If you’ve read any of my previous musings (and a virtual high-five to you if you have) you will know how I value computer gaming as an artform, specifically as a platform for interactive storytelling. Much like a fine wine these creative ideas require time to mature, to blossom into the experiences we revere so much. Of course, while most developers would love all the time in the world to finish a game (just ask 3D Realms) it is a reality that this is not possible as the ones who finance these projects are looking for a cash return, preferably a big one, and even more ideally they want that cashflow as soon as possible.
Yesterday’s reports of Dragon Age II’s rushed development have once again brought this issue to attention, and while the topic has been discussed many a time over the years, it did get me thinking; will the need to make money as quickly as possible eventually reduce franchises we love to uninspired yearly outings? Perhaps it is not the development time that is the issue, but the weight of expectation the media or we as consumers place upon a franchise that causes it to buckle? I decided to delve a little into the topic to see for myself.
As the gaming industry has grown over the years so has profit, as well as the expense to produce titles to match the grandeur. When a publisher brings out a game that yields a sales success the immediate reaction is to look at producing sequels or spin-offs to bring in more success. Recently however, there have been too many instances of this being taken too far. President of Epic Games Mark Rein recently went on record to say he wished they were producing a Gears of War title every year, stating that anyone who doesn’t “shouldn’t be in business”.
But here, in my opinion, is where the problem lies; business necessity of making money verses the continual nurturing of creativity. In pushing developers to churn out products so soon after the previous instalments we are left with either a sense of over-exposure to the material or a reduction of natural development of the series. A prime and recent example of over-exposure is the music game genre, specifically Activision and Guitar Hero. With so many releases in such short periods of time the consumers had no reason, nor the money, to buy every single little release. While it was clear Activision were trying to use the releases to branch out and reach different sub-cultures of music lovers, their insistence to bring full-on sequels ultimately killed the franchise, and the genre for that matter.
God help us if Dance Hero really does materialise.
So it worries me when ideas such as yearly Gears releases appear, because I as a gamer don’t want to get bored of the experience when I am playing the next instalment. It reminds me of something I was once told about Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, who apparently approaches his blockbuster anime films as if they were a holiday or present for a young child; something that you only get once a year and that you could remember for years to come.
Yes, I’ve somewhat digressed, but it’s been with good intention.
Here at Dealspwn the jury is still out as to whether Dragon Age II is worth your time (the full, in-depth review is incoming though!) but as I stated before, the reports that rushed development is causing problems to the title, and the industry, is a concern. In recent years, the biggest victims have been MMORPG’s, and even the mighty World of Warcraft has felt the burn on occasion. When The Burning Crusade expansion was released developers had failed to create enough end-game content for top level characters, but carried on anyway expecting to have issued the content by the time the players had reached level 70. Of course, hardcore fans cried foul of the unfinished product when they proved Blizzard wrong. While WoW ultimately prevailed and Blizzard thankfully learnt from their lapse in judgement, others haven’t been so lucky, Realtime Worlds and the ill-fated first run of APB being a prime example. Because of the rushed development and a lack of proper quality assurance APB met an untimely end just one month after launch, and sent the developers bankrupt.
So is the answer to give developers all the time in the world? If only. Sadly we only have to look as far as Too Human to see how long development cycles are not always a recipe for success, and we’ll have to wait until May to find out if the 13-year wait for Duke Nukem Forever has paid off.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not stating that the developers and publishers are completely at blame; we the consumers are just as impatient (mainly thanks to the instant nature of the internet, but that’s a whole other topic.) People clamber for scraps of information over upcoming releases and kick up a storm of empty threats when they are left waiting, or don’t get what they want. You only have to look as far as the recent (and incredibly well done) Find Makarov video to see a great example of that; the YouTube comments upon the video’s release were filled (initially at least) with a rage of die-hard Call of Duty fans who launched various insults at the makers because they were under the impression it was not going to be a fan-made film, but a reveal for the next Modern Warfare game.
So is there a way to stop the madness of unfinished products, and slow the continual stream of the same content over and over? Probably not, because we want everything and we want it now, and it’s a little sad. If we all exercised a little patience perhaps we would get better games for it. If publishers gave their developers a bit more breathing room and had faith a franchise will still be wanted no matter how long it takes to release a sequel (case in point, StarCraft II) perhaps not only would they get more money but consumers may consider the insane amount of DLC is worth buying. Maybe we as consumers would appreciate the games a little more if we were able to take a step back once in a while and not want everything right-here-right-now like a self-important child, instead of arguing over the stupidity of the “console wars” because we’ve got nothing better to do.
Or maybe I’m just ranting because I’m over analysing the problem due to my own impatience. Yep, we’re all screwed.
Do you think a little patience would benefit us all? Perhaps you’ve got your own theories on why game development is rushed? Get involved and sound off in the comments!