Studying the Urgent Updates of Popular Games on the Steam Platform

Dayi Lin, Cor-Paul Bezemer, Ahmed E. Hassan

Accepted in Empirical Software Engineering, 2016

The steadily increasing popularity of computer games has led to the rise of a multi-billion dollar industry. This increasing popularity is partly enabled by online digital distribution platforms for games, such as Steam. These platforms offer an insight into the development and test processes of game developers. In particular, we can extract the update cycle of a game and study what makes developers deviate from that cycle by releasing so-called urgent updates.

An urgent update is a software update that fixes problems that are deemed critical enough to not be left unfixed until a regular-cycle update. Urgent updates are made in a state of emergency and outside the regular development and test timelines which causes unnecessary stress on the development team. Hence, avoiding the need for an urgent update is important for game developers. We define urgent updates as 0-day updates (updates that are released on the same day), updates that are released faster than the regular cycle, or self-admitted hotfixes.

We conduct an empirical study of the urgent updates of the 50 most popular games from Steam, the dominant digital game delivery platform. As urgent updates are reflections of mistakes in the development and test processes, a better understanding of urgent updates can in turn stimulate the improvement of these processes, and eventually save resources for game developers. In this paper, we argue that the update strategy that is chosen by a game developer affects the number of urgent updates that are released. Although the choice of update strategy does not appear to have an impact on the percentage of updates that are released faster than the regular cycle or self-admitted hotfixes, games that use a frequent update strategy tend to have a higher proportion of 0-day updates than games that use a traditional update strategy.