As schedules become more inflexible, many incomplete or untested products are released to the consumer. Nate Hales looks at who loses.
Great article. I would change it completely to a statement, that statement being "deadlines ruin games". Knights of the Old Republic 2 lost 6+ months so Lucas Arts could make a Christmas release, still unfinished. Skyrim/FO3 known for being incredibly buggy at release. Unreal Tournament 3 ignored the demo/beta feed back and released a month later, failed. BRINK came out early due to the massive amounts of hype. ETC. I think games need a time frame for completion, but not one set in stone. Rushed games can be hits, but that sour taste is hard to get out of your mind if it comes out buggy or unfinished. The opposite approach would be Duke Nukem: Forever. Taking your time and coming out polished, like Starcraft 2 is a better approach.
I agree with what you have said, totally. Ive been a gamer for over 30 years now and as each year goes by the situation get worse. I can't remember a single game that has been released in the past 10 years that didn't need a day one patch and for the games that did get a day one patch 99 times out of 100 they just got worse. Then there are the games that never get any fixes at all which in my opinion is nothing short of a criminal act(theft, deception, fraud). In the past 3 years I haven't purchased a single game, why, simple i know I'm going to get ripped off so there is only two choices left open to me the first one is free to play(also known as pay to win) the second is a new idea similar to kickstarter but ran by Slightly Mad Studios. It's kind of like investing in a game, like per-purchasing but there are thousands of game testers who get to play the latest developer builds and with thousands of game testers the game gets picked to pieces with a no stone will be left unturned approach. This project is going to be my last hope for my hobby as a gamer. It would be a dream if this game(Project CARS) when it gets released the only bug will be nothing more than a difference of opinion of how the game should work.
Well yeah, releasing a game unfinished is bad. Just look at movie games that are made within less than a year. The unfortunate thing is that it's always a business decision, you need to calculate how much you're spending on development, and whether spending the money is worth making a game 1% better. Release dates need to be strategically timed too, lets just say if you release next to Call of Duty, Halo, GTA, and Metal Gear Solid, your game isn't going to sell well, however this usually means a delay in release a la Bioshock Infinite. If I'm a publisher, my job is to stay in business. If I spend too long developing games, I need to sell that many more just to get a return on my investment, which isn't always realistic given market conditions and competition. When it's your personal livelihood at stake, would you risk losing millions of dollars in development costs to make a game 10% better? And would that 10% translate into more sales than it otherwise would have been, enough to cover the cost of development? It's a risk not many are willing to take if history is any indicator.
Deadlines for releasing games yearly is ruining gaming.
Yearly releases are annoying for me. I work and have limited time to play games, I barely get to spend enough quality time with the games that are already out let alone its impending sequel. this is why gamers end up with a 'pile of shame' (read: pile of unfinished games)
I only buy yearly releases every couple of years. Sure its crap year to year they are so cramped together that there hasn't been but one or two new ideas thrown into the same game formula. Also for console games server shuts down ever 2 years on a console game if it uses servers. Some are peer to peer so they last as long as someone else is playing out there.
Yes because Julian Eggebrecht from Factor 5 more or less said that he had a harsh deadline in dealing with Lair and that game was pretty polished, but it also had a few things they could have improved upon; so putting more polish on that game would have made it a big success.
True, but Lair's biggest problem was Sony making the Sixaxis the only choice for control, making it a chore to play. The game itself is actually pretty good after the patch when you could use analog controls. It's a shame because Lair could have been a good IP for Sony if they hadn't of tried to force a crappy control scheme to go up against the Wii.
I agree with that; multiple control schemes would have saved that game alone.
its not ruining gaming. its ruining some games, those publishers not rushing out their games on a yearly basis have much more polished games (e.g. all blizzard games).
