Patches should, in all honesty, be the easiest thing in the world for online games to handle. You have a word that means patch, so you either just go with “patch” or a synonym, like “update.” Heck, you can even use seasons or issues if it’s appropriate for your game. Then, you put a number after that. You can even put multiple numbers. If I log into World of Warcraft and see that I’m playing patch 7.1.5, I know that I’m on the seventh expansion, first major patch, partway through the minor patches before the next big patch.
So why are so many games so bad at this?
Like I said, I don’t mind that, say, Star Trek Online has the patches labeled “Season 11.5,” because that’s just as easy to unpack. I’m talking about games where it’s completely unclear how patches are supposed to be ordered. Case in point… well, the entirety of this list, really. Just let me show you.
1. Albion Online
I don’t like when a game just names a patch after my wife, since I’m pretty sure no one on the development team actually knows my wife. But these patch names aren’t even relevant names; they’re just words that don’t seem to tie into the theme unless you really squint and struggle with it to see it’s kinda sorta alphabetical. It’s like naming your game’s patches like an iMac from the turn of the century, and I really don’t want to have to figure out if Grape is a more advanced patch than Samantha.[Albion’s team contacted us after this article ran to clarify that “AO is loosely based on the Arthurian novels and draws some inspiration and the general idea of the ‘theme’ from there. All larger content update names are actually drawn from those novels, they’re always names of characters from there, in alphabetical order.” Which is actually neat!]
2. Final Fantasy XI
Oh, awesome, the January Version Update. It’s not like January shows up frequently or anything. This was a silly naming scheme back when the game patched on a slower basis, but now that the patches are small and more or less monthly, it’s even more obnoxious. Numbers, guys. Come on.
The obvious defense here is to just append the version update with the year, of course… and if that had been something that ever actually happened, it would mean something. Nope, it’s just “[MONTH] Version Update” every time, meaning that trying to search for specific updates is a never-ending exercise in frustration.
3. DC Universe Online
The problem with DC Universe Online isn’t that it has game updates or episodes in an unclear order, no. Both of those are labeled quite clearly and comprehensibly. The problem is it has both, and they’re labeled completely separately, which means that it’s always just a little ambiguous about what an update actually contains. I think I understand the intent behind it, but the net result is just… confusion. That should not be an end goal, and if that’s where your game ends up, you should send the patch naming schematic back to someone to fix things because it’s not done yet.
4. EVE Online
I can’t say that EVE Online suffers from the random-word syndrome I railed against up above. But it does have a serious problem with the fact that it has every single patch labeled based almost entirely upon expansion, and those expansions don’t follow any sort of natural sequence. Moreover, what the game calls “expansions” are what most games just call “large content updates,” making the whole thing even more unclear.
Having said all of that, I suppose “during the Incarna period” sounds slightly better than “back during patch 4.4,” so points for that.
5. Elite: Dangerous
When an MMO has an expansion, what typically happens is that all subsequent patches conform to that numbering scheme. So when The Burning Crusade came out, the first patch after that was patch 2.1. If you still didn’t have the expansion, the patched version was still 2.1; you just couldn’t access expansion-only features, although you still had the same patch. Simple, straightforward, and apparently not good enough for Elite: Dangerous, which appears to instead have entirely different patches for the unexpanded versions of the game and the expansion version.
If that’s not the case, of course, then the patches are so confusing that I can’t actually tell otherwise. Which means that it still qualifies. Yes, I know it’s a buy-to-play game, but even Guild Wars managed to get this right.
6. Guild Wars 2
The sequel to Guild Wars, on the other hand…
On some level, I understand why Guild Wars 2 adopted a weird patch naming schematic; back when the game was doing updates every week with the depth of a birdbath it didn’t make sense to kick up a version update every time. That’s understandable. It was still a bad scheme, though, and now that the game has scaled back to slower and more substantial updates, it becomes really hard to keep track of what was added when. At least most of the names are fairly descriptive, though, so points for that.
7. Final Fantasy XIV
Aw, guys, come on. You learned your lesson about numbers, that’s great. We have numbers. We have separate patch titles, so we still get snazzy banners and all that, since it’s hard to make “patch 4.2” explode dramatically in a trailer. It should be quite clear, at a glance, what version the game is on, and in large part that’s correct.
But then we get into the nonsense of “patch 3.45” and I can’t help but get twitchy because you can add additional decimals. That’s, like, the whole point of these numbers. You can have your smaller intermediary patches be distinct from big patches. Labeling the small patch like that actually introduces a lack of clarity that doesn’t need to be there. It’s a little point of frustration, I suppose, but it frustrates me so much.
I have never understood, for the life of me, what version of Warframe is live at any given time. Even when writing about the game. I don’t understand the game’s patch structure at all. For all I know, it has never patched. You could tell me that it’s all still the same version and I would believe you.
Please don’t actually do that; it would be cruel and I have enough problems.
9. ARK: Survival Evolved
I don’t mean to pick on just ARK: Survival Evolved here because there are a lot of games that have the exact same problem. There are a lot of different versions of the game kicking around, and as a result it’s really hard to tell at a glance where each version is in relation to every other version of the game. It’s not just a matter of figuring out what patch is meant to be in sequence; it’s also a guessing game of whether this patch is for a specific version of the game/expansion/platform or whether it’s universal.
MJ also informs me that ARK likes to wind up with patches that have interminable decimals because the developers do not want to move on to the next version, so you wind up with patches such as .9975. So that gives it extra points off.
And no, you can’t tell me that this is a result of having separate versions on different platforms; The Division has separate versions and keeps itself up to date all around. If Ubisoft can manage to be on the ball with something, you can manage it. I mean you, specifically. The person reading this. You know it’s the truth.
10: Eternal Crusade
I’m sorry, but after yesterday’s whole half-baked explanation about the different types of patches and how one type of patch needs a different name than “patch,” this is a shoo-in.