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Mike Bossy

How long is long enough to continue supporting your software?

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This week Apple updated their web browser Safari. The update added new features and fixed some security related bugs. This is great until you see that the update only supports the latest 2 versions of OSX and they quietly decided to drop support for the Windows version. I'm not a Safari user so this doesn't effect me at all but it made me wonder what is an appropriate contract to have with your users around supporting a piece of software? Does that change when there are security related issues involved? To give a time line Apple was still selling Snow Leopard in July of 2011 so an OS that you may have purchased only 12 months ago may now be considered obsolete and unsupported.

This type of question is starting to come up more and more in the games industry as digital distribution of older PC games continues. Is it ok that a game that you can still buy doesn't support Windows 7 that came with your PC? If a developer is still making money off of older games should they help out their users and try to get it working on a new OS version?

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I don't think anyone should be on the hook to support anything for any length of time. It depends on the scope of the software, and what other software depends on it.

Some cases are a bit fishy though. Many companies have to stop supporting online play on Xbox Live because it becomes too costly for them to keep their servers up, even though, we the users, are paying a subscription fee to support those servers to begin with!

I don't think it's wrong for EA to only support the current version of their sports titles for online play. But I think they could at least let you host your own games.

Blizzard was supporting Diablo 2 with new patches almost 10 years after release. And they still might be for all I know. I'm sure there was a stream of new profits coming in to fund that maintenance however. Most games dry up very quick.

Microsoft supports most of their OSes and browsers for years and years because there have a huge install base of people who depend on them. And their software is used as a base for other people to build their own technology on. If they didn't support them for 5-10 years, there would be no reason for anyone to ever use any version of any of their products ever again.

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[quote name='Daaark' timestamp='1343800170' post='4965102']
Blizzard was supporting Diablo 2 with new patches almost 10 years after release. And they still might be for all I know. I'm sure there was a stream of new profits coming in to fund that maintenance however. Most games dry up very quick.
[/quote]

Last D2 patch is from Oct 27 2011 , online multiplayer (battle.net) support is still available for the first Diablo.

Supporting your games is important unless you release perfect titles, If you want to use always online DRM or release games with a significant multiplayer component your previous actions will matter for alot of customers. (If you're going to use always online DRM and you shut down the multiplayer game servers for one of your games ~5 years after release alot of people will be worried. (I'm not going to name the publisher who seems to think that permanently shutting down Silent Hunter multiplayer services "just after"(slight exaggeration) release while using always online DRM for other games won't bite them in the ass)) Edited by SimonForsman

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There are several different kinds of circumstances here - including as Hodgman says.

To some degree, I'd say that a customer has no right to more than what they pay (unless the product is sold as also giving you future updates or support) - if that's not good enough, then don't buy it. You shouldn't pay for something with the assumption that you'll be given an update for free in future. Bug fixes are a difficult area - if the product you bought doesn't work, it's reasonable to expect a fix or a refund, on the other hand if there are known issues, you have the choice to buy it or not.

Operating systems I think are a different area - you're buying into a whole platform, and it's reasonable to expect that the vendors will do more to try to cater for users of that platform. Plus given the expense and hassle of upgrading an operating system, it's reasonable to be able to update components like the browser separately. But then again, sometimes they still have to draw a line somewhere - e.g., the way that DirectX 10 required Vista.

[quote]If a developer is still making money off of older games should they help out their users and try to get it working on a new OS version?[/quote]If people are still buying it for older versions, I don't see there's any obligation. But as time goes on, the market will shrink, and he'll find himself with dropping sales unless he updates it.

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I agree that the key to this question is speaking with your wallet as a consumer. Most people eventually do this in the long run. As the content producer I think this area is a perfect spot for indies to differentiate. While there might not be any legal or ethical obligation to keep updating a game to fix bugs or add new features/support new OSes I think that's how you end up building loyal customers and making it long term. Blizzard is a great example of a company that has continually updated their games and kept adding value long after the game was paid for. It keeps people more ready to buy their new games when then first come out. D3 launch wouldn't have been as huge as it was if they pissed off customers with not patching D2

I was a bit amazed with the patching issues that Fez was recently having on XBLA where they didn't want to pay for having a patch certified and MSFT didn't want to certify the patch for free so the new patch didn't go out. In the end it's the customers that are hurt and less likely to buy similar games in the future. I understand the fact that there is serious money involved in their cert process but it just seems short sighted for both MSFT and the developers to end the situation like that.

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Funny timing on this story? Oracle being forced to keep making Itanium ports.
http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/432432/judge_sides_hp_rules_oracle_must_continue_porting_software_itanium/

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[quote name='Daaark' timestamp='1343884582' post='4965404']
Funny timing on this story? Oracle being forced to keep making Itanium ports.
[url="http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/432432/judge_sides_hp_rules_oracle_must_continue_porting_software_itanium/"]http://www.computerw...ftware_itanium/[/url]
[/quote]

This is a bit surprising:
[quote]
For approximately three decades, these corporate giants dealt on an informal basis," Kleinberg wrote in his decision. "Even when the financial consequences were in the billions, they shared resources, worked together, supported mutual customers, and with only a handful of exceptions did so without a written contract[/quote]

I would have thought that 2 big corporations would have access to enough lawyers to get proper contracts drafted and signed.

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You'd be amazed at how much is decided informally over email in a big corporation. The reality is that while it's often nice to have a contract in place it slows things down. Once lawyers are involved you're usually adding months onto a timeline that usually can't wait that long. Also there is a tonne of legal precedence for "Implied contracts" based on conversations, emails, etc. Which is why you never want your emails to be part of a legal discovery process :)

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