08 June 2015

All Games Are Broken

Do you think there exists a game that is perfectly made? A game that succeeds greatly on every aspect in code, efficiency, design, music, sound, art, marketing, promotion, sales and business? If you know such a 100% flawlessly developed game, be sure to contact me, until that moment I think all games are broken.


This post is not about whether I think it's 'OK' to release a broken game, its about how far do we need to go into perfecting our games, and when do we need to draw the line? This post is also about why its 'OK' to make mistakes and why they are even accepted by the gamer, how to let go of certain developed parts of your game. It's not a matter of life and death. 


As a developer, the idea all games are broken is actually very calming to me. Try to imagine all games that are released in the past 40 years, games that are in development and future not yet invented games are and are going to be broken products. To me that feels like a major release of pressure, because we don't actually need to finish a perfect 100% of our development.

The Game Industry Doesn't Require Perfectly Developed Games.
Just saying this out loud already sounds like dude, seriously? You crazy? Why would I pay 10, 20, 40 or even 60 dollars for a game that is broken? But the fact is, we've been buying broken games all along. The fact that Assassin's Creed Unity was extremely scrutinized on how broken it was on release, is only because the mistakes were more obvious. Mistakes that were highly accelerated by the press, because if you are fair, how many of them did you encounter yourself? Most of these mistakes we wouldn't have mentioned 10 years before Assassins's Creed Unity. We have all become spoiled little brats. 

I won't say developers do not have to pay 'attention' to detail and polish anymore, but the fact game development is such a broad skill required industry, makes it almost inhumanly possible to succeed at every part. Therefore it's very easy to highlight our mistakes. That is why many developers would say game development is like failing constantly and keep picking yourself up and move on.

Games that feel very polished or even feel 'perfect' at times are just very good in hiding their mistakes. So we can actually say, some of us developers are not great in covering our broken parts.

I dare to say that if you tell developers their game is perfectly developed that none of them would agree. If they do agree, it's has to be someone doing marketing and doesn't really know what the hell he's talking about, or he's not in game development at all.

*Extra Note
Do you know which industry would really benefit and require perfect products? The Healthcare industry, and even their products aren't perfect. How's that for an urgent matter between life and death?


How Hands-On Testing Your Game Is Also Feeding Perfectionism.
If you announce you are going to test your game, or announce its a prototype, or at least tell your player they are going to play a not yet finished product, a waterfall of critical feedback will start falling down on you. Especially when you have 'developers' playing your game. Most of what everyone is saying is 'subjective'. Its something you do not need to take directly in account if it's not shared or noticed by a large group of people.

There is an interesting difference in how people give feedback about games, and its always based on their own liking and feeling.

When you tell people the game is not finished and when they didn't pay for the game., feedback is mainly focused on missing features, strange visuals and stuff they would 'change' or 'add' in the game.

When you sell the game to people, or tell them the game is 'finished', most feedback you will hear resonate is about how cool existing features are. The feedback is suddenly centered around the positive.

This is because people like to feel it was worth their dollars. Why would you buy something and straight on say what a piece of garbage you just bought? You don't, you are influenced by a proud and happy feeling. Besides the game has been finished, so a very small chance your feedback would be used for the game.

Why do I tell you this? Well, it means when you test the game, the game is usually much better than most of your gamers might tell you. This means that parts of the game requiring full attention can be done. Usually after testing it feels like there is a lot of work to be done, even on parts that got a lot of attention already. This can cloud your judgement, road map, increase development time and scope of your game.

Extreme Uncertainty.
Do you recognize that feeling you don't actually know what you are doing anymore as a developer? Why are you making this game? Why does it takes so long? and why does it look like the mountain of work and mistakes keep piling up? Why this extreme uncertainty about your game and features? Are they still fun and cool? It is all part of our perfectionism and drive to succeed a 100%.

I think a large part of becoming a successful game developer has something to do with making choices and accept it's done at some point. People who stay circulating in an extreme perfectionistic mindset will eventually decrease chances to bring the product to market. The result is that you will always feel like a failure. That is why it's also great to 'showcase' your game early or at least talk about it to people. Usually when people don't mention certain features or parts of your game, they are actually happy with how they are.

The only thing that makes games and prototypes differ in quality is the level of ambition the developer is aiming for. (Or they have to school themselves a bit more).

Do Not Justify Your Game And Its Features In-Front Of People
I think the hardest part of showcasing your game is to 'NOT' justify your choices of design and its features or why something is missing, but just let the game be as it is.
Let me give you an example:

Player: "Why isn't there a fast car to drive with"?
Developer: "Well, we are working on something like that, and we have a vehicle in development, anyway its coming don't worry!"

By saying this, you actually agree on their terms how shitty your game is without it.
The easiest way to counter this feedback is to ask the question 'Why' are they missing this car? It's much harder to explain why you are missing something, than just say its missing. By letting them explain you can rate the 'importance' of their annoyance.

Another important thing. Do not make your player aware of the games shortcomings. Its highly unlikely the player will notice all of your mistakes. You are the developer and know exactly all shortcomings, no need to highlight them for the player. For example:

Developer: "Oh don't look to your left, you can see an unfinished part of level 2 through the bushes"
Player: "Ah yeah, I can see what you mean!"

Lets, do a short and simple experiment, take a look at the picture below:

This picture is full of black dots, and that is what you see. But if I told you one of these dots is red, you will certainly try to find and mention it. Some might find it at the start and some don't. This is exactly what happens when you tell your player about the shortcomings in your game, you create extra focus around your shortcomings.

Realism vs Fun
What I always find interesting is the way some developers strive to justify their game designs or at least try to explain them to the player as best as they can. We like mechanics to be logical and understood by a large audience. We don't want them to be bizarre, stupid and misunderstood. Most of these problems are tackled with realism. In fact we as developers are always try to re-invent reality in some way. So when something differs greatly from our normal way of life, it's important we explain this as logical as possible. However, don't take reality so serious! The most important thing is that it's fun! Have you seen some of the solutions large games get away with?

In Assassin's Creed it's amazing to make a dive from a high tower, a so called 'leap of faith'. In reality you will need a large enough tower, and a parachute to help you land safely. There doesn't exist a hay cart filled with enough hay to support a fall like that. This will mean instant death, however Altair and Ezio seem to be OK ;).

Important lesson here is: Jumping off buildings is fun! Dying from it is not. So it has been made easy for the player to continue the story and enjoy their dives.


So I Just Make Something Fun And Release This?
Well, no it's not as simple as that. Take a look at Early Access games. Some of them have serious technical problems and are breaking the experience of playing the game.

I just want to say that it's doesn't matter your game isn't perfect. It just matters if it's fulfilling it's goal. (For example: being a fun, enjoyable, educational..etc). When you play test the game, be sure to have a plan what you are testing. Hear what you want to hear and exclude the rest. Everyone has an opinion, hell, this complete article is MY opinion ;).

/Koen

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