Patches Aren't An Excuse

Spend enough time around video games, and before too long there's one excuse that you'll hear without fail.

It's the double-edged sword of the always-online nature of the industry. Because developers can push out patches without the hassle of dealing with physical media, the state of a product at launch is almost something to be taken with a grain of salt.

And so whenever something launches in a sub-par, or even broken state, you'll hear the following.

"The game will get better."

It's the first line of defence for fans and developers. Don't worry about what things are like right now, just imagine what it could be like in the future. Every developer promises to keep supporting their game after launch, so why shouldn't you support them now so they can follow through? Things might not be perfect, but give it a month or two, and it'll be a completely different game.

That's what gamers are told these days.

It's rubbish.

Case in point: the recent release of AO Tennis, the official tie-in for the Australian Open grand slam. Being developed by Big Ant, it's got a lot of features shared with the Don Bradman cricket games, including a fairly similar progression system, some parallels in the controls (like the option to use the right stick for shots), and an extensive character creation system.

Which is all well and good, save for how disastrously broken the game is.

AO Tennis officially went on sale last Tuesday. If you purchased the game on Xbox, you would have had to wait until the weekend for a patch that added, among some bug fixes and gameplay tweaks, the career mode. There was no tutorial. No option in-game to review your controls. No save points in between matches, meaning you'd have to finish an entire match if you wanted to save your progress.

There's still no commentary, and the controls can be wildly inconsistent. Take volleying, for instance. Here's what it should look like.

The career player in this instance, for the record, has a 99 rating in volleying. It actually just looks like a forehand taken on the full, but you get the idea.

But more often than not, your player will cannon the ball well beyond the baseline:

Sometimes it'll even happen within the same rally.

There's obviously something broken with the physics that results in the ball accelerating far, far more than it should. It happens pretty frequently, and the game doesn't provide enough feedback to help narrow the problem down.

But at least volleys work. The same can't be said for the player movement, which is sluggish at best and borderline unresponsive at worst. There's been countless instances where I've gone to power up a shot, only to have my player ignore my input entirely. Or I've hit the ball back to the opponent in a wholly unremarkable manner, only for the AI to stand lifelessly as it goes past.

The doubles AI, which was utterly broken when the game first launched, hasn't improved either. Sometimes your doubles partner will go completely AWOL, completely ignoring the ball flying past them - even if they've just taken part in a volley or two.

And just for good measure, there's also a weird bug with the challenge system:

These are things that aren't working by design. When you add in the things that are - players like Ashleigh Barty, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal apparently stuck in quicksand, only a handful of courts, no in-game tutorial, no activities or mini-games in between career mode tournaments, identical animations across male and female players, and a lack of atmosphere that extends from the main menu to the court - it's pretty obvious what's happened.

AO Tennis was rushed, and it certainly isn't finished.

It's not the first time a game has launched in a half-baked state, of course. Readers will be plenty familiar with the debacle around No Man's Sky at launch, an ambitious space explorer that ended up having half of ambition gamers were previously sold on.

Hello Games has almost transformed the game since launch, to the point where it's almost a completely different game from what the one that was first released. People have formed their own governments now. Started wars. Created galactic hubs.

But the promise of what might come is no excuse for those who had to deal with a string of crashes. Stodgy, lifeless planets. Repetitive grind. Uninspired space combat.

One response I've heard countless times, in similar scenarios: if players don't support a game now, you can't expect it to get better in the future.

After all, if developers don't make a return on development, how could anyone expect them to keep funding it?

Image: Kotaku

It's a tricky situation. Gamers know that not everything is perfect. And there are plenty of variables that often conspire against the developer. The certification process, for one, often delays studios from pushing out critical updates or content patches. That's what happened to AO Tennis: PS4 users were able to enjoy the career mode days before Xbox users, simply because the patch hadn't gone live on one platform.

It's especially harder for indie developers, ones with smaller budgets, smaller teams.

Like every Australian developer, basically.

But national pride doesn't come before the basic contract every company has with their users. And as far as games are concerned, that falls down to a simple equation: irrespective of what the game might be like in the future, do you enjoy and appreciate how the game plays right now?

