The Risks of Multi Game Development

Last week, we talked about the development model of “games as a service” and the pros and cons related to it. Being able to continue working on one title is great when everything works out but it also means that not everyone in your studio can work on the game by sheer nature of game development.

Broken Age (2)

Being a studio that can create multiple games at once is becoming more popular as developers are spending longer development cycles on games, but having too many balls to juggle is one of the riskiest parts of designing games and running a studio.

Studio Management:

A key to sustaining any major company regardless of the industry is putting out constant products. If your employees aren’t working, then you are losing money both in terms of development and the operating expenses of your company.

For larger game studios, it was customary for most of the game industry up until this decade to fire all but the most important people to a game’s development after release. The reason is that with no game being worked on to sustain the company, most studios couldn’t afford to keep on an extended staff. After the studio starts to work on a new product, they would hire more temporary employees until that project was done and the cycle went on. This led to high turnover rates and a problem that was a nature of the beast.

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Overkill Software’s commitment to Payday 2 has kept their team busy designing new content and updates for the game.

But with studios now sustaining game development thanks to the “games as a service” approach, companies can now afford to keep their employees on as the game’s development cycle is now much longer and in many cases leads right up until the next game from the studio begins. This sounds like a win-win as companies continue to work on a game and employees keep their jobs, but it’s not that simple due to how studios operate.

Keeping Busy:

When it comes to the size of a game studio, there aren’t strict rules for how little or how many employees one needs to make a game. We’ve seen Indie studios made up of five or less employees to massive studios with over a hundred. But when it comes to the employee’s skill set, most studios operate under the same philosophy of having people who are experts in their field.

IE you’re not going to have your music composer design your levels while your artists are programming the game. The only exception we’ve heard of is Valve’s flat structure where employees are expected to know multiple disciplines and be able to contribute to a project in multiple ways.

Planetary Anniliation (3)

With Planetary Annihilation released, Uber has shifted team members to their next project while still continuing to support PA

And this is why despite extending the development of one game; developers still need additional projects in order to keep their entire staff working. And working on multiple games means that you are splitting your employee’s focus and can impact the quality of a project.

It’s simple: There are only so many hours in a day that someone can work on a project without getting on the subject of “crunch time.”  The more projects you have to work on at once, increases the amount of time it will take to finish as your focus is being split two, three or more ways.

The danger of having multiple games being worked on at once comes in if development goes on for too long and the game’s original budget was based on having people working and focusing on just one title.

This is where the problems with the games as a service model and working on multiple titles go hand in hand and something that some studios are struggling with.

Stalled Production:

We talked about Double Fine and their problems a few weeks ago but for a quick recap: The studio has ran into trouble finishing titles and sustaining development with Broken Age running out of funding and needing to be split into two releases and Space Base DF-9 being developed under a five year plan that only led to a year and a half of work.

Double Fine has a lot of balls in the air in a manner of speaking — With Broken Age part 2, Grim Fandango remake, Costume Quest 2, Massive Chalice, their Amnesia Fortnight Game Jams and their new publishing role for Indie developers. The studio is not really considered “Indie” with over 30 employees and that does give them flexibility to work on multiple projects. But at the same time, looking at their track record over 2014, it doesn’t look like it’s working out for them.

SpacebaseDF-9 (2)

Double Fine’s work on multiple games at once has so far led to a drop in production.

When a project is completed or someone’s role in it, it’s customary to have team members shifted to other projects to keep them busy, but when you are trying to make multiple games at the same time, you’re splitting the development focus in too many ways. And what happens is that with development being split means that it gets delayed and a delayed game always means more money between the additional work and maintaining the studio.

With the “Games as a service” model, developers are receiving money for games that aren’t finished and why it’s possible to work on multiple games, but that money is not really profit as it goes towards finishing the game. You won’t know exactly how much money you’re going to end up with until the game is finished. And again, all the time you’re working on the game, is costing money.

Making a Tough Choice:

Working on multiple projects is not inherently a bad thing as it can mean increased profits for the studios that can make it work. However it also means that if you’re not careful, you will be forced to make tough choices about what games you see through to the end and which ones will have to be delayed or cancelled. And in an industry where it’s hard to regain consumer confidence, it may not be worth the risk to work on multiple games.

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