I, like you love and loathe particular games in equal measure. I am at no shortage of praise for the titles i love, and rarely struggle to elucidate the shortcomings of those which fail to grab my focused attention. However, i do feel that developers who release less than stellar efforts are often at the mercy of the collective internet hate machine - and for the more vociferious detractors, most who rake the developer over the coals could not begin to comprehend the trials and sacrifices that go into making even a subpar game, let alone do better themselves. I do not wish to even remotely suggest that we should not turn a critical eye onto available releases, however i do feel that there is a distinct lack of people (even an outsider like myself) who put forward an alternate perspective on just how difficult it can be to create and release a game of any kind of standard.
First and foremost, if anyone can accurately define and quantify "good gameplay" in one sentence, i am yet to hear it. Creating strong gameplay systems is something far more elusive and nebulous than simply having a solid idea. Whilst measured thought and things like "proof of concept" exercises can assist a developer in honing in on what works well and what does not, the fact remains that creation of game systems is (to some degree) an artistic endeavour, and as such there is no foolproof method for making everything 'click' - in much the same way, it is impossible for a musician to simply run down an arbitrary checklist in order to be guaranteed an album which sells by the truckload, despite the rise of modern day buzzwords such as "formulaic" (to take one salient example). On top of creating the playspace and the framing of said playspace - both of which are massive endeavours in and of themselves - developers are often juggling many varied complex interactions between player and gameworld in the hope of striking the proverbial gameplay gold.
How do you create something that just 'feels' right to the player? Whilst we have many examples of such games (i.e. Gears of War, Super Mario Bros, Super Meat Boy), these were not simply created by inserting good ideas - every detail must be continually tested, refined and adjusted to have any hope of the controller feeling like an extension of one's brain in the finished product. With this consideration comes time...and lots of it, which brings me to my second point.
Every day spent making a game is another day of wages (or lost potential for income in the indie case), and as such it is simply unrealistic for any kind of game maker to sit and fiddle with everything ad nauseum until they have stumbled upon something truly special. Even the large publishers (often beholden to their shareholders) cannot justify plowing money into a game until everything snaps into place. This is why games produced under a publisher are given milestones (get game x to y state by z date). Just think about this for a minute - say you were part of a studio that had a great idea for game mechanics. You spend months on end getting everything to a playable state, only to find that the way everything interacts with each other piece isnt quite as great as you had initially hoped...what do you do now? Your personal income and survival in the industry is dependent of acheiving the aforementioned milestones within a certain timeframe. Your options are essentially (a) scrap everything and crunch like a bastard to have any hope of getting something (which might be even worse than what you already have) in a playable state, or (b) polish what you can, and make whatever reasonable adjustments you are able to in order to keep things on track.
Another point to consider with regard to the modern development community is that game makers almost have to predict the future to some extent. Given that it is not uncommon for development times to run in terms of years, any given team is banking on the idea that their product will not be outdated or passe by the time release date rolls around. For example, what may seem like a new and inventive idea at the time (take, say Mirror's Edge for example) may or may not still be as fresh by the end of the development cycle, even if all else goes well. Just imagine the case of Mirror's Edge - say, in the year before its release several other first person free running titles were also available, how would that impact upon the reception of what the dev team undoubtedly figured was uncharted territory?
Gamers are often crying for game makers to take risks, present us with something new, etc. However, i am not sure many have given much measured thought as to the amount of risk any developer takes on by adopting such an idea. In your own job, if you had the chance to take comparible risks and put your own employment on the line for an untested idea, would you actually do it? Don't get me wrong, i love it when such a thing happens, moreso when it works - but, the collective gaming crowd seems to be asking for what essentially amounts to any given development team putting their careers on the line for such an idea, only to heavily berate them when the likely occurrence doesn't live up to the initial hope.
Again, i do not wish to even remotely suggest that these factors should override any criticisms we may have with any given title. However, as far as it pertains to vilifying a particular development team for a certain work, i can only hope that the broader gamer culture can begin to understand just how much these people put themselves and their livelihoods on the line in the attempt to craft something they can be proud of. Let's face it, nobody decides to take on a project that takes so long (and so much of themselves) for something they don't - at least initially - have a good amount of personal investment in. I am certain that even a game like NeverDead began as something where a collective were prepared to embark on creating something where the potential rewards in doing so were so far off into the distance that the joy of creating something was the prime motivator. Disappointing the title may be, but let's not personally attack the devs for doing what most of us cannot do, in giving it a red hot go.
(article originally published on digitalpsychosis.com)