Development Cycle Woes

The holiday season is well upon us and the big releases are winding down. Skyrim hits Friday with Call of Duty having released today, which leaves Assassin’s Creed Revelations and Saints Row the Third as the two big titles left for the year. If you’re like a lot of people, your backlog (which already may have been an intimidating sight) is loaded down with stuff that you feel like you may never get to, especially if you’re juggling college like myself. Fortunately, I won’t be picking up a lot of these titles, so my problem hasn’t compounded too hugely.

However, I would like to comment on the cause of these massive backlogs and the hole in one’s wallet that is developing at this point. With Revelations not even released yet, Ubisoft has already confirmed the development of the next title, which we can only assume will hit next year around this same time. At the same time, everyone is planning on a new Call of Duty as well. On the heels of L.A. Noire, Rockstar is stirring up hype for both Max Payne and GTA V. What am I getting at here? The ever-shrinking development cycle.

It seems to me that the games doing the most for the industry today are games really getting love from their developers. Great games like Dead Space and Uncharted among others aren’t perennial renewals or being developed by companies juggling several projects – they’re coddled and raised to become the beasts that they are. Meanwhile, other developers are shipping the same game every year for the sake of robbing the consumer of another sixty dollars. Does this mean it’s a bad game? Not necessarily.

What I’m trying to push here is a vision. Imagine what could be done with games given the treatment these games with longer development cycles get. What would Call of Duty be crossed with the cinematic story of Uncharted? It’d suddenly be much easier to justify the sixty dollars you paid for it, that’s for sure. Imagine if every facet of game was given as much attention as the next for every title. Sure, you wouldn’t have all the titles you have now, but there’d be more money in your pocket and probably some more time spent with a game with some serious value than another year of the same Call of Duty.

Also, perhaps this would encourage developers to really support their titles over long periods of time. Most DLC you’re buying today was developed before the game it’s for was released. Arkham City is a big offender here. Now look at Red Dead Redemption. Released on May of last year, Red Dead eventually saw the release of stand-alone/DLC add-on Undead Nightmare – a wonderful piece of content. Just last month Rockstar dropped another set of DLC (one of many that were free, yes free) to go with the Game of the Year edition that was long overdue. Could someone look at this and say it’s just them looking to make more money on the title? Sure, but it’s a great title, and if you already own it, don’t buy the GOTY. If you don’t, it’s a great bundle to get all the goodness at once. Rockstar is actually pretty good at this across all of their games, as GTA IV, released in 2008, was still seeing patches some two years later.

Also, and perhaps this is just me, what game is really complete if you haven’t had a chance to at least attempt a trophy run of the game? Even if you aren’t pushing for those platinum’s and consider yourself above the idea of achievements, the hunt can be fun and entertaining, if not giving you a chance to play the game a bit differently or giving you a real excuse to attempt the hardest difficulty. Trying to juggle your backlog with bagging some more trophies than one playthrough may constitute is a real project, and one that I often mourn.

Furthermore, most titles being released today have a multiplayer component, and when caught up in a backlog of anywhere from two to ten games, it’s hard to justify really putting time into this part of a game. This bit me with Red Dead – a title with an extremely deep multiplayer with tons of modes that were a lot of fun that was really easy to overlook after getting through the huge campaign. I didn’t play it much until quite some time later, and was I glad that I finally did. With longer development cycles, we could certainly see a lot of quality multiplayer experiences building upon the many different single-player combat formulas out there that everyone actually has the time to play. Imagine if Bioshock 2’s multiplayer had had a chance to take off? Where would we be now? This is recognizing that there were flaws to it, but if the opportunity actually existed for the multiplayer to be taken seriously, perhaps it would have seen some more love.

If, as a community, we decide that we don’t want longer development cycles and insist on getting our games as often as we already do, I feel that we should at least insist on a price scale to match. Red Dead certainly earned it’s $60, but I can’t imagine dropping that on that new MW2 map pack that just released or some of the shovelware we see for Kinect today. This says more about general game quality than development cycles, but I feel really bad for people who dropped full price on Duke Nukem or Brink and can’t even give it away now. This is what makes the downloadable market so awesome – games like Back to the Future and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light are sometimes pretty much a full title for a third of the price of a triple-A off the shelf.

Gamers of the world – let’s demand it.

These are my musings.

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