The Future Of Balance Patching

The Future Of Balance Patching



The video game industry has never been good at coping with change. Currently, we have an amazing amount of technology available to us, and game developers and publishers barely know how to utilize a tenth of it. Even though our tech keeps getting better, most of our businessmen are stuck in the age of the SNES when you simply purchased a game and were done with it.

Or are they?

The Future Of Balance Patching

No one can deny that DLC has become a staple of every big-name game on the market. So it's fairly obvious that our big-name publishers seem to understand game updates when it comes to money, but when it comes to game balance, many game companies simply keep their hands off. What does this mean?

Well, it means two things. First, it means that a lot of the "DLC" we are buying is not actually DLC. It's mostly on-disc content that is locked behind a pay barrier. Changing a game after its release is actually very complicated, and most companies simply shy away from it. In fact, changing an executable for a downloaded title could cost a company as much as it does to release the game in the first place. So actually changing the game in any profound way has to make a company profits that are at least somewhat similar to the profits they received in the original release. Since most of the time this doesn't actually happen, big DLC projects like new modes, new story, new characters, and so forth are usually included, in some fashion, on the disc or in the original downloadable package. This allows the company to package their DLC as simple data downloads, which are far less expensive.

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Second, this means that game balance is not exactly a priority for most companies. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, it makes them no money. Most competitive games evolve through emergent gameplay. New strategies are developed after millions of gamers all get their hands on the game at once. Most of these strategies are things that QA testing never even thought of, and, as a result, may skew the meta-game of any competitive scene. Fans may call out for a balance patch, but this puts the company in a catch 22.

The Future Of Balance Patching

You see, creating a balance patch costs money. Programmers have to actually go into the game's code and change it, and then find a way to apply it to a game that essentially runs off optical media. It's not exactly as simple as it is with PC games, where you can simply change the code of the installed game. All of these programmers have to get paid. Then, there's another round of QA testing and approvals from Microsoft and/or Sony and the fees associated with letting the patch go up on the PSN or XBLA in the first place. Game developers can either A. charge for the balance patch, which tends to piss off the gaming populace, or B. create the balance patch for free and simply hemorrhage money on its creation.

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