Depending on where you look, Hideo Kojima is getting ripped today. Death Stranding got its first gameplay demonstration during Sony’s E3 2018 press conference, and it looked early – I agree. Now you can criticise the platform holder for announcing the game too early if you like – clearly the ex-Konami man was desperate to return to the spotlight after being kept under lock and key by his former employer – but there’s a demonstrable disconnect between the demands of gamers and the realities of development that’s becoming ever more apparent.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about Kojima Productions specifically, but keep this in mind: it’s not even been three years since Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain released. In that time, the auteur has been put on gardening leave, signed a deal with Sony, tracked down a new office and set a studio culture, recruited a team of over 100 employees, written and designed a new intellectual property, formed a relationship with Guerrilla Games, cast four Hollywood actors, and started building the game. What did you do in the last three years?
I’m not here to brush aside criticism entirely; I do think Sony’s been guilty of announcing games far too early as well. But we have the same discussion with Dreams every time it’s shown: why is it taking so long? I can empathise; I really can – but this isn’t the 16-bit era anymore. Media Molecule isn’t building a side-scrolling platformer with a couple dozen animated sprites: it’s creating a 3D modelling engine, a digital audio workstation, and a programming suite all in one. It’s then using that same technology to build a single player campaign within the confines of its own toolset – on a DualShock 4.
In an era where developers like Treyarch spend three years iterating on existing Call of Duty systems in order to create a new game, there seems to be a real disconnect between what gamers want and what you can realistically achieve in a reasonable timeframe. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will have a headcount in the thousands, and yet it’s still forced into reusing assets and literal animations from Origins to hit its release date. You want something bespoke, you’re going to have to wait for it; it takes time to build something brand new from scratch.
At the start of this generation, PlayStation 4 architect Mark Cerny talked in detail about “time to triangle” and how much easier Sony’s new system is to work with than its predecessor. And it’s true: you can get a game running on the PS4 much faster than you ever could on the PlayStation 3. But the scale of games is changing: The Last of Us: Part II is a production on an unprecedented level, with visuals more realistic than we’ve ever seen before and environments larger and more densely populated than we've come to expect from cinematic action games. It takes time.
It takes time and lots of money, and I think it’s why these E3 conferences are becoming so short on new announcements in the AAA space. You look at EA’s conference earlier in the week and it barely makes any games anymore; you can be cynical about that, or you can accept that the ones it is buiding like ANTHEM are such a huge drain on resources that it can’t really stretch to anything else. Ubisoft announced that at least four or five of its studios from around the globe have been roped in to help Beyond Good & Evil 2 escape its prototype phase.
So while I “get” the criticisms and wholeheartedly agree about premature marketing cycles and such, I think you’ve got to cut all of the publishers and platform holders a little slack. I’m not a developer, but from what I can see from the outside, making games is hard. Harder than it’s ever been. And it’s only going to get harder and harder. If you want brand new, exciting intellectual property that pushes boundaries with blockbuster production values, you’re going to have to give them time to marinate.
Where do you stand on this issue? Is the issue merely down to marketing cycles – or are we expecting far too much, far too quickly? Push the 'Make AAA Blockbuster' button in the comments section below.