Because as a customer, that's the reality we all face. Transactions are immediate. And if you're not buying at retail, sometimes you only get a couple of hours to discover whether a game actually lives up to the promise. Or works at all.

The first Don Bradman Cricket was a great example of that. It wasn't perfect. There were some weird bugs. It wasn't licensed at all. And there were certain quirks in the AI's tactics that soured the batting experience.

But it was fun. It was decent. And it was worth the money, at least if you liked cricket.

AO Tennis doesn't do that. It's rushed - unfinished in places - and even at its best, more frustrating than fun.

And it's not enough for a developer to respond that the game will get better, or that they'll respond to feedback. They should make the game better. They should respond to feedback. It's basic behaviour that should be expected.

Patches are not an excuse.

Update: The original version of this story asserted that "too often, developers have little respect" for the time and money of gamers. The paragraph has been removed to better reflect the article's original intent. Apologies for the offence caused, especially to all developers who deeply respect their players.


Comments

    AO Tennis? More like Uh-O Tennis, amirite guys ???????

    guys?????????

    (I am keen for Mario Tennis)

      More like F-O Tennis ;)

      And I too am eager for Mario Tennis. If AO Tennis had been half decent I might have bought it but this is pure crap.

    Agreed. I get that BlueAnt aren't a big studio but at some point you have to look at the games objectively and make a judgement call.

      They almost shut down in 2008-2009. I finished my game art degree (double useless!) in 2008, just as all the studios were shutting down. They didn't really have a good rep then either

        I did my bachelor in 2012 but still haven't done much with it..except a steam demo

          If it's any consolation, I've got a medical science PhD gathering dust.

          I have game ideas but being an artist, not a designer, I often find that I run out of enthusiasm after a few months.
          I have like a billion projects going at any one time though.

        That is interesting to hear. Looking at this and the cricket games, it just seems they are not much good as a studio (unfortunately)

          They specialise in quickly done games, generally. Apparently they are great to work for, as in there is a good atmosphere, but I think they've only really done sports games.

    What about the twofer: Incomplete games requiring patches sold at launch with content on the disc that gets sold back to you as DLC?
    Truthfully, some developers deserve long and unrewarding periods of unemployment given the half finished shit I see out there. Having said that, I know a lot of it comes down to publishers and not the developers, which seems to put them at massive risk.

    Your choice of games are a bit obscure. I would of gone with games that were complete disasters at launch and the developers just gave up or failed to respond in a timelt manner. Especially in the Port market, where the company porting the game is contracted only to do the port and has no obligation to patch and the developer just refuses to do it cause its roo hard.

    Batman Arkham Knight is infamous in this regard beung the first game to be subject enmasse of Steam Refunds. The fans degended an unplayable game using past games as an example... but past games were buggy too until they rereleased the Game of the Year editions.

    Or Neir Automota that still has not recieve an official update and the one modder who was unofficially doing it got death threats when he pit in an anti piracy code in his patch.

    Or the recent Nintendo Switch port of WWE wrestling thats so bad that no one knows how it got approval to launch by Nintendo.

    Mass Effect Andromedanever got better, it got abandoned after a few emergency fixes.

    Fanatics who defend a broken game are doing their game and community an injustice... the company doesnt need you to defend them, they jave lawyers and PR... what they need is people to tell them they did wring and to fix their games and learn to make better games in the future.

    Look at No Man Sky... faioed to deliver on its promises and have been working hard doing more. Not because "It will get better cause of patches" but because the custoners compkaints were heard and they made a commitment to do better..The so rare us that ina AAA game industry that sees more money is saved by not patching a game.

    I remember when patches were small and only designed to fix a couple of potentially game-breaking bugs or perhaps adjust the balance. Nowadays patches are gigabytes in size and adding entirely new game modes and features that should have been included in the retail product first place.

      I remember when there was no such thing as a patch, or even internet. And if you ask me the games industry was better for it.

        Eh, there were "patches", you just probably were not aware of them.

        A lot of arcade games had many different revisions to fix bugs and what not. There are actually a lot of slightly different versions of old console games out there that fix various bugs and exploits in earlier versions (for example, did you know there are actually 3 versions of Donkey Kong Country? 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2?). Often times for PC games companies would need to send out floppy disks that contained patches on them.

        So yeah patches have been around for a long time, but were only ever intended to fix bad bugs or compatibility issues or whatever.

          Game mags were hugely helpful for this, since you could get some hugely useful patches every month with the new floppies (but mostly once they transitioned to CDs).

            My God, I loved game mag CDs. They were often the only way I ever knew what was actually going to be good to play, thanks to demos.

            My next holiday, I'm going to be grabbing all the archived PC Gamer CD isos, if only to revel in the quasi-game launcher apps that came with, featuring the lovable Coconut Monkey.

          I've always been a console gamer. Even when my uncle gave us his old commodore 64 complete with tape drive back in the late 80's I barely used it. So I wouldn't know about pc game patches back in the day.

          Also, there may have been updated versions of console games, but they couldn't update/patch your physical copy of the game you'd already bought. So they knew they had to do rigorous testing and make sure the game was as good as it could be or they'd lose sales.

          Last edited 22/01/18 3:17 pm

          No, as the person you are replying to said, there was a time of no PC patches and no internet. I played a lot of games in CGA graphics back in the day, loaded from 5 and 1/4 floppy disks. Never patched one of them. What they burned on those disks at the factory is what you played until a sequel came out.

    Absolutely this. While patches have allowed us to fix issues that would otherwise be unfixable (even AAA games in the old days would have serious bugs hidden in them that you were stuck with until they released a full-blown remake- Final Fantasy VI has so many bugs and glitches that they have their own category page on the Final Fantasy wiki), developers and publishers have, like always, bastardised something good into something terrible by using it as an excuse to cut corners, rush things, release an unacceptably poor-quality product with the promise of making it not-shit later, and generally just not have to give a fuck. Yahtzee Crowshaw called out S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky for this more than six years ago and, as with every shitty new thing in the gaming industry, it's only gotten worse rather than better.

    Totally agree. There is absolutely no excuse for pushing out an unfinished buggy piece of garbage, and the "we'll patch it later" attitude that seems to be the norm there days.

    It's absolutely not on and developers/publishers should not be allowed to get away with it.

    The prolem is that there is pretty much nothing gamers can do about it, apart from boycotting the entire games industry. It's just the way things are now, and we'll all just have to get used to it.

      (Or buy the game for what it's worth: when it reaches the 75% 'desperation discount' on Steam.)

      Apologies for spelling mistakes. Posting from my phone, and if I edit my comment goes into moderation.

    I used to be super excited about buying games on release day. Until assassins creed unity came out. Can't trust a publisher anymore to act in my interest. To be fair to Ubisoft though they have upped their game s bit or maybe Activision and EA have just lowered theirs...

    Reasons like this are why I never buy a AAA game on release day. I usually give it 3 to 6 months, plus it will usually be cheaper as well.

    The thing that gets me is many of these physics errors are easy enough to make that I could understand if they were a first-time developer but they're not, they've made a bunch of games. Several similar to this one even so they should have figured this stuff out by now.

    As mentioned in the article, just seems like it was rushed when they probably could've made a good game.

      Small developers are usually better these days. First impressions count and a lot of them from my experience are less buggy than AAA games on release.

        Yeah I wasn't having a go at indie devs or anything, more saying having had a go at physics coding myself and made some of those mistakes (and learnt from them) I can see how a starting dev team could easily do it. Big Ant should really know better though.

    It seems odd there wasnt even an MVP that they could have worked towards to push out first - its seems there are a lot of things broken

    I have been waiting for a new tennis games since Virtua Tennis 4 and looks like Ill still need to wait. A shame as I wanted to support an Australian developer but when it comes to my hard earned, I need to be smart about it

    Whats the worst that could have happened delaying it a year and launching for AO2019? Or rebranding it as Wimbledon2018?

      Exactly. The only reason to release now is to capitalise on the Tennis while it's on but (having watched the tennis almost every day) I haven't even seen/heard a single ad for the game...

      If they couldn't cut a deal with 7/Tennis Australia for advertising, they should've just delayed the release. I mean the demographic for this has to be pretty small (gaming tennis fans), I can't see that a delay would've hurt the sales much, especially when most of the general public probably don't even know the game exists.

