29 December 2010

A Curious Stage in Development - by Marc Bell

Games take a long time to make and cost a large amount of money, this fact is widely and generally known. But it wasn't always the case. Back in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, games could and were quite often turned around in a few months. They were also sometimes made entirely by a single person, working from their own homes. How have we gone from a single coder, musician and artist, to massive companies of hundreds of employees and the development time taking years, in some cases five or more. And more importantly, are we better off?

It's not that hard to immediately say "well of course we are, look at the games!", and I can't entirely disagree. I've been gaming since the early 80s and while I absolutely love those early offerings, there's no doubt in my mind gaming is better now than it has ever been. There's a constant stream of blockbuster titles and with todays digital distribution we are deluged with quirky interesting games daily. But having recently played through Alan Wake, and making my thoughts quite clear on that particular game (1, 2), it really does blow my mind to think that took around seven years to make (3). That's almost as long as I've been in my current job, and that feels like a lifetime. If my job was to create one piece of creative output for almost seven years and then see it be ripped to shreds or met with silent apathy on release, I'd have to strongly question what I've been doing with myself.

What are developers doing all that time then, and is it worth it? For me personally, in Alan Wake's case, sure it was. I did enjoy it regardless of my criticisms, but thankfully I had seven years worth of other games to play in the mean time, and I didn't have to pay all those years of salaries for the people creating it, nor do I require a return on my investment. It's a shame we have to talk in those terms, but that's the reality of the industry we are all involved in. Video games are big now, but are they too big?

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