Much grumbling has echoed across gaming circles on the internet about the day one patch for No Man’s Sky.
While it only weighs in at 824MB – far from the biggest launch update seen in recent years – the content completely overhauls the game and has played a role in media outlets not receiving review code in time for launch.
Now Rami Ismail, founder of renowned indie studio Vlambeer, has offered a defence for not just No Man’s Sky but any game relying on a day one patch when launching on console.
In a lengthy but comprehensive blog post, Ismail points to flaws in the certification process on games consoles, which can severely delay a title. In order to meet an intended launch date, developers have had to find workaround and plan further ahead.
“Certification could take a week, and in the worst cases, it could take months,” he explained. “From personal experiences, I can say that it can make developers cry. 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.
“Now, I’m not saying No Man’s Sky did this, but in most cases, developers with a launch date need to make sure they can hit that launch date. We start submitting certification builds somewhat early, in the hopes that one of them gets the check mark that says ‘you’re good to negotiate a launch day’.
“Certification is technical – it doesn’t bother with what the game is, it just concerns itself with whether it works technically. It checks whether the boxes are checked. You can market a dark gritty murder game titled Dark Horses, and submit a pony farm tycoon game, and as long as the name on the form matches the name of the game, they would not object.”
Ismail stresses that the process is further complicated if you are releasing your game at retail, which requires time to print, pack and distribute the finished product. Devs are usually “one to three months” from release when this process needs to get started, and that’s without any delays caused by certification.
Day one patches are often submitted a week before launch, but these are also still subject to certification. However, the time between the full game’s completion and the patch submission is so long that devs often use that time to significantly tweak and improve the game – hence the hefty patches.
“The ‘gold’ build that went through certification is one to three months old by the time the game launches,” Ismail wrote. “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. If your studio is huge, you probably have an internal QA department that (for good reason) slows things down internally, but if your studio is nimble and small, you can change enormous portions of the game in that span of time.
“So in the hypothetical example of No Man’s Sky, when No Man’s Sky launches, for most people, it’ll launch into the intended experience thanks to the Day 1 Patch. That build is as close to what the developers envisioned as they worked, learned and improved upon that vision. That’s No Man’s Sky. The version that is on the disc, however, is months old. The only way to avoid that kind of thing is to not launch on disc.”
Ismail acknowledges the argument that games should be ‘perfect’ when submitted for disc, but says this is “impractical” – after all, what developer wouldn’t want to use up to three months between completion and launch improving their game?
“Anybody arguing that a game should be done when it goes ‘gold’ is living in the ‘90s,” he said.
The full blog post is worth a read, offering more insight into the other hurdles encountered during certification.