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Gaming Opinion: Gran Turismo 5 Release


This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

March 26th 2010. Woof, woof woof, who let the Gran Turismo 5 fanbois out? Oh it was me, sorry about that. So on Friday there was a little bit of a stir regarding my comments on the Gran Turismo 5 release, so I’d like to talk about this seriously for a moment from the point of view of both the developer and the publisher.

I am a Gran Turismo 5 fangirl. I pre-ordered it last summer. Driving games are my favourite genre and GT5P sits proudly on my shelf as the very first PS3 game I played at home. I’m really looking forward to Gran Turismo 5, although I’m now becoming afraid that it is going to be style, realism and feature-bloat over playability and addictiveness.

I won’t pretend to know I have any idea what is going on in the bowels of Sony or Polyphony Digital, but from past work experience I am pretty sure of at least two things: 1. They already know they made a mistake by not releasing sooner, and 2. Sony will be secretly relieved when this thing gets out into retail and it’s over and done with so they’re not bleeding away more money on it.

From the developer’s point of view

A project is never finished. It can always be refined more. New features and improvements can always be added. Perfectionism is paramount. Nobody wants to make a bad game. On my music gaming web site (www.totalmusicgaming.com), we are incrementally adding features and tweaking issues all the time, and it is very rewarding to see it become gradually better and better and more used.

The Gran Turismo 5 team want to make a perfect game and they will ultimately never be 100% satisfied with it, as is the case with all game studios worth their salt. If left to their own devices, development will go on forever.

From the publisher’s point of view

Analogising again to my web site, there comes a point where you have to stop developing and start marketing, otherwise you run out of money and don’t have any users. The web site is very, very far from perfect, there are years worth of extra features and goodies that could be added, I’m not happy with it and would have really wanted to push the envelope on a SingStar add-on a lot further before release – but it is feature-complete, and it’s not economically feasible to do it all before the product is released, and we have to see a return on investment or development cannot continue.

Up to a certain point, each man hour spent on development is worthwhile. Eventually a tipping point of diminishing returns is reached, where the potential market for the product is more or less maximized and additional work is simply a cost with little-to-no benefit. When a game is delayed for 6 months, not because it isn’t finished but because it is being padded with feature bloat, the publisher and gamers lose out in several ways. First the public become frustrated with the delay. Second the publisher loses money while it is shelling out for the development team to continue working when the number of copies sold isn’t likely to increase much as a result of additional features being added in. Thirdly the time spent on that could have been spent developing new games.

There comes a point where you just have to say, it’s good enough, push it out now. Steve Lycett commented on this in his recent TSA interview about Sega & Sonic All-Stars Racing:

“We’d love to include more, but then we’d never finish a game!”

This is exactly how I feel about development. If all publishers allowed perfectionist standards, there would be no games to play.

Some may argue that Polyphony Digital is an exception or that it’s important to let the game be developed until its potential is maximized. Of course, it’s important not to set the bar too low, but PD is really not an exception. I don’t think many people would argue that including 3D or Move support is necessary at this point, and that is a considerable time drain. Avatar: The Game was designed for 3D; did that make it a better game? Consider, what are the potential uses of the Move in GT5? A trade-off has to be reached, and in my opinion the appropriate trade-off has not been made for this game by a long stretch.

I am not suggesting for a moment that unfinished games should be released. If a game needs to be delayed to iron out bugs or finish the content, that is one thing. Polyphony Digital have already announced more than once that the game is essentially finished and that “we could release it now”. Gran Turismo 5 has been in development for over 5 years at this point and was meant to be one of the key early adopter titles to drive initial sales of PlayStation 3. Sony have clearly given up on this idea now and Gran Turismo 5 has likely become a monetary sink for them. That cannot possibly benefit us.

My opinion is that the developers at Polyphony Digital have lost sight of what is truly important, and lost their way. By trying to cram in every possible feature, they are neglecting the core of what makes a good game: the gameplay. If it is true that each car takes 1 month to model, then the modelling should have been simpler, or less cars should have been included. Is it necessary to include 1000 cars? There’s no doubt it’s cool – but would it be a worse game if there were 250 cars? Will you play 1000 races? Was Need For Speed Shift a worse game because of its more limited car selection and simpler graphics? If it was, then we are talking very small percentage points.

What is the target audience for Gran Turismo 5? Is it car enthusiasts, or is it gamers? Is it realism or is it fun? Of course it’s not a black-and-white argument and there is room to balance both sets of users’ needs, but I’m extremely concerned that these major issues are being sorely overlooked.

Gamers also need to have realistic expectations. The concept that the longer a game is in development, the better it will be, is false. In the same way there is a diminishing return on revenue with development time, so the quality of a game is also not proportional to the time it takes to develop. Spore is a classic example of this – a game with a 9-year development cycle. While some will argue Spore is great and others will say it is horrible, the point is, either way, it would be hard to argue it was worth 9 years of development. It’s also worth noting that Duke Nukem Forever was canceled after an 11-year development cycle due to lack of funding.

Almost everyone who is going to buy Gran Turismo 5 has probably made their purchasing decision already. In my opinion, it should be released now before the hype backfires, if it has not done so already. Game development is not a hobby, it’s a business – but Polyphony Digital seem to think otherwise, and that’s a dangerous game to play.

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