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Developer, know when to stop!

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Developing a good game is not only about coming up with good ideas, but also about realizing which the bad ideas are. This is not specific to just gaming world, it works with every piece of art, from paintings to books and movies.

Developer, know when to stop!

Knowing which idea will work for your game is not as easy as it might seem, because what is good and bad idea is relative to your own taste, background, experience, etc. I will use few examples to show how tricky this could be. First one is an easy for me - Alien Isolation. After watching several people playing this on youtube I have given it a go few years back and it was the most boring thing I have played in recent times. Why? I can’t really say. I knew what to expect, but simply could not enjoy any of this - the constant sneaking with time was boring, the alien was for me more annoying than scary, the game was too long and monotonous.

After blowing up the alien at one moment I thought "oh, well, at least I’m done with it", but then... the next chapter started. And another one. And another one. When I learned from online walkthrough that there are 8 more chapters I uninstalled the game. I still can’t understand why so many people love this title, because for me it was just very boring experience. The alien was ok at best, when he caught me I was just "go ahead, just eat me" because I was so bored with it. Especially since the logic seemed to be missing in the behaviour of the alien - he could miss me while 2 feet away, but later spot me across big room when I was hiding behind a crate.

To this day I can’t believe how well the game was received, but at the same time I can’t deny that vast majority of players did enjoyed that, so it must, somehow, have some strong points that I must have missed. I mean sneaking is cute, but only for a while. This reminded me of another title that was initially very well received, but developers later moved into... curious direction - The Long Dark. The survival game set in the Canadian wilderness gathered attention of players in 2014 and 2015 offering quite unique (at that point in time) mechanics and interesting setting. With time the game was improved, fixed, which only made the player experience better.

And then the small disaster happened. Well, in game it was huge disaster from a get-go, but in the game development it was a small disaster - as some players were complaining that what this title needs is story mode, the developers created one. It took them years to finish, it was crashing the game, it was ruining the experience, it has changed the map... and it was in a way a disaster. The game still sells, still a lot of players enjoy that title, but at the same time it did not improved the game a bit for most of the users. You have to download additional gigabytes of content, which most likely you will not use, it destroyed experience for older players and did not brought much new players.

Similar thing happened to a multiplayer game called Heliborne, which had original idea of putting players in charge of attack helicopters on a shared map in a PvE setting (players vs environment). It was a niche theme, but gathered interest of players, to the point that some of them were a bit bored, so they started to demand that the game should be more challenging. Developers made some changes to the gameplay, which made the AI enemies more challenging, but at the same time it was a disastrous idea for other players, who felt that now the game is too hard to play and less enjoyable. Enough said that splitting your playerbase is not a great idea and game did not gained anything from those changes.

That’s what makes me worry when I see on Steam discussions questions like "will the game have story mode", "will there be multiplayer" or "I think it’s a good idea to put zombies in it". While the players might have the best intentions in their minds, any of those ideas might be a nail in a coffin of a game that they like. One of such examples is Carrier Command 2, an anticipated sequel to a very old game, which ended up just boring and messy. If you would take a look at the Steam discussion when the alpha / beta tests were taking place you would stumble upon dozens of ideas they should incorporate in the title - from dropping sniper teams on the islands to introduction of torpedo bombers.

Who knows, maybe those are great ideas, although they just sound ridiculous, but it is up to the developers to take a shovel and get through the feedback they received. Not only that, but also it is up to them to estimate how much work would it take to make them, how smooth the introduction of new elements would be, is it feasible from financial point of view. As a developer you should listen to your playerbase, but at the same time you are in charge of the project. They might want dozens of things, because they are not the ones that would have to deal with programming them, testing them, patching, balancing, etc.

In the worst scenario your project will end up in development hell, when you will be unable to finish it to the top standard within reasonable time. In the best scenario you might improve your game and bring more players, but that is about it. Every game developer thinks he works on a project that will revolutionize the genre or will be the ultimate game of the genre, but in reality there are just too many games developed and there are not enough players to play them all at the same time, especially when you move into a niche territory.

Take a look at the No Man’s Sky case - they had disastrous premiere, they worked hard for several years to reach the expectations of their audience and, according to some journalists, they have. But it was years after it really mattered. It is credit to them that they have fulfilled what they promised, but the audience just moved on. Was it worth it to spend few more years on fixing the game? This you have to answer yourself.


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