Friday, February 14, 2014

A Developer's Work is Never Done

With each new advancement in gaming hardware comes a substantial boost to how long in takes to make a games for said platform.  What used to take a single programmer a couple months has now turned into multi-year and multi-location teams with members in the hundreds.  Obviously you'd think that with the incredible cost of maintaining such a large stable of personnel there would be a huge emphasis on getting games out in a quick and timely manner.  Well, for a few franchises, such as Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty or EA's yearly sports titles (FIFA, Madden, etc.), this is the case.  However, a lot of studios end up in a rather difficult place wherein they try to make a game by the traditional model, but run out of time or money.

Titles like Battlefield 4 and Rome II suffer from being pushed out the door too early.  In other words buggy under-polished messes that take many months of patching to get to an acceptable state.  Of course this happens a lot less than the other aforementioned case, money.

Early access games started off few and far between, but since Steam has begun to support such a concept the number of titles for sale in an incomplete state has exploded.  The driving factor for this rapid expansion of unfinished commercially available games has a lot to do with exhausted production budgets and empty bank accounts, I'd wager...and I understand that.  Programmers and artists have to eat after all.  Yet there are some dangers to this recent trend as well.

Franchise fatigue, usually only associated with yearly IPs, is now a serious problem for even a single title provided it goes through enough iterations during development.  I can personally attest to this being the case for me and a number of acquaintances regarding Kerbal Space Program.  That said, it's not a real big deal for single player games, but a lot of early access titles are multiplayer only experiences, and as such are more likely to suffer from a shortage of online activity.

The other potential hazard is games lingering on far longer than they really should.  This might sound like a weird thing to worry about, but let me see if I can explain.  We already have DLC, ports, mods, and HD remakes stretching out the life of a game far longer than it would be otherwise.  Now with this new model of continuous development after commercial release we're looking at games that will be changing and expanding in perpetuity.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of...oh...say...Minecraft the game was coded using Java, a rather kludgy programming language not very well suited to current gaming machines, let alone future platforms.  Another example is Dwarf Fortress, a game that would seriously benefit from an improved UI.  Sadly, that isn't really possible without starting over from scratch.  Nevertheless, I have no doubt that people will still be playing these games decades from now.  Again, nothing inherently wrong with that...I just hope both players and developers realize that sometimes it's best to move on and start fresh.  Otherwise this industry is at risk of sliding into a nostalgia infested pit of stagnation.  Inside which everyone is still wrapped up in the golden oldies of yesteryear while simultaneously raging about edition wars like the worst kind of overweight, stinky neck-beards.

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