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Microsoft Taking Heat For Five-Figure Xbox 360 'Patch Fee' 323

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-about-the-benjamins dept.
wasimkadak sends this quote from Ars: "Developer Phil Fish knows there's a problem preventing some people from enjoying his Xbox 360 puzzle platformer Fez as intended. But he's not going to fix it, thanks to what he says is an exorbitant fee of 'tens of thousands of dollars' that Microsoft would charge to re-certify the game after a needed patch. The issue started on June 22, when Fish released a patch intended to fix some outstanding gameplay and performance issues with Fez. That patch gave rise to new problems for some players, though, by causing their save files to appear as corrupted, in effect erasing their progress through the game. Microsoft pulled the initial patch for the game mere hours after it first went up, to prevent the bug it contained from spreading too far." Another article covering the story suggests this situation is simply a mis-match between an indie-dev's expectations and the realities of a curated gaming platform.
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Microsoft Taking Heat For Five-Figure Xbox 360 'Patch Fee'

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  • Team Fortress 2 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The MAZZTer (911996) <megazzt@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:19PM (#40713723) Homepage
    This is part of the reason TF2 is largely unpatched on the Xbox... Valve was going to wait to make one big content update, but then they exceeded the Xbox's memory limitations. Whoops.
    • Yeah, and this really sucks because I much prefer to play my games on a console than a PC if, for nothing else, they "just work" and will "just work" for 7 years or more and will play all the latest games without any extra hardware. I'm hoping that eventually Valve will release at least a small update to fix some of the bugs of the 360 version and add in new weapons and a map or two.
      • Re:Team Fortress 2 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by spire3661 (1038968) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:55PM (#40714417) Journal
        Consoles long ago gave up 'it just works'. Im CONSTANTLY downloading new patches, making sure my Live account is up to date, etc. Maintaining a gaming HTPC is no more challenging then just stuffing money into your Xbox, esp. if you treat it jsut like a console (no web browsing, no overclocking, no weird add-ons, consistent hardware) Gaming PCs are VERY stable if you treat them right and set them up properly. Its cool you like consoles, but quite a few of its 'strengths' have been diminished in recent years.Hell, the new Xbox interface is a clusterfuck, chock full of advertising i didnt ask for and was never explained that it would be there someday.
      • Re:Team Fortress 2 (Score:5, Interesting)

        by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968&gmail,com> on Friday July 20, 2012 @01:00PM (#40714501) Journal

        Haven't looked at PCs in awhile have you? I'm playing on an AMD 6 core and an HD4850 I got for $50 and I have tons of bling and have no problem with the new games like Saints Row 3 or Deus Ex HR. Very few games are doing the old Far Cry I "Our game is useful for benchmarking!" bit because it simply limits your audience too much. I have no doubt my boys and I will be playing on our two hexas and the youngest with his quad come 2020 when the OS goes EOL with nothing but a $50-$100 GPU update in about another year that will take all of 10 minutes and is simple enough my teen boys will change out their own. Oh and as a bonus you can put your old cards on Craigslist and get some of your money back which makes the cards even cheaper.

        This is why I'm glad me and the boys have switched almost exclusively to PC gaming, too much BS, too much price gouging, and talking to friends frankly the patches are just as bad and large for the PC only as in TFA you simply may not get them and instead get stuck with a buggy game for your hard earned $$. Thanks to the Steam sale by the time its over on the 22nd me and the boys will have enough games to last us until the big Xmas sale and that's with crazy cheap prices, games automatically patched for free, free MP with matchmaking and chat, its just a nicer experience all around. hell nearly all the games support controllers if that's what you prefer and nearly all the modern cards have HDMI out so you can plug that PC into your widescreen no problem.

        For those that prefer consoles you might want to watch this video by Jim Sterling [escapistmagazine.com] where he points out that all the advantages consoles use to have frankly are rapidly disappearing, with consoles having the same bad attributes as PCs such as long loads and large patches, and the good things are being matched or surpassed by the PC.

