Blizzard: Shipping Unfinished Games "Devastates" Developers

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Blizzard: Shipping Unfinished Games "Devastates" Developers

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Blizzard CFO Paul Sams thinks that releasing an unfinished product is one of the worst things that can happen to a developer, as it undermines all of the work that has gone into the game.

It can be hard work, being a game developer. The hours are long and the work demanding, but surely it's all worth it to see your game in the hands of people who adore it, right? That depends on how it was released, says Paul Sams, Chief Financial Officer of popular PC developer Blizzard - was it released because it was finished, or was it pushed out the door at the demand of the publisher? There is nothing more devastating to a hard-working and passionate development team than to see their game released before it was ready.

"If you've been in the games industry for any length of time and you've worked for a variety of companies, what you will hear from developers is that they were working on a game that they were so excited and enthusiastic about... and yet, when it got to the point where the company wanted to ship it and the game wasn't done, that company would oftentimes make the decision to ship it anyway - because they needed to make their quarterly numbers, or whatever," Sams told GI.biz.

"So the people who have put in the blood, sweat and tears on making this game that has all the promise - which instead has to be pushed out the door - those types of experiences are pretty devastating to people." Sams continued with praise for his own studio (natch), pointing out that Blizzard let developers make the games that they wanted to make without fiscal pressure from management. "We will not pull the rug out from under them and ship it before it's done, so people feel that when they out their heart and soul into a game, they'll be able to deliver the game they envisioned."

On the one hand, what Sams says is completely, 100% true - there's only one thing I can think of that would suck harder than "releasing an unfinished game," and that's "not releasing a game you worked on for 12 years" - and it's part of what makes his studio one of the most respected in the business, but he seems to be forgetting that unlike Blizzard, most other studios don't have a machine that prints money.

Games are expensive to make, and publishers are understandably wary to keep a game in development if that means paying the salary of a whole team for another six months to a year before seeing a return on investment. Without other games coming out to buoy a company's cash reserves, the only other alternative is sinking into millions of dollars of debt. It's a sad fact of the industry, but it it really surprising when developers get rushed to meet a deadline by a fiscally-driven publisher? I'm not saying it's in any way a good thing, just that it unfortunately makes sense.

On the other hand, Blizzard makes millions and millions every month off of Warcraft subscriptions alone. So yes, Mr. Sams, it's understandable that your company can afford to let the developers make their awesome games and release them when they're ready (and fully awesome), but not every studio has that same luxury.

It's hard to argue his point - there's no getting around that he is right - but studios like Blizzard and Valve (hey there, income from Steam!) that can afford the luxury of taking their time are few and far between.

Check out the full interview with Paul Sams and Rob Pardo at GamesIndustry.

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I can imagine, not just for the developers themselves, but also for the company they work for (and in term, thus, for themselves again).

Age of Conan is proof of that, it absolutely murdered Funcom's reputation and even though AoC is shaping up to be quite a good game, it will never loose that stigmata.

I think this is part of the reason why we're seeing such an influx of independent games these days (or, at least, more emphasis on them). Up-and-coming developers don't want to deal with this right out of the gate, especially if they want to control their own development studio.

Well isn't that quite a hilarious stance for the developers of world of warcraft.

While true that publisher edicts are strangling the industry as a whole, blizzard is the last house on the planet who has a right to complain. World of Warcraft managed to make microsoft look like amateurs at a type of marketing they invented.

See, this is the sort of mentality we should be promoting in the industry from gamers themselves, instead of people complaining because HL2: Episode Three isn't out yet. It takes time to make a good game, so gamers should just be patient. Good things come to those who wait, after all :).

In Blizzard's defence; they had the it's ready when it's done attitude even before the cash cow WoW.

Say what you will about WoW giving them the freedom to adopt this approach, but it is one they have been taking since the beginning.

And because of their stance, people know that a Blizzard game will be quality.

I don't even like RTS games, but I know that SC2 will be good - simply because it's Blizzard and they do it right.

What the DN4Ever team could have learned is how to set a deadline. Missing a deadline by a little bit - fine. Missing it by *years*? Not acceptable, but that's a leadership issue, and a topic for a whole other thread...

