On 22 June, indie developer Polytron issued a patch for their delightful puzzle-platformer Fez. While their Xbox LIVE Arcade exclusive was a treat to play at launch, it had a few bugs that needed ironing out. The 22 June patch, however, caused “fairly widespread” issues for users because it identified save files as being corrupted. This resulted in Polytron and Microsoft pulling the game’s first patch so that the patch could be patched – “YAY GAME DEVELOPMENT!” Polytron posted on their website shortly after breaking the news.
It’s been nearly a month since that patch went live, wrecked save files for some people and then got pulled. Polytron has now announced that they won’t be fixing the patch, but will instead be re-issuing the 22 June patch unaltered.
Why are they putting back a dodgy patch and, more alarmingly, leaving the game in a permanently broken state? “Because Microsoft would charge us tens of thousands of dollars to re-certify the game.”
And here you have one of the biggest hurdles to publishing your indie game on Xbox 360: Microsoft charges for everything a developer does, even if that means fixing the game.
Polytron hasn’t been idle these past few weeks; they’ve been identifying issues that the 22 June patch caused and they’ve since determined that “the save file delete bug only happens to less than a percent of players,” which they readily admit is a “shitty numbers game to be playing”.
Polytron simply cannot afford to patch the patch for the amount that Microsoft is charging. This means that for the one percent of Fez players out there, all save progress will be lost. Polytron was able to narrow down this one percent as people “who had completed, or almost completed the game”. For the other 99% the patch will provide a host of great fixes.
Obviously the indie team is unhappy about the situation and they “sincerely apologize” to the “less-than-1% who are getting screwed”. Still, the whole situation seems to have highlighted some interesting things for them, such as how different things would have been had they published Fez on PC via Steam instead:
“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!”
Polytron also took this moment to remind people that publishing on Microsoft’s console incurs massive costs, which is part of the reason why they cannot afford to patch the patch:
“We already owe Microsoft a LOT of money for the privilege of being on their platform. People often mistakenly believe that we got paid by Microsoft for being exclusive to their platform. Nothing could be further from the truth. WE pay THEM.”