We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Join me as I begin the week here at the NLSC with my opinions and commentary on basketball gaming topics, as well as tales of the fun I’ve been having on the virtual hardwood. This week, I’m tipping things off with a few thoughts on the amount of patches that modern basketball video games – primarily NBA 2K – tend to receive.
One of the interesting changes within the basketball gaming community is the general reaction to official patches. In the early days of the genre, when patches were only available for the PC releases, we were usually excited and grateful to get them. This of course can be ascribed to their rarity. It often took petitions and prompting from the community to get those title updates, usually accompanied by a laundry list of bugs and other issues. Even so, not every NBA Live, or other PC release for that matter, would receive an official patch.
While we’re still glad to see official patches and desire the fixes they potentially bring, it’s fair to say that there’s more cynicism and wariness surrounding those updates. It’s not unheard of for patches to break the game, either by introducing a new bug, or by making an undesirable change to the gameplay. It’s raised the question as to how many patches per year are ideal. Between their size on console and the possibility of unwanted changes, too many patches can potentially lead to inconsistent quality and cumbersome downloads. On the other hand, too few title updates can leave several issues unresolved. With that in mind, what is the ideal number of patches to receive?
Well, one might easily reply with a stock rhetorical question here: “how long is a piece of string?” Or, to put it another way, it’s impossible to have a definitive answer given the factors and variables at play. For example, I don’t think we can universally state that anything less than five patches would be insufficient, while any more than that would be excessive. It depends on the game, the issues that need to be fixed, and whether any hotfixes are required to resolve problems caused by an update. There’s also the matter of live service content, which is now seasonal in NBA 2K. A patch is usually required to update the game, and prepare it for the forthcoming content.
This means that in addition to the day one patch and a couple of major post-launch fixes, NBA 2K will likely receive at least twelve official updates. On the surface, this sounds excessive. However, when a majority of them are the monthly to six-weekly Season updates for MyTEAM and MyCAREER, the main inconvenience is the size rather than constant changes to the game. As much as gamers loathe the practice of the day one patch, as someone who’s been gaming for decades, it’s preferable to waiting weeks or even months for essential fixes. There’s usually call for at least a couple of big fixes as well, so a total of ten to twelve per game isn’t unacceptable.
Indeed, while I’ve opened this topic by questioning how many patches would be too many, the real issue is the content and aims of each update. Twelve patches may seem excessive compared to five, but if those five updates make constant and undesirable changes to the gameplay without really fixing anything, they’re far more damaging than twelve updates that address key issues, don’t meddle too much with gameplay, and prepare the game for new live service content at regular intervals. Similarly, if a patch leaves a game in an inferior state, there should be at least one more update that rolls back a mistake, or implements a more satisfactory fix to finalise the experience.
NBA Live 19 and NBA Live 10 are great examples of games that needed at least one more patch to be the best they could be. Sure, NBA Live 10 remains a classic, and NBA Live 19 retains a dedicated userbase despite its age and issues. However, the second patch for NBA Live 10 ruined alley-oops, and introduced an issue where the CPU often won’t improvise if a play breaks down. NBA Live 19’s final patch ruined shooting for solo play, as AI defenders are too adept at sticking with their man and recovering to take away green releases, which shot making was highly dependent on. One more patch, one less patch, or a better final patch, could’ve solved these issues.
To that point, the answer to the original question is “however many patches it takes to get everything right”. Once again, that comes down each patch leaving the game in a better state than before – at least in the eyes of the majority of the userbase – and the final update not introducing any new problems that a game will now be stuck with. This also spotlights a problem with title updates being pushed through automatically. Although it greatly reduces the risk of missing a patch, it also makes it harder to keep or roll back to an old version. When we had to manually download patches for PC releases, we could simply choose not to install them if we preferred the default game.