Hopeless Bastard:
Well isn't that quite a hilarious stance for the developers of world of warcraft.

While true that publisher edicts are strangling the industry as a whole, blizzard is the last house on the planet who has a right to complain. World of Warcraft managed to make microsoft look like amateurs at a type of marketing they invented.

Hilarious? I don't know - like you said, Blizzard is probably the last people who should be complaining about it - and Sams wasn't complaining about it at his own company, but pointing to how demoralizing it can be for others.

I think it makes sense as a statement, it's just kind of obvious from them.

The other side of the coin is that development studios need to manage the scope of the project better in order to meet a deadline. In most cases, developers are just as much to blame as publishers.

Development studios need to stand up for themselves before they begin a project... or they need publish their own games.

It's hardly something limited to the gaming industry, it's business. And it's about balance. Everyone has deadlines, tell some game makers/writers/musicians/accountants/whoever that they have unlimited time to polish their work and they'll take forever making improvements. "Done" is more a state of mind than anything else, someone has to make the push to get it out the door and if there isn't someone professional enough inside the developer to do it, the publisher who is funding it will do it.

Not to say that Blizzard don't release far more polished games than most and has benefited in some ways from that, but that's part of the company and not a benchmark that can always be applied.

Hey, Blizz.. if you release SC2 without proper LAN support (i.e., offline), IT WILL BE UNFINISHED.

I still wonder what KoTOR II would have been if Lucas Arts didn't rush Obsidian...
On that note: Does anyone know if Team Gizka is nearing the finish for their project?

John Funk:
On the other hand, Blizzard makes millions and millions every month off of Warcraft subscriptions alone.

I doubt the constant publishing delays of Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 have anything to do with those games being "unfinished", and way more to do with Blizzards money printing factory.

I'd wager that the money they're raking in from WoW subscriptions nets them more cash than releasing a game that has the potential to draw a somewhat significant portion of the WoW playerbase away from the game for several months.

For example, Torchlight took 11 months to develop from scratch with less than 20 people and no money, so with Blizzards resources and experience to have to "finish" games over several years is a bit ridiculous.

VanBasten:

John Funk:
On the other hand, Blizzard makes millions and millions every month off of Warcraft subscriptions alone.

I doubt the constant publishing delays of Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 have anything to do with those games being "unfinished", and way more to do with Blizzards money printing factory.

I'd wager that the money they're raking in from WoW subscriptions nets them more cash than releasing a game that has the potential to draw a somewhat significant portion of the WoW playerbase away from the game for several months.

For example, Torchlight took 11 months to develop from scratch with less than 20 people and no money, so with Blizzards resources and experience to have to "finish" games over several years is a bit ridiculous.

Well, we also have to consider that Blizzard was infamous for delays well before WoW came out - StarCraft, Diablo II, WarCraft III, and WoW were all delayed multiple times. That's not saying it couldn't be a contributing factor, but conspiracy theories don't really hold much water. By that logic, why ever would they be working on a game they're hoping will beat WoW (their new MMOG)?

Much as I curse Blizzard for releasing that soul-eating money farter WoW and taking my own in the process, they are right.

Although they have been a bit shady with release dates, they always seem to come out on top, with any criticism silenced by the hypnotic trance it puts most of its gamers in.

John Funk:

VanBasten:

John Funk:
On the other hand, Blizzard makes millions and millions every month off of Warcraft subscriptions alone.

I doubt the constant publishing delays of Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 have anything to do with those games being "unfinished", and way more to do with Blizzards money printing factory.

I'd wager that the money they're raking in from WoW subscriptions nets them more cash than releasing a game that has the potential to draw a somewhat significant portion of the WoW playerbase away from the game for several months.

For example, Torchlight took 11 months to develop from scratch with less than 20 people and no money, so with Blizzards resources and experience to have to "finish" games over several years is a bit ridiculous.

Well, we also have to consider that Blizzard was infamous for delays well before WoW came out - StarCraft, Diablo II, WarCraft III, and WoW were all delayed multiple times. That's not saying it couldn't be a contributing factor, but conspiracy theories don't really hold much water. By that logic, why ever would they be working on a game they're hoping will beat WoW (their new MMOG)?

