Phil Fish's development studio Polytron released a patch for Fez on June 22nd that fixed some issues with the game but created a really bad new one: Some players had their save game files corrupted. It's never good to lose your save file but for a game like Fez, where players solve puzzles and collect cubes to unlock forward progress, a save file corruption is an out-and-out disaster.
Polytron and Microsoft quickly pulled the patch from Xbox Live on June 24th. Now Phil Fish told the world on Wednesday that he is bringing back the June 22nd patch that leads to the save file corruption, but he won't be fixing the problem.
We're bringing the first FEZ patch online. It's the same patch.
We're not going to patch the patch.
Why not? Because Microsoft would charge us tens of thousands of dollars to re-certify the game.
And because it turns out, the save file delete bug only happens to less than a percent of players. It's a shitty numbers game to be playing for sure, but as a small independent, paying so much money for patches makes NO SENSE AT ALL.
I am not sure how Fish arrived at the figure of one percent considering the problem was originally reported as "fairly widespread," and also in light of Fish's comments shortly after the release of Fez that getting sales information out of Microsoft was quite difficult. Later in the post Fish says:
We believe the save file corruption issue mostly happened to players who had completed, or almost completed the game. If you hadn't already seen most of what FEZ had to offer, your save file is probably safe.
That doesn't sound quite as definite as less than a percent of players, and I see the word probably in there, but for sake of argument let's take him at face value and round up to one percent of players. Sure it would make no sense at all to Fish's bank account to fix his mistake, but it would make all the sense in the world for the 1% of his customers who could get screwed by a save file corruption. Phil Fish isn't saying that he can't patch Fez because he's out of money, he's telling the 1% that he's choosing not to.
To be fair, we are talking about a lot of money. Tim Schafer of Double Fine Productions shocked everyone back in February by saying it costs forty thousand dollars to patch a game on Xbox Live. There may be a conversation to be had about why it costs so much to publish a patch to an XBLA game, but my question is whether or not Phil Fish realized how much it would cost him to patch Fez on Xbox Live before he signed his exclusivity contract with Microsoft. I don't think Fish gets any special leeway here on account of being an indie developer. That feels contrary to everything the indie scene stands for in my eyes, and it's not how the indie developers I've met want to be treated.
Whenever I'm interviewing or hanging out with an indie developer I try to make it a point to ask them what they think of the word "indie". We don't refer to the developers who work at AAA studies by any collective label, so how does it feel to be a developer who has this indie label slapped on them? Most of the time I get a response along the lines of "I don't want to be thought of as an indie developer. I want to be thought of as a developer that makes great games."