Patching Is So 2001

There seems to be a somewhat disturbing trend in MMOs – that simple ‘patches’ are becoming obsolete. Well, calling them that, anyway.

Take Darkfall, which today announced a new ‘expansion’. This being in air quotes since the primary features of this expansion are what you’d normally see in a, well, patch, such as balance changes and new equipment. A few other features, such as housing, obviously fall under the heading of ‘stuff we were supposed to get in by release but then our schedule slipped’. Well, hell, put it in a patch and call it a ‘free expansion!’

Darkfall isn’t the first to do this, of course, although their announcing an ‘expansion’ 3 months after releasing the original game (which they may want to update their web site about at some point) must count as some sort of record. But they’re not the first. Mythic pioneered the “make a really big patch and call it an expansion pack” trend with Dark Age of Camelot (full disclosure: I worked there at the time, and was part of the team that made them). Beginning with Foundations, which introduced player housing, and continuing with New Frontiers, which revamped the realm vs realm endgame – both of these were fairly major additions to the game, with new zones and game systems, but probably not enough to sell in a box. So put it in a really big download file and call it an expansion! The lines start to blur starting around Darkness Rising, which was distributed like the ‘free’ expansions but was one you had to pay for. Today all expansions, both free and paid, appear together in one happy list. And ironically, to further confuse the distinction, every expansion that was sold in a box in stores can now be downloaded for free off the website.

Mythic continued the tradition with Warhammer Online, yet confused the issue still further. Shortly after Warhammer’s release, Mythic announced the Call to Arms expansion, which promised the classes that were pulled from the game’s release at the last minute as well as new content and rebalancing and… well, you know. Things you’d see in a patch. And… you did see them in a patch. Or series of patches. Call to Arms was released over a period of roughly four months – the first patch introducing 2 classes in March (the other two being patched in the previous November) and the second patch introducing a new high level zone in June, and a third patch introducing promised class balance features yet to appear. The difference between patches and expansions in this case appears to be.. well, they called this collection of patches an expansion!

Other games do this as well. Eve Online has released several mega-patch downloadable “expansions“. Lineage 2 calls every patch a “chronicle” or expansion. City of Heroes calls them “issues“. Does anyone reserve the term “expansion” for a ton of content in a box and “patch” somewhat less but still significant content in a download, and still make a profit?