Patches? We don’t need no stinking patches!
Normally, patches are a good thing. A developer or publisher rushes a game or half-asses the play testing and it hits the shelves with a few nasty bugs. Sometimes, as was the case with Fallout 2, the bugs are game killers and no one can play the game, requiring the developers rush out a fix ASAP. Other times you have developers who keep toying with a game long after it ships and they find ways to make the game run better. The patches these groups release often tend towards game mechanic tweaks or little bits of additional content. A great example of this style is Galactic Civilization 2. The game’s developer, Stardock, released dozens of patches designed to improve the game, culminating in one massive patch that completely upgraded the game’s graphics engine.
Then there are the bad patches. The updates that do little more than make you wish the developers would just stop screwing around with the damned game. For a long time Fallout 3 was a game that suffered from this style of mismanagement. Supporting the modding community has been a major part of Bethesda Softworks’ games in the last 9 years and Fallout 3 was no exception. Like Oblivion before it, Fallout 3 has a massive modding community that’s still active now. Sadly though, every patch Bethesda released was a kick in the gut to fans and modders alike. Patches would fix a few bugs while introducing new ones and they would alter the code in such a way as to make all of the older mods incompatible with the updated game. Every time an expansion came out fans knew it meant a new patch and more problems. It foretold of hours of recoding mods with the GECK editing software and hoping they still work. As a modder and a fan, I’m sad to admit that I think the best thing that happened to that game was when they stopped making expansions and they let the modding community finally settle down and start fixing things. The irony here was that fans had realized early on that Bethesda wouldn’t be fixing the majority of the bugs anytime soon, which left it up to them. Mods were produced that were really just fan-made patches, and sadly when the official patches came out they would often make these fan-patches incompatible, bringing back all of those old bugs.
So, you may be wondering why I’m rambling on about this. Yesterday I purchased a copy of the new Sims 3 expansion, Ambitions, and this forced me to make a rather unpleasant decision. As far as Sims 3 is concerned, EA falls into the latter group of developers, the ones where patches often do harm while trying to help. Admittedly they aren’t as bad as Bethesda was; patches often fix nasty bugs while introducing new ones, creating a strange sort of equilibrium. Though to be fair, EA’s patches often fix more bugs then they introduce, so theoretically Sims 3 should eventually be bug free one day. What occasionally happens with those games lucky enough to have a devoted fanbase of modders, fan patches have come along for Sims 3. On my PC at home my copy of Sims 3 is running off of an older EA patch as well as a major fan patch/mod called Awesomemod. Thus we arrive at the crux of my decision. I could continue to play a fun, working version of Sims 3, or I could install the game’s newest expansion, Ambitions, and be forced to install the most up-to-date patches. Well I chickened out and chose to install it clean on a older computer, keeping my main version of the game safe while getting to play and review the new expansion. And as I had expected, the game became very buggy. My sims would freeze in place, lock up or completely ignore my commands. In-game computers couldn’t be placed on tables anymore, and new items like the sculpture studio would cease to be interactive, requiring I sell them and replace them with new items. Though I spent $40 on this expansion, I’m probably not going to be playing it anytime soon. I’ll wait until the mods and fan patches have caught up to it first.
It’s one thing to have to deal with bugs caused by incompatible hardware and software. Developers can’t predict what every PC is going to be like. But situations like the one with Sims 3 are inexcusable. These are flaws within the games that should have been picked out in play testing. As gamers we experience countless bugs that occur because a game was rushed out before it was ready, and patches that create more problems then they solve. I think that it’s time we started doing something about that. People can easily ignore complaints online. Emails can be deleted without reading them and forums can be ignored. So what’s the solution? I think we should get a bit old school on the problem. Write letters, and flood game developers with paper. If you’re angry about a shitty game and crappy customer service, then write about it.
If you too are annoyed by buggy Sims expansions and you’d like to write an angry letter, I’m fairly sure this is the address for EA’s Black Box Studio, the group credited with working on Sims 3:
Sanderson Way, Burnaby, BC V5G 4X1, Canada.