Lately, it seems like we as an industry have forgotten what it means to have deadlines. When we get deadlines we cram everything we need to do in before that set date. But what happens when we take on too much? Dark Souls 3 clearly had this issue, failing to launch with poise turned on. Meanwhile, Just Cause 3 had PC issues that distorted things like frame rate and server log-in issues. Is the gaming industry launching unfinished games, in hopes of getting them out to the public early and then finishing them through patches? Are we simply taking on too much?
What It Really Means to Have A Deadline
To have a deadline means that you agreed to a set date by which you’d have a finished product for mass commercial entertainment. Players count on developers to release the games on those specific dates. Publishers count on developers to release the games on those specific dates. When a developer needs more time because they had a few mishaps, or they perhaps had too much work to do and little time to do it in, they typically push that set date back. It is publicly announced so that everyone knows, and of course the rantings ensue…
This is typically why some developers choose to launch early: they fear the backlash and connotations associated with pushing set dates back. Things like “they needed more time, the game might be terrible.” However, if all developers feared this connotation, they would either scramble to finish on the set date and succeed, or they would scramble to finish on the set date, launch an incomplete game, and finish it through patches.
Truthfully, players want a complete game right from the start. Often times, they pre-order games, putting money upfront for it. Even if they don’t pre-order and just purchase upon launch, they put money in to not only support us as developers, but to be able to experience our creations. Would you pay money for a half sewn T-shirt? No, you wouldn’t. This is why developers need to take deadlines more seriously then we have been as of late. It is better to launch a complete game later, than an incomplete game on time.
How That Deadline Impacts Development
Deadlines impact development through time management. If we implement proper time management, we can meet deadlines. This is, of course, assuming that you are realistic about your game. If you are trying to do one million tasks that take up giant chunks of time, but only have a few short months to do it in, you should re-evaluate the list. Realistically there’s only so much anyone can do given the time frame.
Of course, as creatives, we strive to create as much as we can, as best as we can. To be restricted by time goes against our nature. What we need to start understanding is that while creativity is of the utmost importance, it does not surpass importance of doing our job, which is to release products on the date that we said we would. If mishaps occur, that gives us a proper excuse for extra time, but there is absolutely no excuse for an unfinished game that is launched on time.
Creativity Through Restriction: Easy Solutions to Staying On Target
If it seems like it’s an easy task, staying on target, it’s not. But there are easy solutions that you can implement, and as long as you are diligent about them, you just might launch your game on time:
- Make generous estimates. Give yourself an extra two months on top of what you think you need to complete your game. Upon first starting, you might think you need a year, maybe two. Maybe six months later you might realize you need a little more time. By having those extra two months of clearance, if there are any mishaps, you might not even need to set your date back.
- Make a list and check it twice (maybe even thrice.) Organize everything you have to do by category, then eliminate what isn’t absolutely essential. And by eliminating, we don’t mean delete, just keep it in a nice contained list for safekeeping. If it’s near the middle or end of the game’s development and you realize you have covered most, if not all of the essentials, then you can go ahead and pull out the list of “wants versus needs” and add as many finishing touches and bonus features as you can within the time remaining. This guarantees that the basics are absolutely covered, and the game will be completed on time regardless of anything else. It also sets your priorities straight, focusing on needs rather than wants, and saving what’s not needed for later when they’re actually more appropriate.
- Create a crisis plan. A lot of the time, especially in indie development, some developers will quit in the middle of a project go onto another studio. By creating a plan of action for these type of situations, you can save yourself the moments of panic when it does happen (Because it’s going to happen at some point!) The plan could be as simple as hiring an extra person to float on the team, so that if someone leaves, they can take that position. It could also be maintaining a list of potential developers that you can contact and hire mid-project.
To have a deadline means you have a set date filled with expectations. As a developer if you don’t deliver on that date, there should be a legitimate excuse, like situations that were ultimately out of your control despite your best efforts. If you launch the game on time, but it is unfinished, don’t expect reviewers and players to be particularly enthusiastic. Deadlines are deadlines for a reason. As developers we should be trying to strive for completion by that date. There has been a trend of launching unfinished games that later get finished through patches, but that is not acceptable. Frankly, it hurts the industry by making us seem unreliable. So if you can help it, especially if you are the creative director, make sure to focus on the essentials first, give yourself the proper time, delegate the proper tasks to the proper people, create a crisis plan, and work on embellishments once the core structure is complete.
If you need some support figuring out the best timeline for your game and its launch strategy, don’t hesitate to email us at [email protected]! We’d be happy to help.