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Blizzard: Shipping Unfinished Games "Devastates" Developers

| 20 Jan 2010 15:54
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Blizzard CFO Paul Sams thinks that releasing an unfinished product is one of the worst things that can happen to a developer, as it undermines all of the work that has gone into the game.

It can be hard work, being a game developer. The hours are long and the work demanding, but surely it's all worth it to see your game in the hands of people who adore it, right? That depends on how it was released, says Paul Sams, Chief Financial Officer of popular PC developer Blizzard - was it released because it was finished, or was it pushed out the door at the demand of the publisher? There is nothing more devastating to a hard-working and passionate development team than to see their game released before it was ready.

"If you've been in the games industry for any length of time and you've worked for a variety of companies, what you will hear from developers is that they were working on a game that they were so excited and enthusiastic about... and yet, when it got to the point where the company wanted to ship it and the game wasn't done, that company would oftentimes make the decision to ship it anyway - because they needed to make their quarterly numbers, or whatever," Sams told GI.biz.

"So the people who have put in the blood, sweat and tears on making this game that has all the promise - which instead has to be pushed out the door - those types of experiences are pretty devastating to people." Sams continued with praise for his own studio (natch), pointing out that Blizzard let developers make the games that they wanted to make without fiscal pressure from management. "We will not pull the rug out from under them and ship it before it's done, so people feel that when they out their heart and soul into a game, they'll be able to deliver the game they envisioned."

On the one hand, what Sams says is completely, 100% true - there's only one thing I can think of that would suck harder than "releasing an unfinished game," and that's "not releasing a game you worked on for 12 years" - and it's part of what makes his studio one of the most respected in the business, but he seems to be forgetting that unlike Blizzard, most other studios don't have a machine that prints money.

Games are expensive to make, and publishers are understandably wary to keep a game in development if that means paying the salary of a whole team for another six months to a year before seeing a return on investment. Without other games coming out to buoy a company's cash reserves, the only other alternative is sinking into millions of dollars of debt. It's a sad fact of the industry, but it it really surprising when developers get rushed to meet a deadline by a fiscally-driven publisher? I'm not saying it's in any way a good thing, just that it unfortunately makes sense.

On the other hand, Blizzard makes millions and millions every month off of Warcraft subscriptions alone. So yes, Mr. Sams, it's understandable that your company can afford to let the developers make their awesome games and release them when they're ready (and fully awesome), but not every studio has that same luxury.

It's hard to argue his point - there's no getting around that he is right - but studios like Blizzard and Valve (hey there, income from Steam!) that can afford the luxury of taking their time are few and far between.

Check out the full interview with Paul Sams and Rob Pardo at GamesIndustry.

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