It's Crazy How Small Video Game Patches Are

Illustration for article titled Its Crazy How Small Video Game Patches Are

I got a piece of mail and it changed my perspective on one of gaming’s biggest trends.

Today, when I went to routinely check my mailbox, which is usually filled with junk, I found this glossy postcard. At first glance, I presumed it was the aforementioned waste of natural resources, but I noticed text boxed in that said ‘OFFICIAL VEHICLE RECALL INFORMATION’ (not pictured) and my interests were rightfully piqued.

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It turns out that my front passenger airbag has some sort of faulty inflator that could make it “explode” at any time. You know, because life wasn’t exciting enough, so let’s add some spice with your car’s safety devices. On my porch in the muggy haze of summers in Maine, I couldn’t help but chuckle and almost morosely remark to myself that this was like Subaru patching their car. I had just spent the morning covering the launch of No Man’s Sky’s massive patch ‘Next’, so updated games were already on the mind.

And then I took a moment to think about the logistics of what quickly became a massive undertaking just to get this postcard into my hands. First, someone had to notice that there was a problem. The embolden text enlightening me of the possibility of SERIOUS INJURY or DEATH lead me to believe that those events are what brought the inflator issue to Subaru’s intention; I hope they were both minimal.

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I imagine engineers at both Subaru and Takata, the manufacturer of the airbag system in many types of cars, not just Subarus, set out to confirm that the fault was in the hardware and not caused by an external variable. Once the malfunction was confirmed, the manufacturers had to partner with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), if they weren’t already involved. At some point, I’m sure they had to develop a solution for the problem, but it’s far above my pay grade to determine where in the process that came into play; these are all just things I figured had to have happened to make this recall possible.

Once the Automobile Avengers were assembled, records had to be searched to determine who needed to partake in the recall. That would, presumably, involve going to each state and asking for everyone who owned a 2007 Subaru Impreza in my case because we all register our vehicles with our respective state governments, not the federal government. Of course, it isn’t just Subarus effected; the NHTSA says “tens of millions of vehicles” are affected. With the information compiled, recall materials had to be produced and sent to all the motorists who are unaware of the predicament they are in.

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Meanwhile, Takata and the producers of every affected model have to mass produce the replacement parts to uphold the integrity of their products. Because the repair is FREE (which is more clearly emphasized than death or serious injury, which is kinda fucked in its own special way) the parties involved with fixing the problem are likely the ones who will have to eat the costs. The postcard also mentions loaner vehicle options, which involves a whole other industry in this debacle. Then I start to think about the impending tariffs on foreign car parts, as promised by President Trump, and it’s easy to think that the tax adds a timeline to this whole process to avoid incurring additional loses because of some larger trade war. And furthermore...

Ok, I could prognosticate further, but my point is that to ‘patch’ a vehicle must be such a large and arduous task. And just like that, the whole controversy of patching games rolled away like a receding tide. Video game patches, particularly Day 1 updates, haven’t been as much of a hot-button issue as they were a few years ago, but the question “why don’t they finish their game before releasing”, never goes unasked even today. This isn’t meant to diminish the importance or seriousness of patches in games; No Man’s Sky did just receive new life yesterday after all because of a patch. There are plenty of issues to discuss around patches and updates, specifically on how we preserve games in the modern era when iterations of titles are lost to the general public (which you should discuss in the comments below), but patches in games rarely require so many levels of bureaucracy on a global scale. Then again, people are dying.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to text “FIX” to 888-232-4576.

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