Two decades ago, you could plop a disk into a console and play the game immediately. There was no DLC, live service, first-day update, or microtransactions.
What you got was what you paid for. Small teams made most AAA games during this period, sometimes less than two dozen people. Developing games was fast, and it was also cheap.
In the modern day, AAA games are big projects, with budgets in the hundreds of millions combined with an army of hundreds if not thousands of developers. Successful game development is nothing short of a miracle, as so many teams must come together and build a product worthy of being released.
Game development is difficult, but many gamers do not see or understand this.
One thing gamers have complained about in modern gaming is the prevalence of what many see as “unfinished” games. For example, Battlefield 2042 was released with only 3 modes and no campaign, Modern Warfare II 2022 was released with a clunky UI, Fallout 76 and its botched launch, Halo infinite’s drip-feed of content and long time between seasons, the list can go on and on.
The biggest reason unfinished games are released is because of the concept of GAAS, or games as a service. Popularized by Fortnite, post-launch services and microtransaction content has become a necessity for many studios.
For example, 74% of EA’s net bookings came from live service content last quarter. Studios can just push content out to be released later. This is reportedly the case for the upcoming GTA 6, which could release in 2024 due to cut content being saved for a later release.
Instead of launching everything at once, you can release big chunks of content little by little over through seasonal battle passes and microtransaction content. This could also give developers time to finish unfinished content after a title has launched.
For some studios, mismanagement and a toxic culture can lead to delays and crunch. This was the case for CD Projekt Red and the release of Cyberpunk 2077. Forced crunch, unrealistic deadlines, and poor management led to the botched release of Cyberpunk 2077.
Cyberpunk launched in the most broken state of any recent AAA game and ruined CDPR’s reputation as a top AAA developer. The developer built a reputation of not being like the ‘others’, i.e EA, Take-Two, and other publishers some see as “greedy” and “anti-consumer”.
Lack of vision and direction also has been the handicap for many AAA titles. This was the case for Fallout 76, whose development was strife with mismanagement and confusion over the direction of the game.
It was not clear what kind of game Fallout 76 wanted to be. But one of the biggest drivers of Fallout 76’s failure was that Bethesda developers did not want to build a live service Fallout game, despite the requests of higher-ups.
All games are developed by people who put their heart and soul into them, but missteps can throw projects off balance, leaving games to end up unfinished.
Often it is not the fault of developers for games to be released unpolished, however, they often receive the bane from consumers. Death threats against game developers on social media are a common occurrence. Rarely are upper-level executives who make many decisions on development to blame.
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