d need yet another costly patch), or simply put the patch back online.”

Which for all we know”? Hey, Phil – the idea is that you test the patch and fix it BEFORE you release it? That's, y'know, your job and stuff.

Had FEZ been released on steam instead of XBLA, the game would have been fixed two weeks after release, at no cost to us”

I very much doubt Steve Ballmer put a huge sweaty gun to Fish's forehead and made him sign that Xbox 360 exclusivity deal. So why on earth did he do it? Was he not aware of the publishing contract you would be entering into with Microsoft? Or did he simply not think beyond the excitement of getting his game up in the big lights?

And let's be clear about this – if Activision or EA tried to pull something similar they would be slaughtered. Yet you have to travel some way into the comments on Polytron's article before you find someone saying something other than “yeah, fair 'nuff I spose”.

Guess what – you made a mistake Phil. You sided with the wrong playground bully. Blaming the big man is very easy in the current climate and Fish has got one thing right – most observers will side with Polytron by default. Without reading the facts, who wouldn't?

But in making this hugely arrogant statement, Fish has at least provided us with the information we need to realise that this time we need to think differently. Microsoft's fees may be too high but that doesn't give Polytron excuse to either tell porkies or screw over its customers. Walking away from a broken game is the wrong get-out clause. They're doing their entire sector a huge disservice. For shame.

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Tags: Microsoft , xbox live , xbox 360 , patch , wrong , fix , fish , fez , polytron , excuse

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