On 07/19/03 by Sam 'Freejack' Brown
It is inescapable. Reading forums or comment boards or news sites, one is bound to come across them, the developer myths. Like urban legends, these myths surround the mysterious art of game development. Most of these myths spring from a misunderstanding of how the development process works. Some, unfortunately, spawn from the bad experiences of gamers. Then there are those that come from the deepest recesses of imagination. My intention with this series is to dispel some of these myths and provide some insight into the often mystical world of game development.
1. The developer exists only to bleed every gamer of all of his hard earned money.
This is a common one I see quite frequently, particularly when the subject is a sequel, because obviously, any developer making a sequel is merely trying to suck a license/franchise/IP (intellectual property) dry. In truth, this isn't entirely false. It is well known and accepted that any one IP has a limited lifespan. If you hold that IP, it is to your advantage to exploit it for everything it's worth.
I was watching a History Channel program on comic books earlier this evening and found the progression of characters from the early 1930s to the present to be a fascinating insight into gaming as it also attempts to reinvent itself as popular culture and modern society change. Think of how comic book characters reflect the period they exist in. In the 1940s you had characters fighting the Nazis and Japanese. In the 1950s they fought Communism. The 1960s and 1970s saw a racial and sexual revolution. The 1980s and 1990s saw comics struggling to maintain themselves by making their characters darker, more complex and more human. The 21st century now sees comics spidering out into other media outlets including the television, the big screen, and the web as demand for traditional comic books dwindles precariously over the brink of nothingness.
I know what you're asking yourself, what does this comic book history lesson have to do with video games? In short, it's this idea that a developer will do whatever he can to make money on a popular IP. Just as Superman, Batman, and Spiderman have changed throughout the years, it would really be more accurate to say they were exploited for everything they're worth. Other characters have come and gone, but these remain because their themes can be adapted to meet changing times.
Of course, video games have only been around for a small fraction of the time that comics have, but the parallels still exist. Pick a popular series of games and ask yourself how it has changed to keep up with modern standards and trends. The most common and most obvious modifications are visual, in the form of engine upgrades, snazzy special effects, and format changes to different platforms. Examples range from old arcade favorites like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and Battlezone to the modern series like Quake, Tomb Raider, and Warcraft. Developers will, for as long as they can, continue to develop their stable of intellectual properties. That may mean modifying the genre from a simple platformer to a complex role-playing game. It may mean modifying a character's appearance or history in order to appeal to different audiences. A developer may experiment with making changes to a well known formula in an attempt to innovate. These, and many more, are the tools a developer may use in order to extend the life of an IP.
Back to the question, is the developer out to bleed the gamer dry? Well, like any business, a developer wants to make money. However, the tone of the question would suggest some malicious intent where there generally is none. The average developer is not striving to suck up every gamer's last penny in order to afford that third Ferrari. The fact is, and this may come as a surprise to some of you, a developer needs to make money in order to keep developing. Obviously, without income, a studio cannot remain in business.
Now ask yourself, why would a developer spend so much time and energy on a pretty common license or franchise? There are a couple of reasons, the first and simplest being that they want to. Often a publisher will provide a studio with a license, giving that studio a chance to work on something that is new to them and quite possibly make a name for themselves with a popular license. Of course, a publisher could force a license on one of its studios and though that can often be painful for the studio, the simple fact is, it makes money for the publisher, which keeps the studio in business with the hope that something better will come along "next time." Finally, a studio may continue to develop a license because it pays the bills. Yes, it may not be all that much fun working on ANOTHER of these games, but it gives the studio time to work on some original IP in the background. There is always that thrill when embarking on a new and totally original project. Will it succeed? Will people love it? Will it start a new trend? Will it be the bee's knees? Who knows! That's what makes it all so exciting, and that's what a developer most wants. To innovate, to do something new and to do something that people truly enjoy. If that means spending time on a proven franchise in the meantime, then they'll just suck it up and do that in hopes that the next new thing is just around the corner for them.
The question has been answered, but I feel the need to summarize in the clearest of terms. A developer must make money in order to remain in business. Often the best way to remain in business is to exploit a popular license or franchise. By exploiting this IP, a developer can A) Remain in business, and B) Work on a fresh and new IP. The statement that developers only want to maliciously suck the money from the pockets of gamers simply to line their own jewel-encrusted pockets, is a myth.