This is what it’s like to make video games and watch them die

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When Ubisoft announced that hyper Landscape, his ambitious battle royale game will close on April 28, the news articles were candid. “Forgottenrefusal,” and “massive failure” were common descriptors, and the overall conclusion was that the game didn’t do enough to stand out from well-known competitors in a crowded genre.

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Hyper Landscape it’s just the latest live service game to meet an ignominious end. Battleborn, Law Breakers, Crucible, and Planetside Arena several notable titles released over the past few years, the last of which survives only four months. And once the servers for these games go down, they disappear forever.

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Perhaps this is the natural result of a crowded market seeking to follow trends. But how do developers feel about years of work on games that fail and disappear for reasons beyond their control? And how do they feel about continuing to work in an environment where, as more games move to a live service model, their creative efforts become increasingly unreliable?

Working on the flop

Taylor (pseudonym), who worked on Hyper Landscape, said in an email that they “try not to get too attached to anything in game development as its nature is fleeting and things are often cut or redone. That being said, it was the first game I worked on that left most of my work intact, and it’s terrible that none of that survived.”

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Games fail for a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond the control of the developers. But the failed single-player game still exists, and new fans might stumble upon it. Dead online game just passed, millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work in the smoke.

Game writer Mikko Rautalahti, whose credits include Alan Wake, Quantum Break, and numerous dead or canceled games, said during a phone call that the death of an online game is unique. “If you write a book, you can count on it to be around, people can experience it later,” Rautalahti said. “When those servers go down, there are just a bunch of random YouTube videos where you can catch a glimpse of the work we’ve done. What a shame to just let it slip through our fingers.”

This does not mean that these games are not worth making. Game designer Chris Morris, who worked on offenders, tells WIRED: “I don’t consider this work in vain, it was a valuable experience and an interesting project. It would be great if things went differently and the game found its audience. I really wish it could be played today in one form or another.”

Narratives tend to quickly form around doomed games. Hyper Landscape criticized for sports unbalanced weapons and brutal learning curve, and by the time Ubisoft began addressing these issues, its troublesome reputation had hardened. It can be frustrating for developers when good ideas go by the wayside.

“I think Law breakers The levels, movements, gunplay and abilities of the characters fit together in an interesting way,” says Morris. “I feel like I had a lot of untapped potential and depth. If the game could exist, I could see a future where the team would continue to explore the game with the players and find new ways to make it fresh and interesting.”

But in an industry that’s always on the lookout for the next quarterly report, struggling games rarely get the time it takes to fix them. Sometimes they are not given a chance to succeed at all.

“I always felt like the management was treating us like we were working on a single-player game,” says Taylor. “There were so many unrealistic expectations, lack of planning and too many last minute decisions. Upon launch, we received praise for the playable character, a Malay woman wearing a hijab, praise that made me feel conflicted because we didn’t even bother to hire a voice actress who could actually speak Malay. I think it’s inevitable that not every live service game will be successful, but much more could be done to set Hyper Landscape to success, and it just didn’t happen. It was disappointing and frustrating.”

Ephemeral future

In spite of Law Breakers unable to survive in the fight against competitors, including Overwatch and fortnite, Morris is optimistic about the opportunity to work on another live game. According to him, all he can do is work hard and hope to create something compelling, while recognizing that countless games compete for player time. However, as a fan, he has concerns.

“I would not want risk aversion just because the game power can’t find an audience. However, as someone who has always enjoyed collecting games, I am concerned that many of these games may disappear completely. We don’t have any meaningful way to archive them or access them.”

No media is invulnerable – countless films, for example, were lost– but the gaming industry is completely indifferent to its fate. Recent Nintendo decision close WiiU and 3DS online storeskilling access to hundreds of digital games is just the latest case of accidentally destroying a piece of gaming history.

