Though every attempt is made to ensure a game is as bug-free on release as possible, it is almost guaranteed some errors will slip through the net. Testing by various parties, myself, QA teams, publishers and eventually users will throw up all manner of little quirks nobody else had noticed. Luckily in these days of digital distribution releasing patches is relatively easy!
That isn’t to say it can be taken lightly! First impressions matter and a lot of players will be put off entirely by a bug, no matter how small, if it ruins their enjoyment. They might even give up on the game entirely, their trust eroded.
Piczle Cross Adventure is available on Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam. Every build you send to Nintendo, whether it be the full game or a patch, goes through rigorous checking, called “lotcheck”. They cover various technical standards and do a bug check sweep as well. It is quite assuring to know Nintendo has a stringent set of rules and requirements before they let anything onto their eShop. Steam, too, does a check, but it is a lot faster and mostly automated. On top of that Steam also has a discussion forum and a review system, so it’s much easier to communicate with the players.
As such, Steam is the perfect live digital store to brush up your product with patches and fixes quickly and efficiently. If players have an issue you can ask them for more details – most players are very willing to help elucidate their problems to help you find the solution! A patch can be submitted and be available to everybody within minutes! Piczle Cross Adventure has had some good feedback on the Steam forums and some weird and unexpected issues have cropped up for some users, most of which I’ve been able to fix.
Once I’ve ironed out most of the more egregious bugs I can apply those to the Switch version too, which is what I’m currently working on, and deliver a batch of fixes in one go. The patch will have to be checked and approved, which, especially in these times, will take a little longer than one would like, but knowing I’ve fixed them in another live version, the one on Steam, gives a lot of confidence the Switch patch will deliver what it must.
Creating a patch itself is pretty much child’s play. I shan’t delve too much into technical details, partly because some of it is under NDA from the platform holders, but in short it goes a little like this:
Making sure I have a copy of my master project safely checked in on source control – clearly labeled as the currently live, submitted version – I tinker away at the game and do whatever I need; fixes, additions, deletions, you name it. Then I make a full build of the game again. Now it’d be pretty annoying if players had to re-download the whole game again for every patch, but luckily that’s not how it works.
Once uploaded to Steam, their backend does this automatically, but Nintendo provides developers with a tool that looks at the differences between the current version and this new version. Then it packages only that which is different between the two, and that is the patch. This is the file Steam players download, or that I have to submit to Nintendo for testing.
It is good to not make too many small incremental patches, as it will annoy the player who is asked to continuously download new data, and the platform holders who have to run your patches through their processes every time.
The goal is always to make the player experience as smooth as possible. As long as no game-breaking, enjoyment-ruining bugs slip through then at least a minimum standard has been met. But as always a lot of people will chip in to ensure every Piczle title can be as enjoyable as possible, even if we can never truly catch each and every bug before release.