Mind you, even if the final patch leaves a game in a desirable state, the changes in between can be problematic, leading to inconsistent quality. NBA 2K17 is a great example of this. I enjoyed my time with 2K17 and I have fun revisiting it with the final update in place, but there were moments during the year where the experience suffered due to the most recent gameplay tweaks. I recall a few 2K Pro-Am sessions where we all remarked that the game didn’t feel as good as it had before the latest patch. We also encountered a couple of bugs after some of the title updates, such as wearing our opponents’ uniforms if we were the road team in our next matchup.
Of course, there’s something else to consider here as well, particularly in NBA 2K. In between the title updates – the patches that come through the console dashboard or Steam client – there are in-game updates. These are the ones that ask you to return to the main menu (or flat out kick you there) with a pop-up in the game itself. They’re usually comprised of roster and content updates, but they also contain tuning fixes that come through independently of the aforementioned official patches. Some of the changes – both desirable and undesirable – come from those in-game updates, so it’s not always accurate to blame (or credit) the official patches for certain changes.
Even if title updates aren’t making sweeping changes to the on-court experience, if we’re talking about frequency, then we certainly don’t want to have a new patch thrust upon us every week or fortnight. Following the day one patch, a large update that resolves some of the most pressing issues, followed by another major fix within the first month to six weeks – i.e. after everyone’s had a chance to adjust to the game and identify legitimate problems – seems ideal. As long as MyTEAM and MyCAREER feature Seasons, then the requisite regular live service content updates are also to be expected. Again, this probably amounts to around twelve official patches per year.
Again, as someone who remembers having to beg and petition for patches back in the day, with patches often being underwhelming if indeed we got them, I actually kind of prefer the current approach. Yes, it isn’t great that almost every game launches in need of a day one patch. It’s inevitable with such a short development cycle though, and preferable to launching with issues that won’t be resolved for at least a month, if not longer. Yes, the patches add up even if we don’t count the ones that are primarily content-based, but we’re less likely to see games left in a broken state. It happens – again, see NBA Live 10 and 19 – but hotfixes and further updates are more common.
Certainly, if a game is receiving ten major patches in addition to the regular content updates, it’s probably a sign that the game launched with numerous issues, and the developers haven’t been able to efficiently fix them. At the same time, it’s better to get those fixes than have the developers throw up their hands and decide to wait until the next game to resolve the problems. While it may not be a good look and it’s somewhat frustrating in its own way, it’s generally better to have too many patches than too few. While it arguably increases the chances of undesirable changes, it’s also more likely that mistakes will be corrected, including those introduced by previous title updates.
Moving forward, I do believe there are ways that official patches for NBA 2K can be improved upon. As I’ve said before, I’m in favour of the developers standing firm on any changes that discourage cheesers. They have all the leverage in the marketplace right now (and have for years), so if the cheesers pout because they can’t cheese, then…well, tough cheese! At the same time, I don’t want them to be so inflexible that they won’t listen to well-reasoned critique that would improve upon the gameplay experience that they’re aiming for. It’s a balancing act made even tougher by the volume at which the wrong voices bleat, but it’s vital that they do their best.
Another major issue is the size of NBA 2K’s updates. I realise that Microsoft and Sony have their own standards and requirements that may present challenges, but it’s never a good look when a patch that makes minimal changes weighs in at 20 GB or more. Download speeds and data caps may not be as big of a problem as they used to be, but they’re still a concern for some gamers. On top of that, such a large update brings expectations of major fixes and content updates. Having to download a 25+ GB hotfix a few days after the initial 25+ GB title update is extremely frustrating, even on a fast connection. If there’s any way to improve this, it would be welcome.
Much like everything else, when it comes to official patches, it’s a matter of quality over quantity. As long as title updates are improving the game and fixing issues as soon as possible, that’s what’s important. Ideally they shouldn’t be coming through too often, but the right number is however many it takes to get the game in the best state possible. Sure, it’s annoying to be hit with a 20+ GB download too often, but I’ll take that over games receiving minimal post-release support, and saving all of the fixes to sell next year’s release. There can certainly be an excessive number of patches, but as long as they make improvements, it’s better to have too many of them than too few.