Valve has released a patch through its Steam network for Half-Life 2 Episode 1 that, among other things, makes certain areas of the game easier. The elevator level of the game is the focus of these changes. As a result of examining statistics obtained through Steam Valve decided to change this level in order to decrease the amount of difficulty.
Whilst a patch is not huge news by itself, and various games have had patches that have changed difficulty settings slightly in the past, it is the way that this patch is issued and researched that is rather new. It is important to note that Steam generally updates your games with the most recent patches when you log onto the network to play the game and therefore many will be unable to have a choice between patching or not patching.
This may be a trend that we see in all areas of gaming, especially now that there are services such as Xbox Live available, and as the games industry attempts to gain appeal amongst more and more people.