It has been a long standing Microsoft policy to charge developers in order to patch any titles on the Xbox 360. The first update or patch would be free, but after that it would cost a studio tens of thousands of dollars if they needed to make any additional updates. While this policy was in place to prevent developers from releasing half finished games and just updating them over and over again, in actuality what it was most effective at accomplishing was angering and alienating indie developers. The arbitrary one chance cut-off proved to be draconian in many cases, and essentially stopped many smaller studios from being able to fix their game as they couldn’t afford to make the necessary changes.
One of the companies most notoriously impacted by this policy was Polytron and their indie hit Fez. They issued a patch for Fez back in July 2012 which had the unfortunate side effect of corrupting the save data of a small percentage of players. Unfortunately, the patch had remain unpatched for a year now simply because it didn’t make fiscal sense for Polytron to fix it. Stating that the fix would cost the independent studio a “ton of money,” it made more sense for the company to just apologize to the small few it hurt and save their limited funding for other avenues. It was business decisions like this that drove some indie studios (including Polytron) into the welcoming arms of Sony and threatened to further damage Microsoft’s image in the gaming community. When asked what platforms the upcoming Fez 2 would be appearing on, Fez creator Phil Fish stated, “not Xbox.” Not only was the cost of fixing games too high, but Microsoft also does not allow indie developers to self-publish. Either out of ignorance or apathy, Microsoft was creating a hostile and unwelcoming environment for small studios, and it is little wonder that these developers began shopping their games to other platforms.
While plenty has been made about Microsoft’s about-face on DRM and always on connection for the Xbox One, another recent policy change that has not been receiving as much attention is the abandonment of the “fixing fee” associated with patching games. It might seem like a relatively minor alteration, but the effects are already being felt. That patch Fez has been waiting a year for? Phil Fish confirmed yesterday via Twitter that they are already working on it. There is as of yet no anticipated date for the patch, but it is going to happen and Xbox 360 owners will no longer be stuck with the inferior maybe possibly broken version of the game. Microsoft still reserves the right to charge companies if they feel the patching is becoming excessive, but now small indie developers will no longer feel the pinch if they happened to make a single mistake on their initial patch. The policy change might not be big news itself, but if it represents a genuine attitude shift in the way Microsoft treats indie developers, then perhaps Microsoft stands a chance at winning back some of those indie devs they lost to Sony. The restriction on self publication still needs to change, but this was a step in the right direction and an abandonment of bad policy (something Microsoft seems to be doing a lot of these days).