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