And that's the chicken-and-egg question: does Blizzard delay their games so long because their money printing machine gives them the luxury to do so? Or did Blizzard wind up with a money printing machine in the first place because they don't release games until they're done?

robrob:
It's hardly something limited to the gaming industry, it's business.

True, it happens in Hollywood all the time. Why do you think Terry GIlliam hates Universal? They ruined too many of his movies.

It sounds like Paul needs to be reminded that these games aren't cheap for the consumer either. It's just as devastating to some gamers when they pay $60 for a piece of crap. At least the developer can sometimes pull a success out of it. Look at No More Heroes: a game that looks like it had promise if it hadn't been rushed to shelves before it was done. Fortunately for them the style and characters had enough appeal to certain types of gamers (otaku) that it was still a success. It just makes me wonder if they're going to intentionally make the sequel bad (to keep with expectations) or if they will actually finish making it before selling it to us.

Hence why most movie tie-ins are absolute disaters, they are released finished or not.

Trivun:
See, this is the sort of mentality we should be promoting in the industry from gamers themselves, instead of people complaining because HL2: Episode Three isn't out yet. It takes time to make a good game, so gamers should just be patient. Good things come to those who wait, after all :).

Have you ever wondered what would of happened if Valve would of stuck to the whole idea of Episodic gaming? Episode 3 would of come out at the same time as Episode 2.
I suppose the "When its done" mentality can be quite restricting. Take Stalker for example, that game was almost 7 years in development due to the whole range of features they kept adding.

Hope Chest:
And that's the chicken-and-egg question: does Blizzard delay their games so long because their money printing machine gives them the luxury to do so? Or did Blizzard wind up with a money printing machine in the first place because they don't release games until they're done?

Thats more like asking, "What came first, the chicken or the nugget."

The question now is whether the disgusting success of world of warcraft is enabling blizzard to make better games or simply to indulge themselves in ways no one would allow before world of warcraft.

robrob:
Everyone has deadlines, tell some game makers/writers/musicians/accountants/whoever that they have unlimited time to polish their work and they'll take forever making improvements. "Done" is more a state of mind than anything else, someone has to make the push to get it out the door and if there isn't someone professional enough inside the developer to do it, the publisher who is funding it will do it.

I agree with your sentiment, but there is a line between finished and unfinished. Unfortunately, a lot of games tread too close to that line.

VanBasten:

John Funk:
On the other hand, Blizzard makes millions and millions every month off of Warcraft subscriptions alone.

I doubt the constant publishing delays of Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 have anything to do with those games being "unfinished", and way more to do with Blizzards money printing factory.

I'd wager that the money they're raking in from WoW subscriptions nets them more cash than releasing a game that has the potential to draw a somewhat significant portion of the WoW playerbase away from the game for several months.

For example, Torchlight took 11 months to develop from scratch with less than 20 people and no money, so with Blizzards resources and experience to have to "finish" games over several years is a bit ridiculous.

Wow, it took Runic Games 11 months to copy/paste Diablo 2?

Really intresting interview. And its true which is the thing. If you bring a game out and its not finished it is only going to damage it further.

Just wish more develoers would listen to this sage advice...

John Funk:

That's not saying it couldn't be a contributing factor, but conspiracy theories don't really hold much water.

It's not so much a conspiracy theory as a good business decision on their part.

They'll time the release of SC2(part 1) with the inevitable slump in subscriptions between the final battle with the Lich King and Cataclysm. Cataclysm will most likely boost WoW to new heights, so more "unfinished" delays for part 2 and Diablo 3 will ensue till WoW hits another slump.

John Funk:

By that logic, why ever would they be working on a game they're hoping will beat WoW (their new MMOG)?

That unidentified MMO is so far off, that something's bound to take a crack at WoW by then. And if nothing does I'd most definitely expect more "when it's finished" delays. ;)

John Funk:

VanBasten:

John Funk:
On the other hand, Blizzard makes millions and millions every month off of Warcraft subscriptions alone.

I doubt the constant publishing delays of Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 have anything to do with those games being "unfinished", and way more to do with Blizzards money printing factory.

I'd wager that the money they're raking in from WoW subscriptions nets them more cash than releasing a game that has the potential to draw a somewhat significant portion of the WoW playerbase away from the game for several months.