        • Anyone who tries to make out that PC gaming is any where near as simple as console gaming is either deluded, or a liar.

          BF3 on the PC alone has caused more problems, for more people, than probably half the Xbox 360 catalogue has. You have to deal with Origin, plus the browser plugin, plus Punkbuster, and then, finally, the game itself.

          You mention Deus EX HR, yet I seem to remember that having numerous problems that didn't exist on the console versions. In fact, I think some of them still do.

      • You might get flamed pretty bad for saying that. I won't do that...but I will tell you that perhaps PC's are not currently what you remember them being. A decent machine will play any game for a long time. If you prefer consoles, then play consoles...just letting you know.
    • by v1 (525388) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:33PM (#40713983) Homepage Journal

      but then they exceeded the Xbox's memory limitations.

      Went over 640k huh? Gotta watch out for that.

    • And you have to pay for such awesome treatment as a customer too.
  • patched (Score:5, Funny)

    by alphatel (1450715) * on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:19PM (#40713731)
    Just send '0xB16B00B5' to the console,
  • by couchslug (175151) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:20PM (#40713745)

    If he doesn't like the terms, he can scrap his game or disclose the problems with every sale.

    I dislike MSFT, but they owe him nothing.

    • by Baloroth (2370816) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:28PM (#40713889)

      I dislike MSFT, but they owe him nothing.

      That's true. Well, beyond what they charged him for the dev kit, and the fee to publish on XBLA, plus their part of the profits from the game sold, plus the tens of thousands he paid them to certify the first patch. So, you know, the hundreds of thousands (at a guess, could be millions or a few thousand) of dollars they have made off him. Beyond that, nothing at all!

      OTOH, he did fuck up, and he could publish the patch even now if he really wanted to (but it only affects a few people who already finished the game before the patch, so it wouldn't be worth it financially from his point of view). Frankly, neither MSFT nor Fish comes up looking very good from this whole ordeal.

      • by Goaway (82658)

        they charged him for the dev kit,

        Ok, they owe him a dev kit.

        and the fee to publish on XBLA, plus their part of the profits from the game sold,

        Which is one and the same, so they owe him the publishing of his game.

        plus the tens of thousands he paid them to certify the first patch

        And they owe him a verification of the first patch.

        Are you saying they have not delivered on any of these?

      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        I dislike MSFT, but they owe him nothing.

        That's true. Well, beyond what they charged him for the dev kit, and the fee to publish on XBLA, plus their part of the profits from the game sold, plus the tens of thousands he paid them to certify the first patch. So, you know, the hundreds of thousands (at a guess, could be millions or a few thousand) of dollars they have made off him. Beyond that, nothing at all!

        OTOH, he did fuck up, and he could publish the patch even now if he really wanted to (but it only affects a few people who already finished the game before the patch, so it wouldn't be worth it financially from his point of view). Frankly, neither MSFT nor Fish comes up looking very good from this whole ordeal.

        Maintaining the XBLA platform, curating many many games, watching for bugs (which is why this one even got caught in the first place) and all that is not cheap. The unfortunate thing is that it looks like the developer basically says that since the bug is only likely to exhibit itself on systems where the game has been played a lot (i.e. customers that already paid) that he isn't going to incur the cost of releasing the patch. It sure sounds like "thanks for the money, now here's your bug". If the bug sto

        • Amazing how expensive the whole process is yet other companies manage to run their services without bleeding customers to death and, at a guess, probably not bleeding developers as much.
    • I think the point is their policy is encouraging developers to leave buggy code out in the wild. I fully understand the MS position, but they need to come up with another billing model for recertification.

      • by arth1 (260657) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:42PM (#40714159) Homepage Journal

        I think the point is their policy is encouraging developers to leave buggy code out in the wild. I fully understand the MS position, but they need to come up with another billing model for recertification.

        I'd think it would be the other way around - the high price to put out patches means you'll test much better before releasing a patch, so you won't have to do it multiple times.

