Photo:

Here Are The Real Reasons Your Favorite Video Game Developers Keep Releasing Terrible Games

Even the best video game developers release awful games. But why? Well, video games are a massive gamble, and in some ways making a video game is even riskier than making a movie. It's an unstable, rapidly moving market, and it seems like every other day another plate of hot garbage is served to players. While that's the overarching reason big-name AAA studios occasionally end up putting out a complete flop, the full story is much more nuanced than that. 

It's hard to say exactly why good developers release bad games, and while it often feels like every gamer has their own answer, few people outside of the industry actually know how to make a video game. While its easy for reviewers to assign a numeric score based on gameplay and graphics, this type of assessment routinely fails to factor in the insane amount of work it takes to manufacture any aspect of a video game. 

While most players don't understand how video games work, that doesn't mean it's impossible to learn what makes the industry tick. The video game business is an ornate machine, comprised of developers, publishers, investors, and to an extent news outlets. By considering all of these factors as a unified entity, one can begin to wrap their head around the reason why bad games get made. 

Photo:

  • Publishers Know That No One Finishes Games, So They Skimp On The Final Acts

    Publishers Know That No One Finishes Games, So They Skimp On The Final Acts
    Photo: Bioshock 2 / 2K

    As opposed to other sectors of the entertainment industry, most video game consumers will never see the entirety of the final product. In fact, the majority of gamers drop off in the first third of a game, and it's statistically remarkable to see even 30% of players finish a big-budget title. Because of this, it's a common strategy among developers to front-load their games, so the most interesting content is accessible right from the start. The opening of Bioshock 2 is jam-packed with new sights and mechanics, but the latter half of the story is comprised solely of repeated ideas. 

    This issue doesn't just affect casual players, game reviewers run into similar problems when they're required to review titles that take hundreds of hours to complete. Game reviewes have that much time to invest; the public cares most about a review the day a game is released, so there's a lot of pressure to finish a piece before a title's launch date. 

    Because of all this, it's in the creators' best interest to sink the most resources into the beginning of a game. Unfortunately, this has caused some of the most lauded games of recent years to have absolutely awful final acts. 

  • Bad PR And Marketing Campaigns Can Lead To Absurd Expectations

    Hype can be both a gift and a curse for any popular media. In the cases of Fable 3 and No Man's Sky, fans' excitement ultimately lead to horrible public backlash. Hello Games, the company behind No Man's Sky, lacked a dedicated PR team during the game's development. This put the game's director, Sean Murray, in the uncomfortable position of encouraging excitement for the game he was actively making.

    When Murray showed the game off at E3 2015, he decided to focus on the features he intended to include in the game, and used a pre-scripted level to show off what he described as "just another planet." The press was left with the impression that this highly choreographed sequence was one of millions of chance encounters. However, when the final product was released in 2016, the game's world was considerably more simplistic and barren. While it's great to be excited about upcoming games, it's important to take everything as speculation until the product is in the hands of the public.

  • Extended Production Times Can Leave Games Feeling Dated

    Games often take a staggering amount of time to complete; The Last Guardian spent more than 7 years in development. That's a long time for an industry that values innovation, and whole console generations came and went over the course of the game's development cycle.

    When The Last Guardian was finally released in 2016, initial reviews said that it played like a PlayStation 2 game. Gaming standards are constantly increasing at an exponential rate, and issues that were commonly accepted a decade ago now feel inexcusable. If a control scheme or in-game interface was designed over half a decade ago, there's almost no way it will hold up to contemporary expectations. 

  • Writing Is Rarely A Top Priority, And That Leads To Bad Games

    When making video games, writing often takes a backseat to level design, character progression systems, and financial constraints. Even when emphasis is placed on a great story, a game's plot has to be able to withstand random sections being added or subtracted with little notice. If a level that contains a crucial plot point has to be cut for technical reasons, the writer is forced to piece the story back together as best they can. 

    Some games like Tetris or PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds don't require a tight story to be fun, but in less mechanically driven games, issues can quickly arise when a slapdash story is closely scrutinized. For example, the lore of Final Fantasy XIII plays out like someone copy/pasted 50 bad fan fiction stories into a single document. When a game has over 100 creators, it's hard to make a story feel unified, and that results in some really disappointing games. 

  • Games Are Getting Harder To Make

    According to Mark Rubin — an executive producer at Infinity Ward — the difficulty of making AAA games is rapidly increasing. Gone are the days where a single team can reasonably make a mainstream title; in order to keep up with modern standards, all big-budget games are basically required to feature original scores, talented voice actors, fluid animations, single-player and multiplayer elements, and incentives to keep players engaged once they've finished with the main story. 

    Rubin worries that "smaller studios... are having trouble making games that fill the big AAA market because they're harder to do." For studios that lack resources (and even for those that are well-funded) there are an ever-increasing number of complicated factors to consider in development. Whereas 10 years ago there were a number of B-tier games released every year, this type of game has basically vanished from the market. On top of that, smaller games that would have once been sold at full-price, such as Yooka Layleenow release at lower price points due to their lack of "AAA features." 

  • Game Developers Have No Job Security, And That Impacts Their Work

    Jobs in the video game industry have a reputation for being unstable. When a AAA game is in development, hundreds of people are often required to complete the massive undertaking, but what happens to those people the day after the game is released? It's possible for a freelance developer to score a coveted spot on the post-release team, or move on to another game in the works. Unfortunately, it's far more likely that the whole team will be let go at once, as entire studios are often dissolved after a game is completed. 

    Finding a new job takes time, money, and often relocation. While big-budget films also rely heavily on freelance work, Hollywood is filled with workers' unions and fellowships that are noticeably absent from the gaming industry. All this causes game developers a lot of anxiety, and that stress definitely affects the quality of their work.