The Long Game

A few recent posts from both Isey and Kaylriene got me thinking. in relation to long term development.

In the micro level, development focuses on the immediate.  You get the assets you need for the game you are building, and think about how they could potentially be reused within the same game.  Sure, you maintain a code library for potential use elsewhere, but its not the primary goal.  You spend money and you want to recoup that cost soon.

At the macro level, planning is on the annual basis and across multiple streams.  For someone like Ubisoft, they are thinking how Assassin’s Creed, Rainbow Six, Watch Dogs, For Honor, and Far Cry can help each other out.  The more overlap they have, the less it costs to develop each instance, and therefore the larger the profits.  I would think that most people can understand why this is important.

Where things get complicated is when a developer is willing to absorb and significant loss when they are looking at the potential of a future investment.  We’ve all seen news articles where a company will purposefully take a loss in order to offset some higher profits elsewhere.  While hard to understand why someone would NOT want that money, complex tax laws make it more efficient, and likely to cross multiple years.

In my work experience, I have dealt with a few vendors who were willing to take a loss on one contract in order to ensure higher profits on the next.  The scale of that loss is where things get interesting.  Sometimes it’s on purpose, other times it’s about minimizing loss.  Maybe there’s some really interesting IP/coding that comes from it that can be used in a future project, or resold.  If you look at Epic Games, they certainly appear to hold that model.

Which brings me to Anthem.  From the outside, and the various reports, it seems like the management team had a vision that came too late, and it’s been a scramble to get it working since.  It would be folly not to see this launch as a failure – in the micro sense.  Anthem did not reach its goals, and its roadmap is massively delayed.

However – it did help launch the Origin subscription service, there’s some online matchmaking code development that will certainly be reused, the lore IP is ripe for exploration, development of group-based dungeon instances is being refined, and they are on the hire for “loot based engineering”, which is clearly a long term investment.  None on their own will help Anthem recover, but as a whole they may.  Each on their own does have value for other development projects.

EA has a habit of shutting down games with short order if they don’t meet their objectives.  That this has not occurred yet would indicate that both EA and BW have some long term investment here at play.  That’s the good news – Anthem isn’t likely to go anywhere.  The bad (?) news is that the development moving forward has Anthem as a secondary goal, and is instead looking at how the pieces can be used elsewhere.  In really simple terms – Anthem is a beta test for BW’s asset development.

There’s some discussion to be had about how Blizzard is not doing this – aside from reusing art/lore assets in HotS/HS.  There’s certainly some network engineering shared between the various games, but systems don’t appear to have much overlap.  If Blizzard’s goal is to decrease development time (as per recent quarterly report), then it’s going to need to apply a much different approach to development than used in the past.  How that impacts the actual games… time will tell.

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