        Which is what this guy didn't - his initial patch (which he paid for) broke things, and now he balks at paying the costs for putting out a second patch to fix his first broken patch.

        I don't normally have sympathy for Microsoft, but in this case, I think the rage should be against the developer who refuses to pay the price to fix something HE broke - a price he already knew about beforehand, and which wouldn't have been an issue if he hadn't broken things with his patch.
        Who loses on his stinginess (or bad testing procedures) are the "very few" users who are left in the cold. I hope he at least will refund them the cost of the game, but based on what attitude he displays, I doubt it.

      • You're right, but only because some developers of buggy code are unwilling to take responsibility for their mistakes (or, preferably, avoid them in the first place).

        More generally, fear of having to pay for a mistake encourages people to either hide or ignore a mistake. This doesn't make it any less silly for Microsoft to subsidize other peoples' mistakes. Also, MS *will* have to re-verify the newly corrected patch. Why should verification be free this time?

        Maybe MS could lower the cost of verifica
    • by Hatta (162192) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:38PM (#40714069) Journal

      This is just another forseeable consequence of the absence of software freedom on the platform. Every author and distributor of non-free software should be scolded every time their policies cause problems. Both Microsoft and Fish are in the wrong.

      • by tepples (727027)

        Every author and distributor of non-free software should be scolded every time their policies cause problems.

        How would you propose funding the development of a game that is not massively multiplayer and is distributed under a free software license? See previous comments by turbidostato [slashdot.org] and alexo [slashdot.org]. And how would you recommend getting people to buy boxes designed to play such free games and hook them up to their TVs?

    • by morari (1080535)

      He should have just released it on the PC instead. It has a much larger built-in audience, and doesn't cost anything in licensing/patching fees. It really serves him right for siding with some outdated set-top box.

    • by jeti (105266)

      Most of the fee is supposedly for quality control. If MS let the bug slip through in the original release or the first patch, they share part of the blame.

    • $40,000 is a realistic price? http://www.edge-online.com/news/schafer-console-patches-cost-40000 [edge-online.com]

      Sorry but that's just fucking ridiculous given they probably don't even pay a tester that as a annual wage.
      • by jandrese (485)
        Microsoft's testing is probably limited to scanning the game to make sure it doesn't use any forbidden APIs or try to use the box in some unapproved way. The process is probably mostly automated, although a person does probably have to give it a once over sanity check. I seriously doubt they have actual game testers in there playtesting the thing.

        My guess is that Microsoft set the price point high to avoid the PS3 problem, where every time you turn the damn thing on it has some patch that needs you to r
  • Yep... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:21PM (#40713755)
    Yep, this is the biggest pitfall with console gaming that the internet was supposed to fix. For example, one only needs to look at Team Fortress 2 for Xbox/PS3 vs the PC counterpart.

    Back in the early days of the internet me and my friends used to dream of what the internet would bring, new levels, new modes, online scoreboards, new content, online multiplayer, cheaper localization, the end of region restrictions...

    Only to never see them fully realized.
    • The fix for console lockdown would be to market PCs as replacements for consoles, including a ten-foot-friendly application launcher and a web browser with a ten-foot interface (like Opera's Internet Channel for Wii). Yet no major PC maker wants to go this route for some reason.
    • Re:Yep... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tangeu (2605501) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:27PM (#40713865)
      But what we did see was a constant stream of games that were completely broken and unplayable for the first days/weeks after release because, "We can just patch it later." Which is exactly what this policy is trying to prevent.
      • And we still had those games back before the internet. Heck, it was even worse back then because your only source of reviews were magazines and word of mouth (or if you were really really lucky you could play a few minutes of the game in the stores).
        • This methodology of releasing buggy software too early and patching arose from Microprose. They would release their (excellent) games and then send you floppies with patches, or allow access to patches on their BBS. At the time, we thought it was great because of the attention that the developer was giving games that you'd already paid for. Little did we realize at the time what a horrible thing this would turn into.