The problem is, without deadlines nothing would get released. We may be talking about 'games' but these are products with hundreds or thousands of interdependent elements. The only way for a developer to be given the freedom to launch when ready is to have significant financial backing that allows this Games are not art in the sense that an artist can take as much time as they want to produce something (although if the artist is on a commission there could be a deadline). The simple fact is that there are peak times of the year where sales are maximised (holiday season etc), and budgets will be allocated to projects based on predicted sales. If a game doesn't hit the deadline then sales are lost and it can be the difference between a dev going under or not (the counter argument is that if you release something so buggy and undercooked it could do just as much damage - but with Skyrim etc we've seen that doesn't matter for some popular devs) I really dislike Day 1 patches, and I do believe that the damage caused by launching early can be severe. But anyone who has been involved in massive projects knows that you just can't get everything right every time. Compromises have to be made; and as games get bigger and more complex this gets harder. One of the things I find amazing (because of my current profession) is when I hear of some teams like Naughty Dog who have no hierarchy in their development. I really envy a company who can work like that and still hit deadlines and still release quality titles. I assume they have some Project management in there somehow, but I rarely see those roles listed in the credits.
I agree with you that deadlines are important to actually get games out. I think my point here is that we are starting to see a heavy shift toward deadlines that are far to aggressive. It wasn't that long ago (PS2, Gamecube) that games were released that were large in scale and relatively bug free, aside from a few graphical glitches. I think that publishers like to use 'scale' as an excuse, and I just don't think that is viable.
I think it also comes down to that during the concept phase they often think too big in scale. Skyrim is big in scale, but going in they knew what their development time was, so at some point they should have said, "We won't be able to do that in the time given." I wouldn't doubt for a second that somewhere during the development phase things got cut from this game because of time restraints. When I was taking classes for game development, one thing the teachers kept hammering into us is know your limits. It's not to say they shouldn't have lofty goals, just that they should be realistic about what can be achieved in the time given.
@rainslacker If they don't already, game development classes should really include basic / intermediate project management skills. It would infinitely help future development teams if everyone had rudimentary understanding of project management.
@Jdoki The one I took had project management required by the curriculum. They also had a business management class which was tailored to the game industry and went over all the different aspects of creating a game from start to finish. These lessons were often tied into other parts of the curriculum as well. But yeah, I think most schools worth their salt probably have something similar in place.
I agree, some games that were great ideas on paper, were rushed and clearly needed more time. Examples: The Saboteur, Silent Hill Downpour, ZombiU, GT5, Brink, Rage, Alpha Protocol and a lot more... Some were fixed with patches (GT5) but others I feel were a let down because they could have been such a memorable games, but were ruined by deadlines
A lack of a deadline sure didn't help Duke Nukem.
Trust me, as a rookie game dev, and someone who knows professionals in the business. Deadlines are NEEDED for any game. If someone were to tell a designer "don't worry about a deadline, just create something great" then the designer and studio get overwhelmed and start taking on too much to add to the game to the point where it will just become a mess in almost every way, things will constantly be added and cut, added and cut, over and over to try and refine the game that it'll just become a financial money pit. Devs need limits, limits force devs to innovate and scale their projects realistically.
