Polishing games


Several times here I have gone on about the importance of polishing games. It is the one simple process that can make a good game great and an average game good. It seems a no brainer that investing time in polish will be immensely cost effective in generating disproportionately more sales revenue. And we have the example of Wii first party games to see just how important and successful polish is a development process. Here are my rules for Wii game development that have been on here several times before:

1) Don’t do shovelware. You are just damaging your brand(s).
2) Write Wii specific titles. Don’t port. You have to respect the interface difference.
3) Understand that most Wiis live in the lounge. And most other consoles live in the bedroom.
4) Polish, lots. Then polish some more.
5) Realise that you have to provide entertainment for the population at large. FPS titles are not a good idea.
6) You need to market completely differently. PR in women’s magazines will work a lot better than adverts in game magazines.
7) Talk to your wife/girlfriend. They understand the Wii better than you do.

Yet still far too many games go out with rough edges, which is ridiculous. Why degrade a multi million dollar product for the sake of a relatively small amount of extra work? It really makes no sense.

Now Electric Arts have come out in agreement and are changing their working practices to bring more polish to their games. EA Games label boss Frank Gibeau has said the following in a Gamasutra interview:

“We’re trying to much more aggressively put in at least two to three months of polish time back into the schedule. So a game is actually functionally complete, content complete, then we go in and we put it through mass amounts of tests, massive amounts of replay-throughs, so that we can really get those five, 10, 15 points on Metacritic.”

Dead Space was one of those titles that had a lot of polish built into it, and a lot of the games that we’re doing right now like Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age and Need for Speed Shift also have built-in polish.”

This is new “Three or four years ago, products were coming in hot, hitting the market hot. … You know, last year’s Need for Speed finished tests, and that was it. There was no time in the schedule [for polish] because of the way the studios had been set up. We had to break the cycle and give very careful consideration to polish times. We have to have that polish time at the end of the project, or none of it matters.”

For inspiration on polishing entertainment products we only have to look at the film industry. They have over a hundred year experience (since The Story of the Kelly Gang in 1906). And for them post production typically takes longer than actually shooting the film, although it obviously costs a huge amount less.

The problem we have is that game industry management have a very strong imperative to meet street date deadlines and to get the game out there making money. What they are missing is the bigger picture. For a three month delay and a relatively small additional investment they can have a game that will sell a whole lot more and make a huge amount of extra profit.

And of course we live in the age of Metacritic as Gibeau pointed out. For each dollar spent polish will improve your Metacritic more than just about anything else that you can do.

Finally we owe it to the customers. We should be doing our very best to give them quality for their hard earned money. And publishing a game all rough and unpolished is really being disrespectful of your customer, which is no way to run a business.