Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 26, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 26, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


XBLA re-certification price too costly for  Fez  team
XBLA re-certification price too costly for Fez team
July 19, 2012 | By Mike Rose

July 19, 2012 | By Mike Rose
Comments
    25 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing



The costly price of re-certifying Xbox Live Arcade games and releasing a new patch for a game on the digital service is holding Fez developer Polytron back from fixing a game-breaking bug.

Platform puzzler Fez was released on Xbox 360 back in April to glowing reviews, although the game contained a number of save-file corruption issues and game crashing bugs. An update was released last month to fix these issues, but was quickly taken down again when it came to light that the patch was leading to corrupted saves for some users.

Polytron's Phil Fish has now explained on the studio's blog that a new patch will not be supplied anymore as it is simply too expensive to release new patches for Xbox 360. Instead, the original patch has been put back online.

"We're not going to patch the patch," he explained, "because Microsoft would charge us tens of thousands of dollars to re-certify the game."

He reasoned that the save-corruption bug is only happening to a very small percent of players, and that paying Microsoft for the patch would make no sense for Polytron.

"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," he said, "especially when you consider the alternative. 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!"

He continued, "We believe the current patch is safe for an overwhelming majority of players... To the less-than-1 percent who are getting screwed, we sincerely apologize. We know this hurts you the most, because you're the ones who put the most times into the game."

He noted that Microsoft considers the original patch to be "good enough" for release, hence why the publisher allowed the patch to go back out.

"People often mistakenly believe that we got paid by Microsoft for being exclusive to their platform," he finished. "Nothing could be further from the truth. We pay them."


Related Jobs

Digital Extremes
Digital Extremes — London, Ontario, Canada
[10.25.14]

Character Artist
Digital Extremes
Digital Extremes — London, Ontario, Canada
[10.25.14]

Sound Designer
Disruptor Beam, Inc.
Disruptor Beam, Inc. — Framingham, Massachusetts, United States
[10.25.14]

Lead 3D Artist
Red 5 Studios
Red 5 Studios — Orange County, California, United States
[10.24.14]

Graphics Programmer










Comments


E Zachary Knight
profile image
This is the kind of stuff that makes developing for the OUYA so appealing. There will be no such high costs to fix a game in its store.

Jane Castle
profile image
It's always easy to look through rose tinted glasses.....

Chuck Bartholomew
profile image
I don't understand why a bug fix costs tens of thousands of dollars to certify. Its not like they are making a content change. Seems like Microsoft should have a better path for supplying bug fixes to players.

Hearing about things like this definitely makes an open console platform like OUYA more attractive. Thanks, Microsoft!

John Jennings
profile image
@ Chuck

Actually, MS let Content updates (i.e. if you're only adding or changing data) get released to Xbox Live for free. It's only changes to the executable that incur re-certification fees.

I imagine the fees are designed to make publishers a little more thorough with their QA process prior to releasing a game. Otherwise there'd be the temptation to 'release it now, we'll fix the bugs later as consumers find them'. And since it costs money for MS to apply QA staff to checking updates, it's only fair that the cost gets passed along to the publisher.

MS do give you one update for free though. It's only the second update that they start charging for.

Bart Stewart
profile image
Hmm. Suppose a game was implemented as a relatively small engine that reads and interprets a lot of behavior from external script files. Would those files be considered data, so that changing them would not cause the recert fee to kick in?

Andrew Grapsas
profile image
Bart, there's a good chance that wouldn't fly. Not sure about the specific restrictions for MS/Sony; but, many platforms do not allow interpreted code.

If they do, we usually compile them before ship, as interpreting is slow.

Jeff Murray
profile image
So, Fez made zero cash? Polytron are broke?

Have Polytron actually NOT been paid by Microsoft, or is it that all the money has gone into paying back debt from the 5 year dev time?


Todd Boyd
profile image
Well, if you take Phil's word for it (which I see no reason not to), they were never paid a dime to be exclusive to XBLA.

Jean-Michel Vilain
profile image
Why did they chose to go on XBLA? They could very well be on a more open platform: the PC.
Steam suits more their mood.

