‘When It’s Done’ Chronicles – Volume 1

This is a bit of a cheat post, because I wrote it a few weeks ago in the official Alan wake forum, but someone said it was a good post, and I think it deserves repeating.

Basically, having spent a lot of time at the 3D Realms forums, working on 2-4 year long mod projects, and admining (sp?) the Alan Wake forums, I know a fair amount about this elusive thing called ‘When it’s Done’. What’s interesting about it, as I’ve observed countless times, is that it drives gamers absolutely crazy. They really won’t accept it for an answer, and to be fair, there’s a good reason for this: it doesn’t answer their question(s). Sure it sounds smart, and strictly speaking it’s accurate, but it doesn’t address gamers’ concerns.

For starters, there’s some ambiguity with the phrase. It seems to be synonymously applied to both the flexible development cycle AND the media blackout that normally comes with it. Personally, I think this is a mistake, because they’re not the same thing. It’s perfectly possible to have an indefinite schedule while constantly releasing information about the game (but it’s not advisable). Likewise, you could have a fixed deadline, and still choose not release anything until the very end (Max Payne 2). But remember, WID isn’t an internal development strategy; it’s a PR strategy – and not an especially effective one. By bundling in both meanings, the phrase becomes confusing, loses its power, and often breeds resentment for the developers. In short, it’s just not a satisfactory answer, IMO.

This raises all sorts of questions like: what concerns do gamers have? Do they matter? When to use a WID strategy and how? When to release screenshots? But these are kind of issues I want to discuss in a future post.

What follows is my reply to someone who, like I suggested, wouldn’t take WID for an answer. They wanted to know why Remedy weren’t able to release new media (trailer and screens), and for some kind of guarantee that development progress was being made:

” If there hasn’t been anything shown in months, then… what’s happening? That’s all I want to know. I know it’s out of my hands, but it’s borderline unreasonable in my mind. I’m alright with the waiting, I just need a bit of… security, for lack of a better term.”

Well remember they spent two years making Max Payne 2, and in that time they released absolutely nothing — zero, zip, nada; until the final months of developments. I’ll say that again… almost two years with nothing to show for it. Not a sausage.

Then the game came out.

Secondly, they spent 4 years making Max Payne. A four+ year development time isn’t unusual for them, especially when making a brand new game series, with a new engine, concept, and technology.

As for timeframes, your absolutely right, however remember they’re working to their schedule, not yours. They know development is progressing well, because they can see it happening in front of them. They don’t need reassurance of that. Do we? Not really. To be blunt about it, if the game doesn’t come out, it’s Remedy’s and Microsoft’s problem not ours. It would suck, but that’s all. However, realistically speaking, they’ve invested enough time, money, and people to ensure that it’s highly likely the game will be finished and released in a timely manner.

Lastly, the decision to conceal and hold back information and media is a conscious, deliberate decision. Like it or not.

Several reasons I can think of for this, off the top of my head:

 

  • To prevent spoiling the game by overexposing us to it.
  • To prevent the material becoming stale (another sunset landscape screenshot…that’s just great guys… ) – what little you do show should blow people’s minds.
  • Not a good idea to show WIP stuff — people will always assume it’s final quality. Case in point: The car engine screenshot that many people have picked out.
  • To protect ideas and concepts from being copied before you’re able to ship the game.
  • Timing. They’re not releasing media because it’s time consuming (though it is), but because for one reason or the other, the timing isn’t right for them.

To be honest, if I were you, I’d just drop in every 3-6 months to see if any media has been released or not. You’ll know they’re ready ship when MUCH more information about the game comes out — screenshots, previews, theatrical trailer, release date — the works. For the last year or so they’ve been releasing media and info in cycles — normally 6-12 month intervals.

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I wouldn’t say this was the perfect answer, but I did try to address the main concerns raised. I firmly believe that understanding leads to acceptance, but unfortunately, ‘When it’s Done’ is a much more complex idea than it seems.

“It’ll be done When It’s Done” makes sense on the surface, but it doesn’t instill confidence with gamers that you know what you’re doing — especially the ones that know anything about software development cycles, milestones, and schedules. I think if developers are to use this approach, they need to provide some kind of user-friendly explanation for it. Really spell it out for them on a big flashing sign. Otherwise, the press will for them “Another tradeshow missed – does mean problems for Alan Wake? We investigate…”

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2 thoughts on “‘When It’s Done’ Chronicles – Volume 1

  1. Pingback: The time for redemption is…When it’s Done? « Maddieman - Jonathan Hallier

  2. Your thoughts on “When it’s done” as a strategy I deem to be perfectly sensible. But in my view it’s also a piece of gaming culture and history, a little like “All of your base …”. Here is a quote from David Kushner’s masterful book, which seems to track down the historical roots of WID to the development of “Quake”:

    “Months were passing, and Carmack’s engine was nowhere close to being done. The Wolfenstein engine had taken only a couple of months. Doom had taken six. Already Quake’s engine was passing a half year of development with no end in sight. Forget about the promised release date of Christams 1995, they resolved. From now on if people wanted to know the completion date of an id game, the reply was “When it’s done!”” (Kushner 2004 [2003]: 195)

    KUSHNER, DAVID. 2004 [2003]. Masters of Doom: How two guys created an empire and transformed pop culture. New York: Random House.

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