    • by fermion (181285)
      How would the internet fix this? The developer pushed out a bad patch which caused users to lose data. Another patch was then put out, and we don't know if it was a fix or simply more bad code. The internet does not magically make bad code good. It does allow bad products to be patched on the fly, but that does not really help lusers who think they are getting a functioning application..
    • I used to dream that one day we would get Sports games that would update the rosters every year for 5 years. It never occurred to me that in the age of easy updating, they would continue to spit out whole games every year and charge full price for it.
  • Too bad the rules don't apply to product managers at Microsoft. If a defect in their product is critical enough to require a patch, the fee for recertification comes out of their budget / bonus / salary, etc. This would be incentive.

    • (Disclaimer: I am a Microsoft Employee, but do-not-represent-the-company, etc. etc.)

      Releasing patches does cost money in the company, and it does come out of that group's budget. I am not aware of anyone ever losing their bonus over a patch, although seeing how bonuses for us peons are tied to your performance review, if someone really messed up on a patch it could effect their performance review and thus, their bonus. It wouldn't surprise me if someone at some point managed to lose their salary (ie. fire
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:24PM (#40713809)

    The $40k fee that MS charges for patches is ridiculous. Considering they get a chunk of every game sold, the certification process should be gratis.

    HOWEVER, it's also important to note that while the excessive fee is what is limiting Fez from being updated (it comes out to something like 6-8% of the entire revenue the game is likely to ever create after years of development -- PER PATCH), it is important to remember that Microsoft is NOT debugging or testing your game. They are NOT your QA department. They are merely there and receiving your $40k to test and verify that *YOU* adhered to *THEIR* very long list of requirements. Such as "do you press A or START to begin the game" and "does an interactive menu appear within the first 30 seconds of launching the game" and "can the game be completed". THAT is the certification they are doing. They are NOT being paid that $40k to debug and troubleshoot the game *ITSELF*.

    Of course, if he'd released this on Steam or even entirely independently on his own site, he could patch to his heart's content.

    At any rate, Phil Fish is a controversial character, but I dig the guy and hope this all settles out in the end. Hopefully he moves on to greener pastures with his next game (or, even, with this one as soon as the exclusivity breaks).

    • by Shados (741919)

      As many have stated, the point of the patch fee isn't to make money (though it doesn't hurt on that front). Its to make sure the consoles don't end up like PCs where games are often nowhere close to being in a "releasable state" at launch. Its a "tax/penalty" for releasing shitty code and to force devs to test their stuff.

  • "mis-conception" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:25PM (#40713837)
    It's not a misconception. It's a perfectly accurate conception: If you're not going to throw tens of thousands of dollars at us, go away. Most indie devs do not have tens of thousands of dollars to throw at anything. If they did, they wouldn't be indie devs anymore. Therefore, curated platforms like the Xbox are indie-gamer averse.

    The walled garden is designed specifically to make sure Microsoft makes money on every transaction, no matter how insignificant. That's why UEFI is going to kill the PC... if the platform is locked, you're screwed. But at least Microsoft will be making money... so it's all good. As long as corporations control everything, we shouldn't worry.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      You know, I kept hearing that every version of MS's "anti-piracy" measures for Vista, and Win7 were uncrackable too. Seemed to me that every version was cracked like a egg being dropped from a 12 story building, some were elegant cracks, some were brute forced like being smashed with a hammer. UEFI? I expect the same thing, I do. It may take time, but it will come. Persistence is the key.

      • by asdf7890 (1518587)
        The key difference is that UEFI is enforced by hardware, not just software. While I doubt it will be uncrackable it is going to be significantly harder and the hacks against it may require physical intervention (not just software changes) which will stop may users replicating the crack.
    • But it doesn't have to be this way. The developer said on Steam or Apple App store, it wouldn't be an issue and those are walled gardens. This problem is with MS and how they have approached it. I'm not sure if Sony or Nintendo developers also have the same problems.
    • by mridoni (228377)

      The problem here is that, according to TFA, the developer pocketed about 1 million dollars in sales. If he even gets to keep 30% of that, after paying fees and commissions to Microsoft and taxes, it's about 300,000 US$. I understand that paying (again) a hefty certification fee sucks, but certainly we're not talking about a teenager working out of his basement.

  • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:32PM (#40713951)

    None of us in this business like having to have games go through layers of certification testing, but it costs money to do, and if you want your game on XBL, WiiWare or PSN you deal with that. All 3 have both design and technical requirements, which are intended largely to benefit the consumer and their brand image (so you don't stare at blank loadscreens for 5 minutes, you can't have a game kill your console that sort of thing).

    It is by no means a perfect system, but it overall positions a game on a console as certain quality of experience, if you can't deliver that, make your game for mobile or PC. And yes, it sucks to have to pay for bandwidth for patches and so on, but that's the point - do it properly and you don't have to pay as often, and MS/Sony/Nintendo are going to test your game to make sure it doesn't break the consoles etc. Or, you can be like endless space (which btw is a good game, albeit somewhat buggy in earlier versions) and have 10 patches on steam and not have to spend a hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so.

    They might have a legitimate argument with microsoft as to why they didn't catch this problem in testing the first time round - but that depends on the specifics of the bug and XBLA testing.

    It's up to developers and publishers to build relationships with consumers, it's not up to console makers to foot the bill for that. Of course you could build relationships with consumers the way EA does, but that's another topic.

    • if you can't deliver that, make your game for mobile or PC.

      Except some genres are commonly thought not to work on mobile or PC. How would one sell, say, a fighting game for mobile or PC? On mobile, the player can't feel where his hand is relative to the on-screen buttons because the screen is completely flat, and on PC, players are unlikely to already own gamepads because there's no culture of gathering around a desk to play together.

      • by Sir_Sri (199544)

        Then don't make a fighting game.

        Seriously.

        This is business. If you can't handle the rules and costs for working with microsoft and XBLA then don't work with them, and make a game you can sell somewhere else.

        I make strategy games (or at least, parts of strategy games for other people, and do academic work on strategy games), console releases aren't worth the effort because controllers suck for most of what I work on these days. So you know full well that you aren't going to hit a big chunk of the gaming ma

  • This is a good thing (Score:5, Informative)

    by derrickh (157646) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:40PM (#40714119) Homepage

    I'm glad Microsoft is doing this. It's a deterrent to developers putting up untested patches. This could have been avoided if instead of rushing out the first patch, it was put through the ringer. And if thats too much to ask because you're an 'indie dev' then maybe you arent ready to be on XBLA. MS actually has outlets for smaller devs that can't handle the costs/restrictions of XBLA or boxed games, XBLIG. And XBLIG doesnt have an update tax.

    It may sound harsh, but the bottom line is, if this is an issue, you probably shouldn't be on XBLA yet.

    D

    • by DeadCatX2 (950953)

      What do you think XBox certification is for? You're paying MS 10s of thousands to test your stuff and make sure it doesn't break.

      Looks like MS failed to do their testing properly, and want this guy to pay for them to test again.

    • You've hit it on the head.

      Consoles are not a place to update games on a regular basis. That's what computers are for.

      XBLive games can have updates, but they *should* be painfully expensive to prevent the constant downloading of patches that developers would otherwise make. Get it right and then publish, as opposed to publish fast and update frequently.

  • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:41PM (#40714129)

    Another article covering the story suggests this situation is simply a mis-match between an indie-dev's expectations and the realities of a curated gaming platform.

    I don't see how anyone can say this with a straight face in light of the fact that the largest curated platform right now is the iOS App Store, which is several orders of magnitude larger than XBLA, and the only fee it charges its developers is the $99 annual fee to be a developer. I can understand Microsoft wanting to make some more money and to perhaps provide a higher level of quality for their curation over what Apple does, but that doesn't justify charging tens of thousands of dollars. They need to rethink their model entirely.

