Fez is a breaker. It breaks perceptions with its world-shifting play, it breaks brains with its intense puzzles, and it breaks wills as its difficulty ramps up. Like many games though, it was a little broken itself when it came out back in April. Fez needed a patch to fix some niggling problems. Clean up the framerate so it runs a little smoother, squash some bugs that cause the game to crash, remove places where you can die forever in an ongoing black hole loop. Developer Polytron did release a patch to fix these things in June, but the patch broke more than it fixed. In fact, it corrupted save games making it impossible to play the game through at all.
The patch was removed from Xbox Live, but now it’s back and it won’t be fixed because, according to creator Phil Fish, Microsoft wants way too much money to fix it.
“We’re not going to patch the patch,” said Fish on Polytron’s blog, “Why not? Because Microsoft would charge us tens of thousands of dollars to re-certify the game. And because, as it turns out, the file delete bug only happens to less than one percent of players. It’s a shitty numbers game for sure, but as a small independent, paying so much money for patches makes no sense at all.”
Polytron’s problem demonstrates just how forbidding Microsoft’s digital retail infrastructure is to independent developers. Competing services simply don’t erect the same barriers between creators and cost-effective development.
“Had Fez been released on Steam instead of XBLA, the game would have been fixed two weeks after release, at no cost to us,” explained Fish, “And there was an issue with the patch, we could have fixed that right away too! Microsoft gave us a choice: Either pay a ton of money to re-certify the game and issue a new patch (which we all know could introduce new issues, for which we’d need yet another costly patch), or simply put the patch back online. 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.”
Microsoft is going to have to change the way it works with independent developers on Xbox Live if it plans to maintain a varied and strong library in the future. Where Xbox Live Arcade could be run however the company liked 5 years ago, it’s no longer the only digital storefront in the living room. Apple’s iTunes App Store and others are infiltrating through Smart TVs and set top boxes, so Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo need to embrace the sales models used by those compeptitors and especially Valve if they hope to survive.