Phil Fish’s development studio Polytron released a patch for Fez on June 22nd that fixed some issues with the game but created a really bad new one: Some players had their save game files corrupted. It’s never good to lose your save file but for a game like Fez, where players solve puzzles and collect cubes to unlock forward progress, a save file corruption is an out-and-out disaster.
Polytron and Microsoft quickly pulled the patch from Xbox Live on June 24th. Now Phil Fish told the world on Wednesday that he is bringing back the June 22nd patch that leads to the save file corruption, but he won’t be fixing the problem.
We’re bringing the first FEZ patch online. It’s the same patch.
We’re not going to patch the patch.
Why not? Because Microsoft would charge us tens of thousands of dollars to re-certify the game.
And because it turns out, the save file delete bug only happens to less than a percent of players. It’s a shitty numbers game to be playing for sure, but as a small independent, paying so much money for patches makes NO SENSE AT ALL.
I am not sure how Fish arrived at the figure of one percent considering the problem was originally reported as “fairly widespread,” and also in light of Fish’s comments shortly after the release of Fez that getting sales information out of Microsoft was quite difficult. Later in the post Fish says:
We believe the save file corruption issue mostly happened to players who had completed, or almost completed the game. If you hadn’t already seen most of what FEZ had to offer, your save file is probably safe.
That doesn’t sound quite as definite as less than a percent of players, and I see the word probably in there, but for sake of argument let’s take him at face value and round up to one percent of players. Sure it would make no sense at all to Fish’s bank account to fix his mistake, but it would make all the sense in the world for the 1% of his customers who could get screwed by a save file corruption. Phil Fish isn’t saying that he can’t patch Fez because he’s out of money, he’s telling the 1% that he’s choosing not to.
To be fair, we are talking about a lot of money. Tim Schafer of Double Fine Productions shocked everyone back in February by saying it costs forty thousand dollars to patch a game on Xbox Live. There may be a conversation to be had about why it costs so much to publish a patch to an XBLA game, but my question is whether or not Phil Fish realized how much it would cost him to patch Fez on Xbox Live before he signed his exclusivity contract with Microsoft. I don’t think Fish gets any special leeway here on account of being an indie developer. That feels contrary to everything the indie scene stands for in my eyes, and it’s not how the indie developers I’ve met want to be treated.
Whenever I’m interviewing or hanging out with an indie developer I try to make it a point to ask them what they think of the word “indie”. We don’t refer to the developers who work at AAA studies by any collective label, so how does it feel to be a developer who has this indie label slapped on them? Most of the time I get a response along the lines of “I don’t want to be thought of as an indie developer. I want to be thought of as a developer that makes great games.”
I think that’s a healthy answer. These developers don’t want special treatment, they don’t want to be thought of as plucky men and women fighting against the odds to make their games, they just want to make great games we’re all happy with. And in my mind, that credo is essential to the indie development world maintaining its current position of relevance.
An indie developer is an individual or a studio that aims to produce a game that is just as good as any AAA title but with a fraction of the budget and the staff. A really good indie game makes the point that quality isn’t about the power of the game engine or the explosiveness and action of the plot, but the strength of the game mechanics and whether the game has any creative heart. Everything else is just gravy. By holding themselves on the same plane as the AAA development studios, indies serve as a constant reminder that the old way of doing things isn’t the only or necessarily the best way to do them.
Fish also had this to say in his statement on the Polytron website:
Had FEZ been released on steam instead of XBLA, the game would have been fixed two weeks after release, at no cost to us. And if there was an issue with that patch, we could have fixed that right away too!
So why wasn’t the game released on Steam? If Fish did his due diligence and realized that he couldn’t support Fez properly on Xbox Live due to the prohibitive patching costs, why didn’t he pursue a different option? And if Fish didn’t conduct due diligence and realize that he couldn’t support Fez on XBLA, why should his customers suffer for his negligence? There’s a cost of doing business and rather than pay up Fish is trying to lay the blame on Microsoft somehow.
Again to be fair, for a small development studio like Polytron patching Fez to the tune of $40k isn’t something to take lightly. Bethesda may be able to plunk $40k down over and over again to fix the buggy software they seem fond of releasing but Phil Fish can’t. That said, wouldn’t the right course of action be for Fish to publish one more Fez patch to fix the save game issue and then drop support for the game?
It wasn’t an easy decision, but in the end, paying such a large sum of money to jump through so many hoops just doesn’t make any sense.
It makes all the sense in the world. It’s called taking care of your customer and living up to your obligations. Sometimes that’s a little painful but it’s the right thing to do, and the customer remembers. Hopefully Phil Fish will make better business decisions going forward about which platforms he releases on, and he will plan adequately for long-term support instead of claiming special status when something goes wrong and it will put him out of pocket. Most indie developers I know want to be considered just as legit as AAA studios. They do not want to be thought of as sitting at the kids’ table.