MegaMaster Musings

So You Want To Be A Game Developer?
November 24, 2003

I’ve been reviewing games for almost ten years now, and it has been an interesting journey beginning from the outside and evolving to viewing things from the inside. And some of the realities of the game development world can be quite surprising, particularly to someone who has been playing and critiquing them for some time.

Have you ever looked at a game and wondered why it was substandard? Found a bug in a game and wondered why it was never fixed? Ever think that most game developers are idiots who are blind to obvious flaws in their own work? Ever wonder why?

The first answer anyone will jump to would tend to be money. But while money drives many things even here, it is not the direct reason in most cases. Sure, developers are making games to earn their paychecks, but they also care about writing fun games that people will actually want to play. The two are not mutually exclusive.

The second answer someone might suggest is one of skill level. Skill certainly comes into play, as does experience—someone who has done a task a hundred times before will do a better job than someone who is just trying for his first or second time. But contrary to popular belief, most of the flaws that are left in a game at launch do not go unnoticed by the creators. Developers are not stupid.

So what is the real reason? The answer might surprise you: Lack of time.

Publishers, those companies whose main purpose in life I think is to screw up the development process as much as possible, have a bad habit of setting unreasonable deadlines. This often forces games to be released with known flaws, or with intended features reduced or entirely missing, simply because there wasn’t enough time to fix up everything.

So why do they do it? There may be many factors, but my guess would be that the main reason is that this is the way it has always been done. There is past precedence for games being released within certain time spans, so the obvious conclusion is to continue to demand games to be pumped out just as rapidly. Marketing forces are rarely anchored in reality, and often it seems a publisher is more concerned with getting a game out the door on a certain date than ensuring the game is as polished as it can be.

It is ironic that the world which produced banks that operate from 10am to 3pm weekdays and post offices that close for lunch also produced game developers who tend to put in 13 hour work days on average. And during the stage known as the “crunch” period, it’s not uncommon for developers to literally move into the office, working seven days a week, eating take-out food at their computers, and sleeping a few hours every night on a cot, spending their entire waking hours working.

These developers often make less than a teacher, get no overtime pay, and frequently see their work habitually stolen and distributed as ROMs because people can’t find it in their hearts to spend three movie tickets worth of money for 40 hours of enjoyment.

It is a brave publisher that allows for a game’s release to be delayed to enable the game to be polished into as close to a perfect product as possible. Usually, such publishers are immediately hammered by players and magazine staffers for being late. It’s another no-win situation where people who have no insights into the process nevertheless seem bound and determined to find something to complain about, no matter what the reality of the situation.

Just keep in mind that when a sequel is required to fix the flaws of the previous game, it’s usually a pretty good indication that the previous game was rushed.

- The MegaMaster