Speaking to Kotaku
at the DICE summit in LA last week, Bethesda's Todd Howard has admitted that the publisher was aware of problems with the PS3 version of Skyrim before release, but thought that "only a small percentage" of players would be affected.
"The way our dynamic stuff and our scripting works, it's obvious it gets in situations where it taxes the PS3. And we felt we had a lot of it under control," Howard said, speaking about what he calls the "bad memory situation" on the platform. The intention, he goes on to explain, was to fix the game post-release, after developers noticed problems and were unable to tweak the code enough to solve them in time for the planned release date on 11th November last year.
The fact that people at Bethesda were aware of this so-called "bad memory situation" on PS3 before release and chose to release the game anyway, knowing that a percentage of PS3 players would encounter major problems, is pretty shocking – but the plan to fix things with a patch post-release should have rescued the publisher from controversy if things had gone to plan. When November's patch 1.2 did not fix the game for PS3 players, Bethesda went all-out to solve the problem, getting players to submit their individual save files and studying them prior to the release of patch 1.4 this month.
Howard reckons that PS3 issues should finally be fixed now, but he's cautious in his assertions. "Now that we've been through this, we're not naive enough to say, 'We have seen everything,' because we have to assume we haven't. There are still going to be some people who have to come back to us and say, 'Ok, my situation is this.' [We say:] 'OK, send us your saved game.' We literally need to look at what you have running… We need to open the saved game comes up and look at it."
It's easy to say that Bethesda should have delayed the release of the PlayStation 3 version of Skyrim until the developer was able to fix these known problems, but it's equally easy to see why that didn't happen. From Bethesda's point of view, delaying the release on one platform only could have angered the majority of PS3 gamers more than releasing a game with problems that only a "small percentage" of players would encounter - especially when the assumption was that these problems could be fixed quickly and easily with a post-release patch.
That assumption backfired, of course. It's obvious that Bethesda did not know (and could not have known) the extent of the problem until the game was out in the wild being played by millions of individual players with individual play habits.
"For certain users it literally depends on how they play the game, varied over a hundred hours and literally what spells they use. Did they go in this building?" explains Howard. "It's literally the things you've done in what order and what's running. Some of the things are literally what spells do you have hot-keyed? Because, as you switch to them, they handle memory differently."