Thursday, February 11, 2010

SGI: Money isn't everything in game development

Another article to add to the "Someone Gets it" column. Industry gamers recently posted an interview with Vicious cycle President/CEO Eric Peterson and VP/CTO Wayne Harvey about the evolution of the company and it's recent merger with Namco Bandai. During the interview The two were asked to contrast their experiences with 3D Realms concerning their rate of releases. The following statement was made by Wayne Harvey.
"We've always done a game or two a year. We've had to create a lot of games on lower budgets and maybe they're smaller games, but you can always do a quality job within your money allowances. In our experience of working with budgets ranging from a half-million dollars to $10 million, the more money you have, the more easily you can get lost. You need planning and you need people to bring you back down to reality, and if you're going four or more years, it can be easy to get disconnected from that. When you bleed into another console generation, you made a mistake.

We've never had the opportunity to take five or six years to make something. We like shipping products; we don't want to wait such a long time to see our products on the shelves. There's also a massive gamble you're taking. It's like Avatar – you're lucky when it does hit and you think, 'We made a lot of money, thank God.' Other times when you spend $50 million and it doesn't sell, then you're left with people wanting your head."
Of course he's referring to Duke Nukem Forever; A project that ended in failure due to a bad combination of large budgets perfectionism and an obsession with new technology. It is sad to think that a team of developers worked on a single game for twelve years and have nothing to show for it other than a few tests and an lawsuit, however this should be the cautionary tale to tell young developers as to not get into the same fix. For five years I worked as a Graphic designer, for a local contracting company. During that time, we often set productivity goals to help keep us on task. The goals weren't just for us, but were there to also show the customer that we weren't just sitting around on our thumbs. Of course, there were times where occasionally a designer's perfectionism got the better of them and he or she found themselves focusing on one thing for an extended period of time. This is when the Art Director steps in; Basically keeping the other designers on track.

The thing to keep in mind is that time is money. Once you sign a contract stating that you have to develop software X for company Y by date Z, you have to make good on your word, or else you face the consequences; which are in most cases litigation, a bad reputation amongst other publishers and subsequently the closing of your business. Here's more from Harvey.

"It's more intimate to have a smaller team. It's no coincidence that there have been smaller titles along with the rise of things like the Steam, PSN and XBLA; I think the gap is widening between indie and AAA . Some people think there's a “B” game rating, and I'm not sure if I see that because the difference is so large in production values between high and low budget. There are more small developers flourishing, and there are fewer big budget titles and they're very high quality and the middle ground hasn't found a home yet. Is it casual Wii? Is it licensed titles? Is it an arcade-like title? That's where it's nice to have smaller titles because you can experiment more. Smaller titles are providing more innovation; larger titles have a formula and are changing less because they don't want to lose that audience."

Here he's kind of pointing at the case I tried to make in my last post. Basically, we have the high end games, made by the big companies and we have the smaller developers working on downloadable titles. On one hand, the high end games are going to utilize a large budget to take the steps to provide a breathtaking experience through visuals and cinematic touches. Of course going this route often leads to more time spent on the those two things and less time spent on what really matters. On the other hand, smaller developed games tend to go a different route (innovation) to generate gamer interest. When he uses the term 'middle-ground' what comes to my mind is a solidly constructed game with tight arcade style controls, fair learning curve, some innovative game play and enough budget to warrant a decent level of graphical polish. The problem is that what I think fits the description isn't what everyone else thinks should fit it.

What do you think about this? I always enjoy writing pieces like this, because these are usually aimed at making people think, and discuss their opinions of what makes a good game. Another question to add to the discussion is that do you think we need more of that type of game on the market much like in the 8, 16 and 32 bit generations? My answer of course is YES!

Source(s): industry gamers, Wired

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