Mike Simpson, a developer of the Total War computer game series, has come out fighting after the latest game in the series, Empire, continues to take flack. The post (reproduced below in its entirety) is a good glimpse into the realities of game development.
Our guiding principle with design is that we make the game we want to play, and trust that other people will like it. That inevitably means we make the TW games for the hardcore fans rather than for the more casual gamers that are possibly the majority of our customers. We believe that if we succeed in making a game that the fans like it will by definition be a great game, and the because of its quality casual players will like it too, so long as we make it accessible. We need both groups (casual and hardcore) to get enough money in to allow us to keep making the games, so one of the tightropes we walk is the balance between accessibility and depth. Great design manages both, and that’s what we strive for (occasionally successfully!).
We do however also have another customer who we make the game for, and in one particular way they are the most important of all. It’s our publisher, who is driven by the grim necessity of commercial reality. Those necessities tend to be short term compared with the dev time of a game or the lifetime of a series. They are also necessities that we cannot ignore – if we do it’s Game Over. Empire: Total War happened the only way it could – it had to be in a box in Feb 09. Damned stressful for all concerned, but it’s so much a fact of life it’s almost not worth talking about.
I think some people think that when “commercial reality” wins, they lose. If the car parks at Sega or CA were full of Ferraris, I might agree. But they are not. When “commercial reality” wins, we live to make another game.
I have mixed feelings on this. Yes, commercial goals and gamer goals can (and should) be compatible. Yes, there will be some trade offs. But the quality of the product should be the last thing a value-add, creative company lets slip. They should lose features before releasing broader, buggier games. There is no excuse for selling buggy software. This approach (shall we call it the ‘Microsoft approach’?) can only work long-term if you have the commercial advantage and customer lock-in to support it. Even then, it will vanish as soon as higher-quality alternatives appear.
I love the Total War series and own three games (of which Rome is my favourite). But I haven’t bought Empire, and probably won’t. When the next installment, Napoleon, arrives, I won’t be rushing out to buy it either. I’ll hang on until the bugs are fixed and the price drops. I don’t want to be paying top dollar for whatever work in progress “has to be in a box by date X”.