Starfield’s Delay Proves Modern Game Development Isn’t Sustainable
To no one’s surprise, Starfield was recently delayed, along with Redfall. I’m not entirely sure of my math, but I think that’s the 7,391st game delay this year. The way we make games is currently unsustainable, yet we keep trying to maintain it. Elden Ring has been dubbed as the greatest game of all time, here to change the face of gaming forever, but perhaps it should be a turning point instead. It took nearly five years to create Elden Ring, and most other major games have similar timelines. We must soon reach a point where we realize it’s not worth it.
The Last of Us Part 2 received critical acclaim upon release, but little fervor was devoted to the slick physics of the t-shirt as Ellie licked her wound, or the realistic flow of the rope through her hands. The most obsessive fans pointed it out as proof of the game’s greatness, but did anyone really care? Did anyone feel that their time spent with the game – around 20 hours, not that long for a game with a six-year development cycle and a budget of over $100 million without marketing – was more rich because of the way Ellie’s clothes moved? Was anyone more deeply affected by the Arthur Morgan tragedy in Red Dead Redemption 2 (eight years, $500 million, marketing included) because the horse balls got smaller in the cold?
When I was a kid, my favorite show was Tomb Raider. It was my favorite game of 1996. And 1997. And 1998. For the record, I’m talking about three different games here, because that’s how games worked. There was also Tomb Raiders in 1999 and 2000, although they were overshadowed by two different Spyro games as my favorite titles. Even in the mid 2000s we had annual Tomb Raiders between 2006 and 2008. The most recent trilogy came out in a healthy five years, but now it’s four years later and we have no idea what happens with. Tomb Raider is just one example – think how often we used to get GTA games, then wither to dust when you realize the last one came out nine years ago.
These new games are always bigger, but are they really always better? Aren’t we just too dazzled by technical prowess to critically assess the game as a game? In the world of cinema, the best films, the most expensive films and the most spectacular films are often very distinct categories. In games, they merge into one. They all mean the same thing. But should they? Is it really that impressive that a game that costs $150 million and takes over a decade to make with superior technology feels smoother than a game from 20 years ago if the older game is more fun, or more inventive, or has more to say?
Sure, older games rarely had anything substantial to say, but I think that’s less because of development cycles, intense crisis, and the rush to get bigger, bigger, and more to see with the industry now being more inclusive and mature, which broadens the range of voices and perspectives. We can continue to have this progress without reducing the horseballs and in fact, given the impact of the crisis and the multi-year development cycles that often lead to talent leaving the industry, this progress could be faster without that.
No one is really impressed by the realistic swaying of grass, the raytraced reflections in sunglasses, the real-time reactions of dust underfoot. We might be impressed with this as a novelty, as we were with the 3D effects in Journey To The Center Of The Earth, but that’s rarely the reason we like any given video game. It’s a waste of time and effort, and it will only get worse. Tradition has it that development costs and times have doubled between generations, meaning a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 would take 16 years to make and cost a billion dollars. Does anyone really want that for better horse balls?
Starfield’s lag itself isn’t a big deal. We haven’t seen many, so a delay is to be expected, and it’s become commonplace in the industry. A delayed game is ultimately good, etc. Starfield’s delay leaves a major hole in the second half of 2022, but the much larger problem is that games will keep getting bigger, keep getting delayed, and I’m not convinced they’ll keep getting better. . And I don’t know how the problem is solved.
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