  • by drkoemans (666135) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:42PM (#40714163)

    I'm a long time gamer that has come full circle. The xbox was the first console I've ever owned and was purchased largely because of the mess that was PC gaming in the late 90s early 2000s: game that took an hour to install and didn't work out of the box, CS map packs that had to be downloaded from the server you were connected to, games that only ran on 3DFX voodoo cards, the list could go on forever. I had less time to game as I was now an adult and I just wanted things to work.

    The trade was well worth it. Now a decade later it seems all those same issues have crept into consoles. I can't play CoD with friends unless I've bought the map packs, games are coming out not fully operational, I have to PAY to play online. Taken individually I can get over most but in the meantime the price of a PC (desktop and laptop) has fallen BELOW what I paid for my 360 (and PS3, I have one of those too) at launch. Steam has made digital distribution and patching a reality and with Steam sales, has brought the cost of the software WAY down. Laptops make my gaming platform portable and self contained.

    I'm not saying I won't buy the next generation of consoles but I'm going to think long and hard about doing so. I am definitely ready for the resurgence of PC gaming, not that it ever went away, but a lot of us migrated and are ready to come back. I admire the console's attempt to integrate the indie community into fold but it was a slippery slope and the repercussions of that decision are unfolding. I don't blame microsoft or the dev in this scenario, I'm just not positive that it was ever a good marriage to begin with.

    • I had less time to game as I was now an adult and I just wanted things to work.

      Now that you're an adult, do you have kids? Or do you watch other adults' kids? If so, do you game with them?

      Laptops make my gaming platform portable and self contained.

      Consoles have had this since 1989 when Nintendo introduced the Game Boy. Microsoft, on the other hand, isn't sold on handheld gaming [quartertothree.com].

  • by cplusplus (782679) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:43PM (#40714185) Journal
    ...and in this case, it's "tens of thousands of dollars".
  • In this case I have to side with Microsoft. Verifying that stuff doesn't do bad things on their console is both necessary and costs money. Furthermore, this implicitly imposes a due diligence standard on software devs and what they release. I hate the practice of turning customers into beta testers. I don't feel bad for Fez at all.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:46PM (#40714245)

    Phil Fish signed a contract with Microsoft to make Fez a 360 exclusive title, in exchange for some kickbacks (like better placement and free marketing). Fez could have also been on the PS3 and PC, however they chose to release the game only for the 360 because they wanted the MS freebies instead of having a multi-platform title. He shouldn't be surprised now that he needs to pay to cover his own bad QA with the title.

    Crying about it after the fact just makes him look bad. They entered into an agreement they should have better understood before signing on the dotted line. This is Polytron's problem now, and some gamers are getting screwed.

  • To me, the real problem is the timing of the fees. At "late stage" in a product life-cycle, the vendor fees really should lighten up, since neither the developer nor the vendor is likely looking at big future sales numbers. This is making a big negative impact on the existing customer base, and disincentivising patches and fixes.

    Better to take a bigger slice out of initial sales to cover these kind of things and run patches through "at cost" or less.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      So have those who actually produce working games the first time sbusidise those who release garbage that needs to be patched later?

  • So what's the big deal, the developer has been bit in the ass even though people such as Mr. Stallman have warned them about these devices and their proprietary nature. Pay your thousands and shut up cry baby.
  • Sloppy Work (Score:2, Troll)

    by KalvinB (205500)

    MS charges a huge fee for two reasons: they have to do work to issue your patch and they don't want sloppy unfinished products. Back in the days of cartridges patches weren't even an option.

  • Leave it to the game console market, to make it so that the Internet is too expensive a medium, for distributing software updates.

  • Why would anyone pay tens of thousands of dollars to submit a patch? That content distribution system is obviously broken, it is in both Microsoft's and the developer's best interest to make things right.

  • Toll Gate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Insanity Defense (1232008) on Friday July 20, 2012 @02:12PM (#40715781)

    This is a problem with any locked in system where 1 source controlls the Toll Gate to the only entrance.

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