I get what you say about deadlines and agree with you to some extent. At the end of the day what about the customers who are [u]clearly getting ripped off[/u], please don't try and say they are not because they are receiving a defective product of which many never get fixed. My opinion is the entire games industry need a kick in the behind starting with management because they accept the contracts, they make all the decisions on a project. Maybe the developers want to stop thinking they are invincible and capable of doing anything. Why would a developer take on something they know they are not capable of delivering if they are just taking the contract to stay in businesses maybe they are in the wrong business to start with. At the end of the day the only people who are getting any pain out of the situation are the buying customers and we know the publishers don't give t*** about them it's just the money they want. Sorry if my reply came of as a bit strong, I just felt if i was going to give you a disagree then you deserve a reply. ME
Well i don't agree with short deadlines, i just mean that most devs need a window to aim for, without that things can really snowball out of control to the point where you'll end up wasting time adding tons of thing to the game that they eventually end up cutting to get the game in working order again. Devs don't think they are invincible, it's just that we are pretty passionate people when it comes to our craft, and the scale of our projects is mainly determined by the purpose and deadline, and when your purpose is to sell it to every gamer in the world, and you have no deadline. The first thing that enters your mind is this may be the only opportunity to make your masterpiece, then ambition explodes and you go crazy (it's like giving a mad scientist unlimited resources/money) with deadlines you can easily figure out what the main focuses are going to be, and accommodate for adequate time to refine and polish those focal points. If it were completely up to the devs i'm sure they would hold onto the game until it was absolutely polished to a shine, but in almost every case the publisher doesn't want to give them that time/money. In the case of self published titles like Skyrim, i really don't know WTF is going on there, seriously with such a long development time, on such a big selling franchise, coming from such a renowned studio/publisher, and being their own boss/publisher. i really don't see why they couldn't fix the major issues before release
Completely agree. Deadlines are a must. I think what is happening is that the ability to push out patches is allowing publishers to be far to aggressive with their timelines. I also think that scope creep and scale are inflating the problem. There just needs to be a better balance between what the game does and when it comes out as opposed to the current mentality of "do everything, and do it now, we will fix it later"
So many games I've played are released with tons of bugs which are patched the same day of release or during release week. Magical Drop V online vs was totally broken, which is why I bought it. Works now after a fix but word travels fast on the net.
After reading all the comments, it's great to see both sides. Deadlines are necessary. I mean you can't just be Phil Fish and redo your game 50 times while people just sit by and twiddle their fingers. However, we are still seeing games released with too many issues. Where do we draw the line? Where do we say this is the proper amount of time for a deadline? Overall, and interesting article and discussion!
Deadlines themselves aren't the real problem. It's that the deadlines either don't match up to the scale or complexity of the game, or the scale and complexity of the game are too big for the time allotted by the publisher. What it comes down to is that if investors want a certain caliber of game, then they need to give a reasonable time for that game to be completed. If developers want money for a game, then they need to scale that game based on what they are able to get to develop it. There are issues with yearly releases though, and publishers nowadays seem all too willing to release a buggy product to recoup that initial investment. Sometimes these scenarios end up making the developer look bad because the product simply isn't up to par with what it should be. It's a chicken and egg scenario, and ends up being who's to blame, instead of looking at how to fix it.
This is certainly a complicated issue. I for one think that publishers who have more standards not rush their game out of the door before it's finished. That's not to say I don't support deadlines - I completely do, but they must be feasible.
Deadlines are certainly necessary for any project out there and games are no different. The problem I've noticed in hearing from many developers and QA testers is that many times management is so flip-floppity when it comes to feature requests and agendas that it's the managers themselves who can potentially screw everything up. I reiterate: Deadlines are important, but so is working out the details for your project beforehand.
Deadlines are needed in order to set goals for the team. But developers/publishers need to realize that they need to push these deadlines back if their product doesn't reach a certain standard. Just because they can patch it later doesn't mean they can release a game in a poor state.
I'm sure most of the points have been made, but I have personally seen the decline of some favourite franchises due to this horrible trend. Deadlines are fine, people need pressure, like coal needs pressure to become a diamond, but that doesn't mean you still release a game thats not up to a standard. Or are we as fans expected to lower our standards?
Gaming journalism has done good things this year with reporting on overly aggressive deadlines and publishers. We've heard of awful conditions under which games like Spec Ops: The Line were made, and we've heard from the devs behind Project Eternity on how they basically made it up as they went into their Kickstarter project. It comes down to who pleases who. Publishers are looking to please investors, and devs are looking to please fans/gamers. A disconnect happens when one side does not acknowledge who the other is answering to in the long run.
Great article, Nate. I do believe that deadlines need to be flexible enough to allow for proper playtesting, but not so open that developers overthink things.
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