Why I hate “lazy devs”

Like a lot of people, I used to blame “lazy devs” for shoddy games. How hard can it be to create a game that works? Surely if those lazy devs got off their backsides instead of spending all day rolling around in our money they’d at least be able to create something that worked!

When I joined the game industry it started to dawn on me that, by and large, there are no lazy devs. There are a lot of underpaid, over-worked, stressed and extremely passionate devs – but I’ve never met one that I’d characterise as lazy. It’s a cut throat industry, with a lot of people wanting to get into it (building games is cool), so it’s not an industry that lends itself to laziness.

This is why I hate “lazy devs”, because that label is wrong.

The devs are the people that create games, the ones working hard to build features, create levels, animate characters, invent stories that transport you and me into far flung adventures.

But they’re not the ones that make the rules or change things mid-development.

When development of a game starts the studio will typically create a Game Design Document and a Technical Design Document. The GDD usually encompasses what the game is, what it will be like to play, types of levels, characters, story etc. It’s the game template. The TDD is the technical version of this and will include such things as the code requirements, animation parameters, workflow etc. From these documents, and potentially other documents, the plans and timelines will be drawn up to estimate how many devs of which type will be needed and when. That has to fit within the timeline the studio has for release, and the financial and marketing parameters. So there may be some to-ing and fro-ing on the documents and timelines.

And this is where the problems start.

It is borderline impossible to accurately gauge how long it will take to create any significant game from zero to complete. There are too many unknowns. So time needs to be included in the planning stage to allow for hiccups and problems – this is not something a studio with a limited amount of funding or time wants to hear, so this time is often not factored in by the studio.

And then of course, you almost inevitably have someone who changes things part way through.

A focus group has been shown an early build of the game, and reported it needs a new feature. Or the CEO has read a new book and insists on changing a storyline. Or the game designer walks in one morning with a crazy idea that’ll make the game “truly awesome”. Making changes like these take time, especially if it’s a fundamental structural change to the game and the project is fairly advanced. This is not the devs’ fault – they’re working to a plan decided by someone else – it’s the fault of whoever decided it’d be a reallllly cool idea to make that change.

Yet we still blame “lazy devs”.

By making these changes part way through development, or adding things, or changing direction, or simply not giving enough time for Murphy to work his inglorious magic, studios basically guarantee the game will not be ready on time for the deadline decided at the start of the project. So something has to give. You can’t say a game will take 2 years to develop, then add 25% more work part way through and still expect to hit the original 2 year deadline.

Sometimes studios may put back the release date to compensate – this is actually a good sign, because it shows the studio has both the financial resources to continue and the guts to admit the game needs more work. More often though, the studio is tied into a specific release date, and if that does not change we end up with a mess at release that can sometimes take months to fix. How many games have you played that were a buggy mess at launch, but reasonably playable a few months later? This is why.

So please take this advice. Next time you see a shoddy, late, buggy, incomplete game, take a moment to think before launching into a “lazy devs” tirade. The chances are you’re blaming the very people who tried hardest to make the game you’re playing great.

Instead, ask the question, “who made the decision to release the game in this state, and why did you take that decision?”

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Developer Review: Slime Rancher

Slime Rancher is a cutesy, colourful and weirdly fun game created by Monomi Park. This review looks at Monomi Park, and asks if they’re capable of finishing Slime Rancher, and if you should consider purchasing the game.

Full Review:

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Developer Review: CAT Interstellar

CAT Interstellar is an indie sci-fi game, set on Mars, and aims to tell story of a seemingly barren planet. The review looks at the developer behind CAT Interstellar, a small 2-man studio called Ionized Games.

Developer Rating: Negative

  • Community: A
  • Development Speed: D
  • Development Clarity: D
  • Developer Honesty: B

Full Review:

Although Ionized Games received a negative recommendation from the review, it was a close-run thing. If this team can increase it’s communication about the game, where it’s going and the milestones to get there, it could easily tip into a positive recommendation.

What’s your opinion? Do Ionized deserve a Positive recommendation based on their great community interaction, or should their lack of progress and information about what the final game will be override that?

 

Have an Early Access game you’re thinking of buying, and want some feedback on the developer before buying? Click this link to request a review.

