There has been a lot of negative reaction to this notion of day one patches for both video games and the new consoles. I know that in our age of immediacy, this is unacceptable. But believe it or not, there are very good reasons for this. I am trained in electronics design and have worked for hardware companies. So I will attempt to explain to you why they do this and how it works. I know. Snore fest. But if you make it through this, you may see that these day one patches are a good thing and are more benefit than hindrance.
Production time. Both the PS4 and XBOX One sold 1 million on their first day. Can you imagine how long it took to make all those consoles. They are mass producing parts of these consoles long before the all the code for the operating system is done. Most likely the hardware was starting mass production before or just after the console was announced. I know what you are going to say. “But Jon. They didn’t know what the PS4 was going to look like at the time of the announcement.” That doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really matter what the case looks like as long as all the components fit in it. They knew what the circuit board was going to look like and what was all on it. They probably had a stock pile of mass produced circuit boards by the time of the announcement. What they do is get the code for the OS to a state where it operates and can accept and download patches. Then they download this into the CPU and memory of the motherboard. I guarantee that they were working on the OS until the day before launch. It would not make sense for these companies to hold off on manufacturing to wait for the OS to be complete. This way we as a consumer don’t have to wait so long to get the new console into our hands. Who cares if you have to wait an hour or so after you hook up the console to start playing it. Sure beats there being less consoles supplied at launch or waiting longer for them to launch the new console. Also, now each company can wait and see what the other company will do with their OS and try to match or one up or do something the other companies OS doesn’t. And they can just supply you an update to get those features on your OS. In the case of the PS2, all it had to do was play games and play dvds and it had no means of providing large update over the internet. It had to be complete before hitting store shelves.
That is the short description and if that is good enough for you, skip to the next section. To all who what to know more on how electronics work, here we go. All new game consoles are very complicated and need combinations of various chips and firmware and software to work. The micro controller is the chip that tells everything on the motherboard what to do (it also monitors things like temperature). In the case of a computer the micro controller is more beefed up and called a CPU (central processing unit). The CPU needs firmware (code) to tell the CPU what to do on boot up. In the case of a PC (and by extension your game console as they are just PC’s that are designed for specific use) you would know this as the BIOS. The BIOS is stored in ROM (read only memory) somewhere on the motherboard and close to the CPU. The OS is software that sits in memory (in a PC it is stored on the hard drive – that is why you never get all of the hard drive space available to you). When the console turns on, the BIOS is read by the CPU first and starts to turn on things in order that is defined in a boot sequence in the BIOS. As some point in the sequence the BIOS will tell the CPU to start to load the OS from the hard drive. Which will be loaded into RAM (Either on the super fast RAM in the CPU or if it does not fit there, the slower RAM on the motherboard). From this point on, the OS does all the computing for things that are not GPU (Graphic Processing Unit or graphics card) related.
So to expand on what I said above. Once they got the design for the motherboard down they would flash (install) the firmware (BIOS) on the ROM before it even gets installed on the motherboard. The firmware would probably be feature complete at this point (but may be updated later on). I know ROM means read only memory but it can be overwritten by updating it or re-flashing it. They would also mass install the OS on the hard drives before they were installed into the console. This is all to avoid as much human (who are time consuming and costly) interaction as possible. This can be done months (even years) before launch. Like I said, once the motherboard has been finalize, you should be mass producing it and not wait for everything to be done. That way when the case is done being designed you can just shove the motherboard into it and not wait for it to be built. Now there is no sense in going back to install the final (or more complete) firmware and OS on the console before it is shipped because they can be updated from the internet. You don’t have to pay someone to do that. The customer will do it. Because the customer would rather do it instead of waiting longer for the console to come out.
So don’t get mad. Them making you install a day one update actually gets the console into your hands much quicker.
Sony’s Teardown of the PS4 (provided by Wired.com)
XBOX One Teardown (provided by Tested.com)
Before the PS3 and XBOX 360. The game shipped to you is what you got. If it had a glitch or tended to crash or the game did not run well, too bad. There was no fixing a game or tweaking content or adding content. Now all of this is expected. Problem is once a game is submitted to Sony or Microsoft or other publishers for publishing, that is the game that will ship (unless they have problems with it). This can take months for certification or the publisher may decide that it wants a release date further in the future. If the designer notices something wrong with the game (after more play testing), they cannot change the game that was sent to the publisher. So they put out a day one patch. On the other side they may have agreed with the publisher to have the game submitted on a certain day. But they notice they will not be able to get the whole game working perfectly by then. They will submit a non feature complete game and have a day one patch to make it feature complete. It may be an inconvenience for us to have to install a patch before we can play the game we just bought. But it beats having a game that doesn’t work or is not feature complete.
I know all these day one patches are a pain and all you want to do is play as soon as you get the console or game home. But in my opinion, we are much better off having to do so. We are lucky. With these new consoles, the OS and games get refined and fixed and updated to make them better. It wasn’t too long ago that this wasn’t the case. You were stuck with what you got. And that is not what I want to go back to.