Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Patch Day, Past and Present

Well, FozzieSov is live.  I won't have a chance to play with it until my alliance’s reinforcement timer is well under way.  I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it shortly.  But I wish everyone luck in updating safely and causing a ruckus with your entosis links!

But as I write “updating safely”, I realize it may sound odd to some newer players.  If you only started playing Eve in the past year, the 6-week release cycle is just par for the course.  You joined Eve at a time of great change, with significant, bedrock systems being torn apart and put back together again.  And I’m sure it seems like it’s hard to keep up with all these changes.  Just when you figure something out, it changes again.

I imagine you probably find the whole patch cycle pretty mundane.  But for older players, it wasn’t always so.

Officially, CCP calls these releases “expansions”, which implies widening of possibilities and a significant addition of new content.  While CCP has done a lot of good work over the past year, I’m not sure the adjustments really live up to the term “expansion”, at least not compared to the old expansions.

Back when CCP launched a new expansion every six months, they were momentous events.  On day, you’d be plugging away happily under the old system, and the next day, Boom!  Paradigm shift.  Supercarriers (originally called motherships, which is where “moms” come from).  Wormhole space.  Domionion Sov.  Walking In Stations (the dreaded Incarana!).  Incursions.

Okay, so they weren’t all hits with the players, but they were BIG.  And those were just some of the big ones.  Each expansion included a bunch of smaller adjustments and additions, many of which would serve as anchor changes for our current release cycle.  Dozens of systems and mechanics would change all at once, and the game would be wholly different after each expansion.

While CCP would release patches and fixes over the next six months, it was very likely that new content would only come with the expansions.  People would go crazy about them.  Eve would see significant upticks in subscribed accounts and logged-in characters right before patches.  The yearly cyclical “flow” of Eve was directly tied to these launches.

Reddit would explode with speculation and excitement.  Players would rush home to download the new patch.  Back then, you essentially had to install the entire game from scratch again, given the size of the new files.  2-3 GB wasn’t uncommon, and it would often take upwards of two hours for your client to fully update.  Patch day activity was usually limited as players sorted out their client.

But it wasn’t all excitement.  Odds were very good that, given the size of the files, CCP would break something or other.  The bug reports would come rolling in, and within a day or two you’d have another patch to address the issues.  That one wouldn’t take only perhaps half an hour to download and apply.

And in some cases, the update would cost you all of your settings.  Shortcuts, window positions, overview settings, and tutorial windows would all revert to their defaults, causing a headache as you desperately tried to remember which shortcut key you had set for each command.  One out of every two expansions messed these up for me, and it took hours to recover.  Part of patch-day preparations involved saving your settings and writing down all your customizations so you could adjust and repair them if necessary.

And more than once, the updater resulted in the game crashing entirely, resulting in hours or even days of downtime.  This was the time of 24-hr skill queues, meaning a lot of players’ queues would run out, costing them valuable training time.  More than once, CCP issued all players extra unallocated SP to compensate for these critical failures.  Players started reminding each other to, “set a long skill training”… just in case the worst happened.  This is the only way some players, like myself, ever got around to starting training Advanced Weapon Upgrades V and Jump Drive Calibration V.

Eventually, though, things would work out well, and players would start digesting all the new content. The theory-crafters and min-maxers would delight in identifying the best strategies and writing guides.  And players would explore all the nooks and crannies, discovering new things they could do and carefully refining them under a relatively stable environment for the next six months.

The old Eve expansion cycle clustered all of the excitement twice a year, with a long drought of longing and building frustration in between.  And the stakes of each expansion were very high.  Anticipation built up over six months, during which players hoped that “this expansion, they’ll address MY game!”  That hope either turned to a temporary delight or bitter disappointment as the expansion launched before the cycle would repeat.  Player emotion was always highly charged with each cycle.  This could be both a blessing if it works and a curse if the new features failed to resonate.

With the new (from my experience, at least, it’s new!) expansion cycle, CCP has shorted the time-to-market for each feature, and doled them out much more evenly across the year.  This has all sorts of positive effects.  No longer does resentment about “neglected” features build over six months.  CCP can shift their focus and make changes gradually to respond to player reactions in ways impossible under the old cycle.  And the even distribution of content ensures that there’s always something new for players to enjoy every month or so.

Let’s not forget that the new download-on-demand seems to have resolved all of the patch-day setting resets.  Now, I only get to experience that delight when my graphics card overheats and the client (and my computer) freezes.  Thank you, GarpaUI, for being so useful!

But I do miss the “kid on Christmas” experience of watching the old repair tool update bar creep towards 100%, the annoyance as it returned to 0% as the update was installed, and the delight at seeing a new image featuring the expansion name on the login screen.  By far, CCP’s process now is much better, more responsive, and of a much higher quality.

The unpredictability of what would happen added to the excitement in a way that enhanced my experience a little bit.  But part of me misses the magic of the old buggy, unwieldy expansion cycle, warts and all.


  1. I remember those days more or less fondly, too. The one big advantage of the old system was that we had time to absorb and adapt to the changes. With the current system, we're often still trying to wrap our brains around one change only for another to drop.

    But I wouldn't go back to the old system for love nor money :)

    I like the fact that the new system lets CCP get on with it and get fixes and new stuff out to us when ready without the huge delay. It makes it much more probable that issues get addressed. Even if I sometimes feel like a leaf in a hurricane :)

  2. *dons his robes of mourning, and a crazy wig*


    You've doomed us!





    CCP 2015: Just like ole' times

    Rob K.