#2. You're Always Flying Blind
Every gamer has had the experience of seeing some amazing preview trailer for a game set to come out a year or so later, only to have the game arrive and look nothing like that preview (although some are worse than others):
You may ask yourself why they're allowed to get away with that -- isn't it false advertising? Or fraud? After all, don't these game makers know what their own final product is going to look like? No, we don't. In fact, it's almost impossible to know. Why?
Well, think about your hypothetical child's birthday party earlier. Imagine going through that hectic process, only to find that the guest list changes about once an hour. Suddenly you have to accommodate more kids. The backyard you planned to use isn't big enough. The one clown you hired won't be enough to terrify all of them. So you rethink your plans, some of which means re-doing work you've already done. Then, an hour later, it changes again -- this time it's not just more kids, but different kids. Some of them have peanut allergies. Each little change means you have to completely re-think what you're doing.
Surviving children: 3 out of 7
Well, in the world of video games, it's the hardware that's changing under our feet -- beyond having new consoles every few years, new video cards for PCs are arriving constantly. To use each feature on a given video card, you write render code, and sometimes you're writing render code for hardware that isn't even out yet. Remember, it can take several years to make a game, and in that time the available hardware is going to change multiple times. You can be pretty far along in the process and still be unsure of how the graphics are going to look ... in an industry where the main selling point is graphics.
So, once the coders figure out how to implement the features, the artists have to make assets, and then designers are given all of those beautiful set pieces and told to "add gameplay." Put it all together, and 80 percent of the work on a game generally gets done in the last 20 percent of the schedule. Up until then, it's all promises: hardware developers promising that their shit will be able to do what they say, level designers promising they'll be able to use it, programmers promising they won't have too much stuff to fix, and the whole time the company is releasing promotional material that they totally promise is what the final game will look like.
Incredibly, this is a promo for Call of Duty: Ghosts and not BuildingFucker IV: With Helicopters.
Right now we're in the middle of a new console launch -- these periods are the worst of all. Remember, all of the games available at launch started development long before Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo even knew what their consoles were going to look like. It takes so long for developers to catch up and figure out the hardware that by the time the true power of a console is discovered, it's time to start all over -- an unfortunate reality that is apparently deliberate.
If this makes game designing seem like kind of a rough job, well ...
#1. The Industry Is Extremely Exploitative, and It's Driving Away Talent
I'm not exaggerating when I say that, for the vast majority of studios in the game industry, working conditions are awful, and the burnout rate is pandemic. The frantic period before a game releases is called crunch time, and it's marked by 60- to 80-hour weeks. And "crunch time" can last up to a year. No, it's not as bad a job as that guy who has to crawl up the constipated elephant's butt at the zoo, but it's bad enough that it's hurting the games. The best and brightest veterans get driven away.
"To hell with this. Back to the pachyderms and their sweet, simple anuses."
It's easy to see why. Around your late 20s and early 30s, most people are looking to settle down and start a family. This means a stable, secure job that doesn't demand 12-hour days plus weekends, with no overtime and the looming threat of layoffs after the project ships. Producers and programmers can easily work on commercial software for banks or oil companies, and designers can easily transition into anything related to front-end user experience -- and in both cases, they'll be making way more money for way less work.
So the game industry is exporting experienced game developers while importing businessmen with no game industry experience to oversee the starry-eyed inexperienced juniors who remain. The only ones who tend to stay behind are the artists, because they're stuck with highly specialized skills (like animating boobs), which skews the industry's expertise in that direction.
We've mocked them before, but those jugs are some kids' college tuition.
The result of all of this isn't that games are going away -- it's just that the industry may look very different a few years from now. That might not be a bad thing.
Dave Williams recently went indie. He is currently working on Astrobase Command, a low-tech science fiction sandbox RPG which is currently on Kickstarter. Go help him change the future of gaming! You can follow him on Twitter. J.F. Sargent is a Workshop moderator and dick joke journalist for Cracked.
Related Reading: Video games that survive the crash are about to get a lot more annoying. Microtransactions and persistent connectivity are here to stay, as are their annoying little friends. Some problems with the game industry will just never be fixed. Click here to learn why. Then read up on ominous gaming trends and maybe go cry in a corner or something.
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