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When I download a video game from the publisher's website, it typically needs to update itself several times before I can play it. Why can't the developer simply put the patched version of the game up for download? I assume there must be technical problems with this, but what are they?

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I guess the factor that gets the most points as for the why would be having the users to redownload the entire game size everytime they commit a new patch ... image a game that is 10GB download size and every time they patch something you would need to download those 10GB even if the patch was as small as 10mb or even 1 mb... But i have to admit it would be ok if they had a up to date version for new users to download beside the patch system. –  Prix Jul 25 '10 at 15:40
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3 Answers

A few reasons that I can think of off the top of my head -- I'm sure others will have reasons as well.

  1. They have to distribute patches for the existing users no matter what. By doing it this way, they minimize the amount of work they have to do on their end.

  2. Building new complete distributions takes a lot of time -- especially QA time. They would have to make sure the new build didn't have any bugs in it, essentially repeating what testing they are doing with the patch build.

  3. If they did a complete version, they would have to deal with people downloading the complete game again instead of the patch, which would mean more bandwidth usage. Perhaps they have mirror sites -- if the game is large, they would potentially have a bunch of mirrors downloading the new content just because it's new. Patch files are typically smaller, so the burden of having a bunch of mirrors download them is smaller.

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Why does everybody mention bandwidth? Obviously (?) the patches themselves would still be available as well, an it would in fact spar them some bandwidth (assuming patched game < game + patch) –  Bart van Heukelom Jul 28 '10 at 20:54
    
For new users, you have a point. But some people would only download the full version despite patches being available (yeah, people are weird like that). And the mirror sites would have to download as well. New full versions would most likely cost additional bandwidth. –  Dennis Munsie Jul 29 '10 at 11:50
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As Dennis said, it's mostly reason #2. It takes a lot of time and effort to create a new distribution version, and this is a seperate process from creating the patch version. Creating patches is simply faster and needs to be done anyway.

But even more so, once you have had several complete versions of the product available for download, each new patch must be tested against each full download version in some cases. For a developer/publisher it is much better from a support point of view to have everyone download v1.0 full, then apply each individual patch successively. Because that's the process that must work for everyone.

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There's also the issue of people having to change settings to get a game to work (on PC) and the installwr might obliterate though. To make the installer fully 're-entrant' where it leaves the right stuff intact yet cleans up the traces it should clean up imposes even more QA and user support risk. Plus indeed, bandwidth and user annoyance.

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