For example, Torchlight took 11 months to develop from scratch with less than 20 people and no money, so with Blizzards resources and experience to have to "finish" games over several years is a bit ridiculous.

Well, we also have to consider that Blizzard was infamous for delays well before WoW came out - StarCraft, Diablo II, WarCraft III, and WoW were all delayed multiple times. That's not saying it couldn't be a contributing factor, but conspiracy theories don't really hold much water. By that logic, why ever would they be working on a game they're hoping will beat WoW (their new MMOG)?

Lets not forget, World of Warcraft too literally three and a half years to go from announcement to release. What's the changes it was in development for a few years more!

Orekoya:

Wow, it took Runic Games 11 months to copy/paste Diablo 2?

Yes, so one wonders why it's taking Blizzard 10+ years to do it. ;)

From where I sit, Blizzard is playing with a double-edged sword. Not many businesses aside from gaming and the auto industry get away with selling an unfinished product in the name of financial gains. Taking the time to do the job right, regardless of the project having a concrete release date is a good thing. However, taking 5-15 years to release the final product tends to create a lack-luster interest in the final product. People who follow the development aren't quite very likely to hang on for more than a couple of years, despite the promises of the developer of how good they expect the game to be. The ability to see into the future and predict what gamers will want is a difficult thing.
I'm certainly not defending games released before they have all the factors in place the designers wanted just to start making a return on their investment. Independent studios seem to have a far harder experience in balancing the budget on developing a game without going broke before the debut of the game is in sight, and some borrow heavily against the game in order to just make the release before bankruptcy. There is a growing movement to support indie companies for their fresh ideas, regardless if they utilize the most up to date graphics, physics engines, etc.

John Funk:

VanBasten:
[quote="John Funk" post="7.169371.4603617"]On the other hand, Blizzard makes millions and millions every month off of Warcraft subscriptions alone.

By that logic, why ever would they be working on a game they're hoping will beat WoW (their new MMOG)?

Ideally, I doubt that Blizzard wants to really keep WoW around for 20+ years. It is becoming clear that they have reached their saturation point in the market, and without completely overhauling the franchise (whoops, almost forgot about Cataclysm!) they will just be making minor updates to an aging game that people are losing interest in. It would make much more sense for them to create a newer intellectual property to continue the success they are having with WoW by introducing something else to eventually replace it. World of Diablo, possibly? Don't laugh until I'm proven wrong here.

Sadly though, it seems that Blizzard has gotten stuck remaking the same three games for years (two really, since this will be the first sequel for StarCraft). While they have met with a lot of success in these pursuits, gamers will eventually get sick of playing an updated version of the same old games. New generations of gamers may latch on to them, but their premises may not stand the ultimate test of time as interests change as fast as the landscape of gaming and technology. Outside of the basic stories, WarCraft, Diablo, and StarCraft do all share a similar art style and gameplay. Lots of killing, just with different enemies. There isn't much variety between them aside from the obvious details of them being set in different times, locations, and circumstances. The three of them could be argued to basically be the same game (excluding WoW, as Diablo and StarCraft haven't made the leap to MMOs, so I'm talking WarCraft if anyone remembers that game). They clearly understand their niche in the market and tailor their games accordingly, with a constant influx of money to allow them the freedom to polish their games in due time. But how long is too long in game development? Can we all really stand to keep up our enthusiasm for Diablo 3 if it takes another 3-5 years?

Blizzard only have so much money because they refused to release their games until they were virtual masterpieces. This is not something smaller (or bigger, but less daring) will usually do. More production time = more cost.

That extra money spent on production time is a risk. If the game doesn't do very well, that extra production money will have been wasted and worst of all you run the risk of not meeting your numbers and risk being dropped.

If you feel you have a masterpiece in the making but your company does not feel it's worth the risk the best thing to do is to arrange a meeting with management (an additional meeting to that which would take place anyway if the company is being pushed to release) and express your views and try and convince them to take that risk.

Successful games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy all took that risk and games like Turok and Mirror's edge didn't resulting in what should have been great games being dismal.

What if instead of setting deadlines for games, goals were set instead?

Developers could say, "We want to accomplish X, Y, and Z with this game, and once we do, we'll release it."

