Pay attention to the video game industry long enough, and you’re bound to find yourself looking forward to a game that gets canceled. It’s not a good feeling for gamers, but it’s an even worse feeling for the people making the game. It happens fairly often and usually with little fanfare as publishers sweep games under the rug, never to emerge again. We’ve already looked at some of the most heartbreaking game cancellations, so now it’s time to look at why games get canceled in the first place.
1. It’s not fun
This one might sound obvious, but it’s true: If a game isn’t fun, it’s a candidate for the chopping block. One glance at Metacritic proves that not all bad games get canceled. Plenty of publishers push games to market before the developers can find whatever special sauce would make them enjoyable to play. But some game makers have high standards and — crucially — the financial flexibility to keep working on a game until it’s ready for prime time.
Blizzard is a famous example of a company that will cancel a game if it doesn’t meet its high standards — even if the game has been in the works for years. Polygon has a rundown of canceled Blizzard games if you’re interested in learning about games that didn’t make the cut.
Developers often say they don’t find the fun in a game until it’s 90% complete. That’s when all the systems lock into place, and a clear picture of the final game emerges. Because the fun can’t emerge until so late in the development cycle, this is also the point when many games get delayed. If a developer can’t make a game come together in time, the publisher has a few options. One is to delay it until it does come together, and another is to push it out to market as a bad game. The last option, of course, is to cancel it.
2. Poor management
Making AAA games in this day and age is a monumental task. It takes a team of hundreds of people, each one working on various interlocking parts of the game. All of those parts have to meet deadlines and milestones so other parts of the team can progress on their sections. Holding all of these pieces together as development progresses requires incredibly smart, capable managers overseeing the operation. If the people at the top aren’t up to the task, the whole thing will topple like a stack of blocks.
When the managers fail to keep the project moving forward on time, a publisher has two options: It can assign new managers, which means pushing the release date back and pumping even more money into the project, or it can cancel the game.
3. It’s over budget
This one goes along with poor management, although there are a million reasons a game might go over budget that are out of the managers’ control. Maybe the company they contracted to handle the multiplayer mode dropped the ball, so they had to get another team to fix it. Maybe the head writer left the company and the new one wants to change direction. Whatever the issue, the financial requirements can get out of hand.
When that happens, once again, the publisher has a decision to make. Will it keep funneling money into the game, or should it cut its losses and cancel the whole thing?
4. New hardware comes out
When games get delayed near the end of a console generation, a whole new set of consoles can come out before the game is ready for release. When that happens, once again, the makers have a decision to make. Should they bring the game out on the old hardware, or double down and bring it to the new hardware?
When delays continue to pile up, as was the case with Duke Nukem Forever and The Last Guardian, the developers have no choice but to abandon the older machines and bring the games to newer ones.
The other option in that scenario is to cancel the game — something the makers of Duke Nukem Forever probably should have done several times over during its nearly 15-year development process.