Introducing Developer Reviews

How do you judge an Early Access game? It’s not finished, it’s probably buggy, almost certainly lacking content, and yet the devs want you to pay for the privilege of playing their incomplete masterpiece. Should you trust them?

That’s what the new Developer Review series is here to help with – which Early Access developers should you trust when they ask for your money?

Developer Reviews look at the studio behind the game. How are their community relations? Are they honest when describing the game they want you to buy? How long will it take to complete, and what will it be like when it gets there? These and many other factors will be looked at to arrive at a simple:

Positive – signs are good this developer can be trusted
Negative – think twice about handing your cash over, things might not work out

In its Early Access FAQ for purchasers, Valve advises:

When you buy an Early Access game, you should consider what the game is like to play right now.

Which is a great metric to use. If you buy the game now, and you get enough value out of it to justify what you paid, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s finished or not.

But our devious human brains don’t work like that, do they…?

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Twitch or YouTube – Which Do You Prefer?

Time was the main video content delivery site was YouTube. You could see the latest video from your favourite channels, at a time of your choosing, and see some pretty high quality stuff. For many years this was my main way of watching video content.

But over the last couple of years I’ve noticed a huge drop in my personal time on YouTube, and a subsequent increase in time watching Twitch streamers. Even traditional YouTubers, such as TotalBiscuit, can have 10,000+ people watching them when they stream. Right now I follow 144 different channels, and you can see some of my favourites at the bottom of this post.

 

In fact, and don’t hate me for this 😉 as I’m writing this post the CoD world league stream is on in the background with Machine and MoMo casting. It’s not necessarily the game that interests me, I quite like watching LoL for example and genuinely haven’t got a clue what’s going on, but the production quality and casting quality is excellent. Good casters are personalities in themselves, and can bring alive a game between two teams in a way that makes you invested in the game you’re watching. And next time you watch it because you’ve not got a team to cheer for.

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Dual Gear Caught My Eye

Mech and mecha games have long been a personal fascination, and Dual Gear’s new Indiegogo teaser video is so cool it had me grabbing the tissues to wipe up the saliva. There’s tons of indie games out there, so it’s nice to see one from a small team that has obvious high production values which helps it stand out.

It’s 3rd person view, graphics and interesting UI stand out immediately. Looking at bit further into the project, a lot of the concept art is top notch as well. You can see quite a lot on their Facebook page by clicking here. Since they’re doing an Indiegogo campaign, and they’re only 5 people, it’s safe to say they’re probably not well funded, so this might just be the first project I back on Indiegogo.

As a note, they do say there’s a public demo download on their site. The link does not work, so hopefully that’ll be sorted. The Indiegogo campaign is due to start on Jan 25th.

For more info, their contact details are:

Could Star Citizen have a second wave?

ScreenShot0012Star Citizen has been around for a few years now, and recently passed the $100 million funding mark. In almost every way possible, it has become the poster child for a successful Kickstarter, and post-Kickstarter, game.

But at some point surely it’s going to run out of steam, and the number of backers joining and people buying has got to slow down. Right?

Maybe not….

With the release of the 2.0.0 update, Star Citizen has released an early version of its persistent universe. You can now fly several ships around a singular star system, as well as run around a star port and play in the Arena mode (if you have access to that).

And that’s why I finally bought a Star Citizen game package.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of games that have not been completed. And there’s been more than a little doubt cast on Star Citizen in the last few months. Update 2.0.0 is the first time, in my eyes at least, that Star Citizen has delivered. Not just a demo mode, not just an (admittedly pretty) ship in a hangar, but a straight-up example of what they’re aiming to achieve with this game. And it’s pretty cool.

So I plumped for one of the basic start packages, which gives access to all areas + 1 ship. The game is still very early, but the fact you can now fly around and do limited missions is a major milestone. Plus, just playing with the HUD and in-ship systems is quite a blast. There’s a lot to learn there, and spending time getting up to speed is surprisingly fun. Now I can get a feel for where Star Citizen is heading – and it’s a journey I want to join them on.

So I wouldn’t be surprised if Star Citizen gains a second wind as new features and content come online. Who knows, in a few year we could be talking about them passing the $200 million mark!