We've all (I think) read this little editorial (if not, get cracking) here, so perhaps it's time for a follow-up. Only this time, we'll focus on the larger realm of gaming. So, it's apparent that the companies that design video games are, in fact, in it to make money. While this no doubt came as a shock and surprise to many people last time, it just might again. So for the majority of this editorial, you won't have to listen to mine or Reeve's (occasionally) nonsensical babbling - instead, take some time to listen to the opinion of someone actually in the industry, namely Robert Johnson* from Capcom Co. themselves.
There are many misconceptions in the gaming world about video game development. The misunderstanding isn't on the developer end - it's on the gamer end. For the most part, gamers think development is fun; they think that you play games and, at the end of the day, somehow, the title gets done. In reality, making games is a lot of hard work. But those of use who have a passion for this would have it no other way. It takes a lot of sweat, effort, and headaches to make something to from a concept to a shrink wrapped package. Things can go wrong from the moment you start until the last minute of development. Whether it's crash bugs, having your key programmer hospitalized with pneumonia, or needing to change the schedule by three months because the sales department wants to ship the product earlier; something is always there to keep you on your toes. We are in the business to make the greatest games possible. It doesn't always happen, but we always strive to do our best. No one ever sets out saying, "Let's make a piece of s---!"
With that said, even the best games aren't perfect. No matter how good a game is, it will never meet everyone's expectations - it's just impossible. Think of a game - a good game - and you can probably still find something you didn't like about it or that you felt the developer could have done better. Even some of the best games suffer from the harshest criticism. I think everyone within the industry can relate to comments like "If only they would have thought to add online play," "With all the space on a DVD why couldn't they add more content?" or "Why did they make this game for one system and not another?" From a developer's standpoint, "If only we had more time" is probably the most relevant reason, because with more time and money almost anything can be accomplished. However, the game has to come out eventually, right? Not everyone has the luxury given to Polyphony Digital or the Warcraft team at Blizzard.
Arguably, the biggest challenge to overcome in development is balancing the product budget with the schedule. The growing cost of development makes it harder and harder to get budgets approved. These are all challenges most people are aware of, but some of the struggles not everyone is aware of are issues like potential licensing problems (when working with a franchise or intellectual property), localization, external development, management hassles, and other random gremlins that no one expects or wants.
When proposing titles to management or decision-makers, sometimes your concept gets approved but not with the requested or desired budget. So, what do you do when you get the green light for the game you want to make, but don't have the cash to do it justice? Well, less money means less time to do the game. Instead of having 24 months to do an epic, the team might have 18 months to do a pretty-good game. Some producers might argue that balancing between a given budget and schedule could be one of the biggest challenges facing development teams. The producer wants to make a great game and the designers want to make a great game, too, but people have to get paid.
During the planning phase of each title, the team will brainstorm tons of ideas for features. Some are more feasible than others. Our team, for instance, will take all the ideas and rank them into categories like "Must have," "Should have," or "Would be nice to have." In the end, corners are cut, entire levels and ideas are left on the cutting-room floor, and the only thing to look forward to is a sequel where adding online play or using more of the DVD becomes a reality and not just a collective dream on the part of the team. It might sound blunt and a bit like back-peddling or excuse-making, but the truth is that the video game industry is a business. And, just like Hollywood and any other industry, it's about being profitable.
Even beyond hands-on design and concept issues, there are other facets that we face when working with international developers. For games developed overseas, U.S. publishers not only have to submit the games for first-party approval, they have to carefully consider the localization of each game. Once the game has been translated into English, we then must make it appeal to an American audience. Sometimes that's as simple as cleaning up the translation and making it readable. But many games have social commentary or cultural references that need to be literally localized for a specific region. Add to the growing list marketing needs like screenshots, product information, press tour materials, special trailer footage, and you'll see that making a game is only one aspect of creating a game. All these factors must be carefully planned and well executed because, if not, they will directly affect your schedule and budget.
Ultimately, we are in this business because we love making and playing games; otherwise we'd have real jobs. Yeah, it's true that there are many ups and downs, but very few jobs compare to the creation of a video game - whether you're a tester or an executive producer. We have to tread that fine line between dealing with budgets, schedules, and managing internal and external teams while worrying about the most important aspect of development: the overall fun of the game. A little thought, effort, and love for your title goes a long way. This is our passion and we love our games like they are our own children."
As a site administrator who prides himself on quality over quantity, the line that stuck out most to be was "...but the truth is that the video game industry is a business. And, just like Hollywood and any other industry, it's about being profitable." I'll freely admit that I had issues with such titles as Mega Man X7, or even the Mega Man Anniversary Collection. Anyone who has seen me in our IRC channel can attest to my frequent rants on the Battle Network series (it irks me quite a bit). But at the end of the day, Capcom (or any other development company out there) is in the business to make a profit, and as the author here stated, "no one ever sets out saying, 'Let's make a piece of s---!'".
And despite my well-voiced issues with the most recent entry in the Mega Man X series, it's always a forgivable offense. After all, I've been following Mega Man for close to 16 years now, and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon.
* Robert Johnson is a Senior Project Manager at Capcom, and was a Producer on the recent Mega Man Anniversary Collection.
Note: this article originally appeared as a publication in Game Informer Magazine, Issue #137 (Sept. 2004). Game Informer holds all applicable copyrights to this article, and Mega Man Network makes no claim of ownership.