Big iOS titles receive updates, but we shouldn’t need them

Dec 20, 2010
Games

Tuesday will see an update for Infinity Blade, the sword-fighting action game using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 that debuted fewer than two weeks ago. It’s a big update, too — Infinity Blade will get a new enemy, new weapons and armor, and the ability for players to make an in-app purchase of additional “gold,” […]

Tuesday will see an update for Infinity Blade, the sword-fighting action game using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 that debuted fewer than two weeks ago.

It’s a big update, too — Infinity Blade will get a new enemy, new weapons and armor, and the ability for players to make an in-app purchase of additional “gold,” the game’s currency, which they can use to buy some of the more ridiculous and hard-to-obtain weapons, like the actual Infinity Blade. That’s a sword you can play with, if you don’t know the game.

The update is a big deal, as Infinity Blade has been one of the biggest — and most hyped — iOS games of the year. Graphically, it’s a stunner, and Infinity Blade has set sales records by earning more than $1 million in its first 10 days of release. It’s still not outshining Angry Birds, possibly because Infinity Blade costs six bucks while Angry Birds is still $0.99, but with the addition of the in-app gold purchase, sword-fighting might start to creep up on bird revenge in the revenue charts.

This isn’t the last update for Infinity Blade that we already know about, either. While there will certainly be more content added eventually, developer ChAIR Entertainment has already mentioned that a multiplayer mode is in the works for the game, to be added at some point in the future.

While it’s nice that developers are planning additional content for their games and making it known to players, on the whole, that’s the case much more than it should be. ChAIR didn’t respond to players’ enthusiasm by adding more game content to Infinity Blade, these updates have been planned from the beginning — which means ChAIR either hadn’t finished the content, or decided to hold it back, when it released Infinity Blade earlier this month.

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ChAIR isn’t the only culprit. Another big update this week came to id Software’s RAGE: Mutant Bash TV, an on-rails first-person shooter that received quite a bit of attention as a sort of first-look at the company’s forthcoming PC shooter. Mutant Bash TV isn’t bad on iOS — it’s fun, looks nice and handles pretty well, though with only three levels it’s a bit short.

The new update for Mutant Bash TV adds a bunch of features that were almost criminally left out of the game at launch: namely, achievements and online leaderboard support. The update it received wasn’t much, Mutant Bash TV is an arcade shooter, in which players earn money on a game show specifically just for the “hey, look how well I did shooting mutants” bragging rights.

Except initially, you couldn’t only brag to yourself, because scores weren’t shared on the Internet.

It’s nice that id tossed in more features to keep players playing. Mutant Bash TV is a better game for those additions. But why is it okay that players already bought the game in November, and are only just now getting a fully functioning experience?

The point isn’t that developers shouldn’t update — they definitely should. Adding content to games, the way Angry Birds and Doodle Jump have been tossing out extra levels and graphical updates for holidays and seasons, is one of the wonderful things about iOS. Content updates are easy to do, easy to receive, and add a lot of value to already great games.

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But the ability to update in the future doesn’t excuse releasing a half-baked game now. Infinity Blade is pretty great on its own, but with even a decent multiplayer mode, it’d be high in the running for best iOS game of all time. Why not hold the game back and release it in its most perfect possible state? Why drop RAGE on players knowing that in the month since its release, they may have done all they can do in it — then release an update that pops in achievements and leaderboards? It’s unlikely that players who have exhausted what’s available in RAGE are going to pick it back up for achievements alone; so instead of creating the best game they could, id may have unwittingly alienated players who would have been happier with the game experience in its most complete form.

Updates aren’t a license to release games before they’re finished, but the number of developers who think this might be okay seems to be on the rise. As more and more traditional game developers from the video game industry start to see the value of iOS, it’ll be a shame if their bad habits of that world — namely, quickly pushing games in front of players before they’re done cooking, so to speak — continue to spread to iOS and take advantage of a great system for making apps better. Updating iOS apps is meant to allow them to grow or be fixed, not to give developers the chance to push young, incomplete ideas out of the nest to see how they fly.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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