Mike Griffin
profile image
Early on in Fez development, thanks to Microsoft's quickly expanding interest in growing their XBLA catalogue and the publicity Fez was receiving at conferences, Polytron was able to 'reserve' a prime slot on XBLA at no cost. Prime storefront space at release, prime visibility in Microsoft's XBLA promos.

I believe this was the one major gesture/assistance provided by MS to Polytron for Fez, to secure the initial XBLA exclusivity.

Otherwise, Phil & Renaud had been relying on personal and local studio (i.e., Trapdoor - their co-publisher) investments throughout Fez, with a sprinkle of travel, PR and marketing aid from MS.

From my own chats with Phil in the past, I believe the XBLA exclusivity for Fez does indeed run out at some point -- although it may remain a 'console' exclusive to 360.

With Phil mentioning it above, they're probably dying for that exclusivity to wear off so a Steam version can go ahead.

Jean-Michel Vilain
profile image
Well. Saying stuffs like "PCs are for spreadsheets" deserves him more hate. Period.

Eric McVinney
profile image
@Joe - Oh wait, what's this? The 360 controller can plug into the USB on my PC? Oh my, that IS convenient :D And it plays just like a console, too! Mind = Blown

Jane Castle
profile image
@Jean-Michel I put many of his controversial comments to immaturity and youthful exuberance. However, I think he is in his late twenties, so the window for this to be the excuse is quickly closing....

Aaron Fowler
profile image
I believe the developers mentioned that the experience of Fez had a better feel and was more suited for using a controller rather than a keyboard and mouse. While it is true that controllers can be used for PC gaming, not all PC gamers have a controller for their PC. Either way, I would have loved to see Fez be released for the PC.

Daye Williams
profile image
I really hate this, since I seen FEZ I wanted them to blossom as a company & become a major player in the future. Phil & his studio have been taking so many hits since FEZ went gold, Microsoft basically has Polytron's revenue stream plugged into their system so it's scary for Polytron right now, they're really in a hard place because what about the long term? If there rev-stream is jacked into paying back Microsoft than what about funding their future? It sucks shit. I would hate for them to become absorbed in Microsoft Studios just to save themselves u__u..that would be the worse.

Port FEZ to PC now! My Steam wallet is waiting for you Phil

Wojciech Lekki
profile image
Hi guys! Sorry but in my opinion in this case the problem is not about "getting it right the first time" not about Microsoft not paying developers their royalties or about console exclusivity.

The problem is that certification on XBLA is EXTREAMLY expensive and EXTREAMLY time consuming for small developers. I know this fist hand since I'm developing an XBLA game at the very moment :)

The whole Xbox certification process is designed for big budget productions that were meant to be shipped on DVD's in hundreds of thousands of copies to users without any internet connection (so they cannot get a patch). Later on when XBLA was introduced MS used the same procedure also for smaller downloadable games which is a very bad idead on the long run. Documentation for certification is about 300 pages and is quite unprecise in many cases. It takes about two weeks of experienced testers time to test the game only at the MS side. Because of the MS policy ANY change to the game (code or assets) requires a resubmission and a full testing cycle (with only a few exceptions for DLC etc.) This policy in reality means that even if you want to change one word in the game you need to go through weeks of testing against ALL of the requirements. This of course costs thousands of even tens of thousands of dollars (just calclate the time of several testers testing the game for two weeks).

The problem here is that execs at Microsoft do not understand this issue or doesn't care or whatever else they might be doing at this time. In reality it means that more and more indie developers are turning away from XBLA because it is a slaughter house to go though all that corporate processes.

The best solution for MS that I see here is to stop being a control freak and do something like Steam is doing. Basically they let developers patch or update their games whenever they see fit. In practice this results with a much better customer service because this kind of fixed can be introduced practically overnight. They should trust that someone who spent years on developing a game will try to fix it as soon as possible and as good as possible. Since this is all internet connected every change can be pulled off anyway.

The bottleneck here is Microsoft procedures and nothing else!

Mike Smith
profile image
"People often mistakenly believe that we got paid by Microsoft for being exclusive to their platform," he finished. "Nothing could be further from the truth. We pay them."

Did MS give them marketing / placement in the dashboard in exchange for exclusivity? Or did Polytron have to purchase all that as well? If MS did, that's similar to giving them money since it makes a massive difference in sales. If MS didn't do anything for them for being an exclusive, then that seems foolish on the part of Polytron.

