I recently read an article about Duke Nukem Forever (you can find the article here http://www.psychologyofgames.com/2009/12/30/duke-nukem-forever-escalating-commitment-and-chewing-bubblegum/). It started me thinking about the window of opportunity for video game titles. Every title is a mash of content, technology and design ideas. At any given time there are a number of really talented teams all working in similar spaces, each with strengths and weaknesses. The perceived challenge is to try and beat the other guys to market with a great title which outstrips the features currently on the market. Sadly, new games are getting released all the time. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard “But, XXX just came out and it had YYYY amazing feature, we need to have that.” I’ve seen teams lose months, sometimes even years chasing features. If you are closing in towards a shippable title and you know what the title is, what the key promise of the title is (what you expect of the experience) and what the fans are looking forward you should be able to look other games in the face and say, nice work fellows, XXX is great, but that isn’t a core requirement for what we are doing.
In my career I spent a lot of time ranting against the “feature shotgun”, which is lumping a ton of features, all of average quality, into a title, to try and make it appeal to the broadest group possible. To me, the “feature shotgun” leads to clumsy gameplay and an unfocused title. Instead, figure out what matters most about your title and carry that to a high level of polish and I think you have a better game.
Reading the Duke story brought back way too many memories of runaway features. Know your game, know what matters and when you have a fun game, ship it. If you don’t, all your effort never existed.