    I think the bigger point here is don’t buy games made by Big Ant. They completely miss the mark more often than not making me wonder if anyone developing has every actually played or watched the sport they are making.

    If the answer to that is yes, then they either don’t care or aren’t capable enough to get it right.

    Rugby’s League is crap
    Cricket is crap
    AFL is crap
    Now this tennis game

    Unfortunately it’s just been ASICS stuff too that ruins these games.

    Last edited 23/01/18 8:16 am

      Big ant haven't had the afl license for a while. It's Wicked Witch that does them now, but you're right still crap.
      Last AFL game big ant did I quite liked.
      Don Bradman had it's quirks but I liked it much more than ashes. Unfortunately Ashes cricket has been a step back as far as I'm concerned, and you are again correct, it's crap!

    Dear Lord, please grant me the self-assurance of a guy who can confidently click "publish" on a freshly typed Update to an article about how content patches are bad.

      The point wasn't how content patches were bad, and I never said patches were bad either.

    Comment not being sought from the devs by the author before or after the "review" is poor journalism.

    Given there was an apology, of sorts, I have to say that moderating comments from the dev so that they cannot be seen is another level entirely. Well done on a new low.

      Hi Ross. Good to see you in the comments here, attacking me rather than addressing problems with the game.

      This was, as intended, a critique of AO Tennis. It's not standard practice or appropriate to allow the makers of a product to comment on reviews, or review-esque critique. The apology was because poor phrasing took the article away from its original intention, not because the critique of the game itself was unfair.

      @rosssymons

      Poor wording in the original article and the subsequent apologies of the author aside - since when does any kind of review (game, film, book or television show, etc) include input from the creators? That would be highly unethical and make the review compromised by default.

        Agreed 100% Tegan, if it were merely a review.
        Given there were attacks on the individual devs directly, which was "apologised" for by the author, and caused some rework of the article, contact could have been sought. Especially since I have had open contact with the Author for a number of years.

          To be fair, he didn't criticise individual developers - he criticised a company. The article also wasn't reworked so much as a couple of sentences that weren't directly related to AO Tennis were removed. This happened quite late at night as a response to feedback on Twitter.

          Input from Big Ant on an edit that wasn't even about their game wouldn't make journalistic sense. It would also mean that the review would have been revised due to input from a creator, which is incredibly problematic.

    In case you missed it, there have been numerous patches to the game, and the work continues even today and through this Australia day weekend, unlike the contention of the original slur, we are devs that care about our work.

    As much as you don't like it, there is an element of irony, if not hypocrisy, in patching an article titled "patches are no excuse". It is actually quite humerous and has at least given the dev community a bit of a laugh.

      I guess the difference is the author wasn’t charging $80 to read the original article. Or the amended version.

      It’s great that you’re working so hard to make the game playable a week after release. As the article explains though, I’m not sure why you feel this rationalizes or mitigates charging full price on day one for a product which, by all accounts (not just Kotaku’s) is in an early access state.

      The line was never meant to target Big Ant individually, or any Australian developer individually. And that's why I took it out, because it detracted from the criticism and went against the original intent of the article. That was fair criticism, and so removing that sentence was logical. I've apologised for that, and explained why at length here.

      But the point was that if you're going to release a product, it has to be of a certain, playable standard. Not perfect, but it has to be fun - and AO Tennis was too buggy, too flawed to be enjoyable.

      That's especially true if users are paying top dollar for a game, and it's not earmarked as being in early access or some beta form. Consumers shouldn't be paying $80 for something that has the flaws it did the week above launch.

      There's a world of difference - or false equivalence, even - between an edit that removes one sentence and, say, an edit that adds/removes an entire section of an article. Much like how there's a difference between a patch that fixes a couple of buggy quests and one that makes the second or third act of a game work as intended. The doubles AI was a perfect example.

      I drew parallels with Don Bradman Cricket to highlight this, and directly said: "Gamers know not everything is perfect." That was in the original publication, and hasn't changed. And I never implied that games should be perfect at release, not once.

      But it's far to say that a game isn't in an acceptable state when it hits store shelves. Why and how it got to that state is a different story, but that doesn't change the equation for our readers, who we serve first and foremost.

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