A week or two back I grabbed "Fix-it Felix" for free on my iPad. I know some of the folks making the official "Wreck-it Ralph" DS / console game, I'm looking forward to seeing the film, and the premise looked solid.
I loved it.
It wasn't as especially clever game, and there were some clear problems with it at times (barriers that prevented you from moving were hard to see, and there was no feedback for "you can't move there" to differentiate it from the all-too-common "you didn't hit the move button properly"...) but I had a great time with it. I told my friends to check it out. It kept me aware of the film - all good things.
But then today I saw there was an update for it - and now the game is ruined. All the level layouts are different - the visual feedback system is different - the controls are different. Some elements seem to be gone from the game - though they probably just got moved to later levels. Disney took a really charming game and just clubbed it into mush. Ugh.
I'm really excited about the shift the game industry has taken the past few years - I think moving to smaller teams, niche releases, free-to-play, and always-live games is a great opportunity for those of us in the development community. But as with all change, these new paradigms are sometimes used poorly - which can shake our faith in their validity.
Always-Live game development means you change the game out from under people - all the time - without warning. Farmville was the real pioneer here, with double-blind A/B testing and design-by-numbers. It's a powerful idea, and it can really make games better. Making games better is, by any measure, a good thing! But this sort of unfettered access to games that are already being played can go horribly wrong - as I've just described with Fix-it Felix. These changes weren't the result of careful testing - they are just changes made blindly. Blind changes are a useful tool during internal development - being bold with your direction can reveal some really unexpected truths about your game. But blind changes in a live game break the trust between developer and player.
Do developers have the right to change their game without asking permission? Yes. Should they be ridiculed when they make mistakes? Yes.