I might be being pedantic but don't many of the Blizzard games have quite a bit of patches for balancing issues and other problems? Has a Blizzard game ever been truly TOTALLY finished when it came out? :-P

Beowulf DW:
Developers could say, "We want to accomplish X, Y, and Z with this game, and once we do, we'll release it."

Developers can say whatever they want, unfortunately they don't make the decisions on when to release the game, publishers do. That's sort of the point of the article.

The thing you are missing in your little editorial is that Valve and Blizzard are in the positions they are SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE they've ALWAYS insisted on realeasing only when finished. That's why WoW is a "machine that prints" money. As much a i don't like the game, they took their time on it and did it right, as they've done with every game since (at least) Warcraft2.
In other words, these guys have been doing things that way since before they were succesful.

thenamelessloser:
I might be being pedantic but don't many of the Blizzard games have quite a bit of patches for balancing issues and other problems? Has a Blizzard game ever been truly TOTALLY finished when it came out? :-P

I reckon that's because balance is a shaky deal. Players find exploits or superior strategies in the current balance system, and the balance system has to be changed, which creates different opportunities for superior strategies, which calls for more changes to the balance, and this cycle continues on and on. Balancing is an ongoing work of non-stop maintenance, and I think what make Blizzard so good at it is that they actually invest the resources for such maintenance.

That aside, while I don't disagree with Blizzard's stance on not rushing a game release, developers still need to manage their projects correctly and set realistic goals and expectations for their work. It's one thing to be rushed before even being given a reasonable chance to complete a game, and another to take too long because the project was mismanaged or that unrealistic standards and goals were set for it. These are two extremes that should be avoided.

Beowulf DW:
What if instead of setting deadlines for games, goals were set instead?

Developers could say, "We want to accomplish X, Y, and Z with this game, and once we do, we'll release it."

That is what they do, unfortunately they often only get to completing Y and then they have the publisher on their ass to release the game.

Blizzard has one hell of a Quality Control team as well. StarCraft: Ghost was never released for a multitude of reasons of course, but one of the bigger reasons is because they didn't feel like the game did the StarCraft source material justice. Ghost was also slated for release near the end of the X-Box life-cycle, but why, then do you think Blizzard dropped the whole project instead of porting it to the 360 with improved visuals?

I also suppose that at the time they felt is was much more worth their time and effort in developing WoW prior to release. But again, that just means they felt that WoW was more worth it then Ghost which falls under the whole Ghost not being up to par thing.

That's easy for Blizzard to say, if only because they have a nearly unlimited access to continuing operations funding thanks to WoW's subscription fees and game sales.

For a developer that's trying to get a product out before their funding gets yanked out from under them by a publisher, it's a rock-and-a-hard-place situation. Rush the game, and their reputation gets destroyed. Take too much time in development, and the publisher pulls your funding and your company goes bankrupt.

The entire gaming model is broken. The only game I can think of in recent memory that shipped finished was Mount and Blade, and then only because it started out as a two-person combat-simulator project that was doing just fine for its budgetary needs and just happened to pick up a publisher (Paradox Interactive) willing to get it out to its wider audience. It's almost cheating for me to name it 2008's Game of the Year when so many had been playing it since long before then.

SimuLord:
That's easy for Blizzard to say, if only because they have a nearly unlimited access to continuing operations funding thanks to WoW's subscription fees and game sales.

For a developer that's trying to get a product out before their funding gets yanked out from under them by a publisher, it's a rock-and-a-hard-place situation. Rush the game, and their reputation gets destroyed. Take too much time in development, and the publisher pulls your funding and your company goes bankrupt.

The entire gaming model is broken. The only game I can think of in recent memory that shipped finished was Mount and Blade, and then only because it started out as a two-person combat-simulator project that was doing just fine for its budgetary needs and just happened to pick up a publisher (Paradox Interactive) willing to get it out to its wider audience. It's almost cheating for me to name it 2008's Game of the Year when so many had been playing it since long before then.

I agree that their is definitely an issue with the whole system. The only thing I contest is that Blizzard had this policy since long before WoW. You can't just go and say the only reason they can do this is because of WoW, that is simply false.

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