Therefore, Morris would like more live games to include sunset plans. Whether it’s the ability to play games offline against bots, or the ability for fans to create their own matches and servers, it will mean the difference between a niche fandom playing a game for decades and having to watch it disappear forever.

While matchmaking and dedicated servers have their strengths, a game as big as Destiny 2 would be unthinkable without them – they also turn live games into time bombs. Offline modes and server tools are not suitable for every live game, but making them shared would be a step towards making sure the hard work doesn’t disappear. Team Fortress 2, for example, sees only about 75,000 players per daybut these players have the tools to create their own servers and enjoy the game unlimited time.

Rautalahti has highlighted the value of digital preservation, although he believes fans and organizations such as the Internet Archive are more likely rescuers than developers. “It would be really helpful to make some effort to keep these things. It might not seem like much value right now, but as someone who’s working on this, it would be nice to know that games don’t just get lost in the air. I would like to think that they also have cultural significance, not necessarily as a separate game, but as part of a whole. I’m sure that in 50 years you could see a lot about how online culture has evolved.”

Avoid grinding

Archiving options are a good long-term goal, but what can help save more online games today? Morris points to the growing ease of cross-platform multiplayer as a way to increase player numbers, while Rautalahti stresses the need for good adaptation.

“One of the problems with live games is that they are really hard to approach as a player. You missed a lot of events, so you are completely lost. Are there good storytelling ramps? Can you feel the story at all, or will someone just shoot you in the face all the time?”

A good story wouldn’t save hyper Landscape, but Rautalahti points out that destiny 2 league of legends, and warframe, they all started as subtle and obscure stories, now they have a lot of knowledge and dedicated fans who create or use wikis and YouTube videos about them.

“When Warframe came out, it was rather strange space ninjas that went around and killed each other. But over the years they have completely reworked their story and put in a lot of effort to take it to a higher level. I think it’s had a big impact on how people feel about their game.”

There’s also the fact that live service games can become a second job demanding a lot of your free time if you want to keep up. If hardcore players don’t get a steady stream of content, they move on to another game, forcing the developers to release endless updates, making new players intimidated by the possibility of getting into a sprawling game with esoteric mechanics and lore videos are longer than most movies.

This constant need for content can turn live service development into a pressure cooker. Taylor loves the genre but wonders how these games are made.

“The model can be extremely profitable. The problem is that many companies enter the market with such a poor understanding of what makes live games work. Planning and coverage is extremely important for live games because they need updates. Players expect a constant stream of new content. Live games can be improved over time, but if you launch them with the expectation that you can “fix it later”, then many players will simply abandon them.”

While the development of all AAA games is challenging, the strict schedule of live service games is particularly demanding. Postpone the update and you could lose players due to another game. Rautalahti notes: “You have no slack. You have to keep posting things. To create any kind of content, you need a programmer, a writer, an artist, an animator, a level designer, a writer, a producer to coordinate, perhaps a voice actor… and if anything in this chain is delayed for any reason, it immediately results in a crunch. And you can’t disappoint investors [putting] The health and safety of your team is paramount.”

Rautalahti adds that he used to often work weeks and weekends, which inevitably led to fatigue and mistakes, although now he has a more comfortable work schedule. He also told a story about a colleague who was working on an old project many years ago and began to suffer from blackouts due to overwork.

“I really want the industry to slow down and evolve culturally rather than technologically,” Taylor says. “The way we develop games right now is just unsustainable. In every project I’ve ever worked on, I’ve felt like we’re flying past our pants, making things up as we go and hoping for the best when we inevitably launch earlier than we should have, but later than expected because planning it was just bad. The game developers are so burnt out, myself included.”

Despite the risk of funding failure, the live service model is here to stay. Players love games; the potential for profit is huge; and Morris, Rautalahti and Taylor are happy to make them. But there is no modest success: you are either a phenomenon or a failure. For this genre to please developers and players alike, the endless supply and demand of content needs to be re-evaluated… and creators need to think about the day their game dies.


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