On another note, yes, FEZ does have a lot of bugs. I was excited to play it when it came out and still think it's fun and a good game, but it's easily the buggiest game I have ever played on Xbox 360. I was shocked at all the bugs I ran into. While I don't like all the ridiculous costs of submitting patches, MS isn't responsible for the bugs in the game.

Mike Griffin
profile image
See my earlier post. The MS arrangement was about elite placement (guaranteed premium release slot) and exposure on XBLA, but almost nothing else was a free ride.

Josh Foreman
profile image
I just watch Indie Game: The Movie earlier this week, and Fish was one of the main folks in there. This story certainly fits the impression I got from the movie.

Rick Kolesar
profile image
While limiting the amount of updates a game can have (or charging to update the games) might of been a good rule back when the 360 launched, it doesn't work for current games. Games like Minecraft, Team Fortress 2, League of Legends, and others update frequently not because they are broke, but to keep the game fresh and the players happy.

But for Xbox, they need to protect their console. They want to give the users the best and easiest experience when playing games on their system. Part of the appealing for playing games on a console is to have a smooth experience and not have to worry about drivers/resolution/control setup; hit A and the game goes! This is why Xbox tests everything because they are putting their stamp of approval on it. And if the game locks up or you lose you save game, the majority of the public turns to Xbox (not the game studio) to complain and ask for a fix.

Let's just hope MS gets rid of that price or brings it way down for updates/patches for the next console cycle (or sooner).

Wojciech Lekki
profile image
The "Microsot Stamp" doesn't seems to work since they release a game that has critical issues.

Since they are testing everything themselves - they are as much responsible for releasing a buggy game as the developer. So why does the full price for releasing fixes falls onto the developer?

Ultimately the developer can't afford to pay for MS buereocracy and the consumer is the one to bear the consequences.

A S
profile image
Yeah this isn't really an MS issue or a Polytron issue because both sides have logical positions. It's just not clear cut. It sucks that they have to go through such a thorough testing procedure but that is part of the conditions necessary to run on the XBox. Even a single buffer overrun could open the console up to hacking, and while I understand a lot of people wouldn't see that as such a bad thing, from MS point of view that would be a catastrophe. So they have to be extensive in their testing to protect their platform, and also the UX.

Polytron on the other hand want to fix their game, but missed what is one those bugs that is -just- low enough incidence to make it through initial testing, but big enough that it gets a lot of attention in the wild. 1% is a really painful number here, cause its too big to really call it a niche bug, but I can totally see how a 2 man dev team couldn't catch that (I'm less forgiving on the MS testing procedure for letting it through).

I am not really sure what to do. They can't open the platform to unmanaged content updates because, and this is the crux, the XBox platform is "owned" (in the corporate sense, meaning they have responsibility for it) by MS. Your PC is "owned" by yourself. If the PC messes up cause of a steam updated game, well that's something you deal with. If your XBox messes up due to an unmanaged binary update, well that is MS problem through and through.

tldr; It's a tough problem. No one is really to blame, and there's no clear solution.

Jean-Michel Vilain
profile image
Like you say, 1% is huge in fact. And I guess this percentage will increase more and more.
If they love their game more than money, they really should patch the game.
Unless all they want is making more noize around Fez...

Matt Small
profile image
Totally agree that the patching process on 360 is pretty broken, and stupid expensive and cumbersome.

That said, it's not a surprise. Polytron knew what they were getting into. When you make a game for console, you have to get it right the first time -- or close enough that you can maybe squeak through with that one free patch. You have to schedule in extra testing time, and make sure that, if you don't have the resources in house for QA, you contract that out to a group with the resources to catch those 1% critical issues.

Agree with Jean-Michel above: Ultimately it's Polytron's responsibility. You can't just release broken product -- even inadvertantly -- and then just throw up your hands and say you can't afford to fix it. The right thing to do is to grit their teeth, write the check, and fix the problem.

Raymond Grier
profile image
Polytron knows it has a problem, Microsoft isn't making it easier for them to fix...Microsoft's own procedures for ensuring quality are back-firing on them. If Microsoft is serious about ensuring quality then it should remove the barriers that prevent errors from being fixed.


none
 
Comment: