Oddly enough, it wasn't Street Fighter V's terrible launch, which is in much need of some more patches, that prompted this article. Day one patches have unfortunately become the norm in the gaming world, with plenty people complaining at their ridiculous sizes to download on launch day. While that is an inconvenience to be sure, there is something a little more sinister at work.
A day one patch is fairly justifiable when it involves various bug fixes and technical updates/fixes to improve players' ability to actually play the game. If day one patches start to add/change content, however, it definitely has the potential to skew the first impressions of games—those of course being reviews. I don't think I need to talk about the importance of reviews a whole lot other than to mention that reviews are often the only way consumers can read critical feedback of a game before they have the ability to purchase it. This is especially true for singleplayer games.
What prompted this was a look at Far Cry Primal's day one patch notes. If you take a look at them, most of the changes are fairly innocuous. They are seemingly minor changes that don't appear to have all that big of an effect on the overall enjoyment of the game.
However, this day one patch also included a new game mode. That is an entirely new piece of content that reviewers weren't able to evaluate prior to launch. This is the step too far for day one patches, going far beyond the minor tweaks and fixes.
Whether you think that is a significant change or that it will affect reviews greatly in this case is irrelevant. It sets a precedent where day one patches can include additional content that may change the game. This wasn't a major feature by any means, but it isn't a huge leap to think of a possibility where a day one patch does include some kind of significant feature. Just take a look at Street Fighter V, it is lacking all sorts of features they are "looking into" for a future patch of the game.
Even those minor things like tweaking AI, XP, or balancing can have an affect on a review, even if a minor one. The thing here for me is that all of these tweaks were done for one reason: there was a problem. Whether it was the developers themselves noticing it, or maybe they saw some feedback in early playing/reviewing of the game, there was some sort of issue they saw—something they believed could be changed to improve the game. Again, not all tweaks and fixes will be equal, so we can't know just how significant the impact will be on the overall quality/enjoyment of the game.
These patches get even worse when they include only general information about what was fixed. What does balance tweaking mean? How did the XP tweaking affect the pace of the game? We can't know what kind of change that had on the game without that sort of information. This leaves it up to the reviewer to return to the game to try to guess what sort of affects the tweaks had on the game to see if it changed his/her opinion enough to warrant reporting on it. That information should be available to consumers—it should not require third party analysis.
Looking at patches in general for a quick moment, some are basically useless like good chunks of this recent patch for Just Cause 3. What were the stability fixes? How is someone having an issue supposed to know whether their issue was supposedly fixed? If the developers think it already fixed, they'll move on. Then there are those whose issue wasn't fixed; they will just have to play until it either does or doesn't happen again to verify if it is fixed. To be fair, some developers have some good patch notes.
Tying this back into day one patches, not including the detailed patch notes is just another way to hide what's actually being changed. Is it that developers are hiding something? Not necessarily. Maybe they are, maybe the changes have an unintended effect that will be noticed by someone later. To sum up, it is always in the interest of the consumer to have as much information as possible, even in patch notes.
Accepting that, having the most accurate reviews possible are obviously also best for consumers as a whole, and day one patches, particularly Far Cry Primal's, diminish that. Are the changes earth-shattering and game-changing? Probably not, but as said previously, it places an extra onus on the reviewer to compare the game they played pre-patch to the game post-patch—another thing developers/publishers can use for manipulation. It would sort of make you wonder why you would want to bother with a review before the patch in the first place. Maybe a first impressions on the general feel and then the "real" review. This is something we've seen start to happen with incredibly long games or multiplayer games the reviewer feels they didn't get enough time with before the game's release, which is another reason for the danger here. If we're used to this sort of practice already, then the transition to this as the norm won't be all that bad.
The conclusion is to give reviewers the complete game. Make sure they are reviewing the day one patch—or, well, the complete version of the game. Multiplayer games will of course be ever-evolving, requiring multiple looks after every major gameplay update/change, but those that should be gameplay and feature complete on launch should only ever really require one look.
You all may be thinking that this is an uproar over something relatively minor, the patch didn't change all that much. Well, if you've spent any time observing/participating in the games industry whatsoever, you'll know every inch certain companies gain unchallenged is used to its fullest. The DLC insanity, microtransactions, and other business practices that seem to be perpetually worsening should be evidence of that. It's just another in a long line of issues cropping up, like the increasing trend of adding microtransactions after a game releases.
Anyone doubting the possibility of these issues needs to only look at games that were released obviously in an unfinished state, Street Fighter V only being the most recent offender. These patches more or less make these released games Early Access in the sense that plenty are not feature complete. Maybe the developers needed the cash, maybe the release date was favorable to a developer in other ways, so they decided to release it anyway—some wonder if Street Fighter V was released early to allow some time for people to learn the game before Evo.
Imagine the day a developer defends their game against a review by arguing it isn't accurate because the reviewer didn't play the complete game. That the review lacked the context of a critical update ... Maybe they won't say it so blatantly, but it's not too hard for me to see that happening.
What do you think of day one patches? Do they have potential to be abused? What about reliance on further patching like Street Fighter V?