Sony released its highly anticipated Playstation 4 console at midnight on Nov. 15, and, while substantial reports of errors have not emerged, an immediate firmware update required by the console did prompt some confusion and high-flying accusations. The day-one patch provided an interesting opportunity to consider the effects of different software development decisions and the increasingly prevalent practice of requiring such patches for consoles.
The PS4 software update version 1.50 is a 300MB download that enables much-touted console features such as remote play, second screen functions, recording and broadcasting options for gameplay, the ability to play games as they are downloading, multiple logins, voice chat, face recognition, a background music player, Blu-ray and DVD activation and, crucially, online multiplayer play. Several other previously announced features are still not available and will be offered as future updates, the vendor announced.
Given the size of the download, which users were immediately prompted to make, and the volume of new activations, some users experienced connectivity problems after first purchasing their consoles, Ars Technica reported. Several gaming websites had advised players to download the update on their computers and install via USB. Adding to the confusion, game publisher Electronic Arts mistakenly posted a notice on its support site attributing “stability issues” across all games that were “causing crashing/freezing and non-responsive connections between the player’s console and their TV screen” to the firmware update, Polygon reported. The company later unpublished the post and apologized.
The new landscape of day-one patches
Nonetheless, the series of incidents suggested some of the difficulties associated with requiring users to immediately download patches for new consoles. Last year, Nintendo received widespread complaints for a large day-one patch for its Wii U that took many users hours or days to complete. Microsoft will face a similar challenge with the imminent release of its Xbox One console, which will also require a day-one patch to address changes with its DRM technology and other features.
Such patches are in many ways a necessity for vendors to continue refining software features in the final days leading up to a console’s release and in the immediate period thereafter, when manufacturing has already begun. With more devices becoming Internet-connected, the practice isn’t limited to game consoles, although the results of such high-profile launches are likely instructive to other vendors. A day-one patch may be a valuable way to avoid launch-day snafus such as those that hit games like “Sim City” and “Diablo 3”, but it could be the reason for them. As the practice becomes standard, developers need to determine the approaches that help them meet their quality goals for firmware. It’s one thing to release a day-one patch to introduce new features; it’s another to release it to fix flawed software. Regardless of where they are in the development process, vendors and game developers can benefit from using tools such as static analysis to catch coding flaws and fix other potential errors. The day-one patch may be a new reality, but it’s only part of the toolset needed to make sure software works as intended on day one.
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