Friday, October 16, 2015

A development failure

This is an interesting look at an AAA development project that hit a single when a home run was needed:
To understand why Homefront had such a troubled development, it's important to look at how THQ was trying to change the way it greenlit games, and the context in which it did so. Its new procedure, which is fairly common in the game industry, was a multi-stage process designed to keep studios at work on new games without committing THQ to seeing them through to publication. THQ would take pitches from all its studios, give feedback, see prototypes and then authorize continued development. After going through this a few times, THQ would make a final decision about moving forward on full development, or pulling the plug on the project.

What was unusual about THQ's greenlight process is that it occurred at a time when every THQ studio executive knew that closures were imminent. With the stakes so high, THQ's new pitch process turned into a never-ending up-sell.

"We [Kaos] were in jeopardy of dying right after Frontlines, and [Schulman] felt that we really needed to sell to THQ," says one producer. "So we put forth just about every bit of effort we had into creating one hell of a package to sell to THQ. So much so that I believe our package was held as a metric for what other studios should do to sell their packages. And Dave Schulman was a really good salesman at telling THQ what we could deliver, and turning back to us to say, ‘Hey, sky's the limit. Just pack more features in. Make it great. Put as many bullet points as you can on the back of the box.'"
I was meeting with some THQ executives about funding one of Chris Taylor's projects at this time and they had sky-high expectations of Homefront. I mean, the words "CoD-killer" were bandied about; they really believed it was going to be a Battlefield-level event. I remember being dubious at the time, and later, when it was released, barely even noticing that it was out. No one I knew ever played it.



Blogger DJ | AMDG October 16, 2015 5:34 PM  

I love posts like this. This behind the curtain analysis of the gaming world and your play by play soccer posts keep me coming back for more. Here's the thing though, I don't really game anymore except the occasional phone app, and I never really liked soccer even though I played youth soccer and coached a couple of kindergarten teams. I just love the transparent and fascinating view point you give to topics you enjoy, regardless what others prefer. Thanks.

Blogger Alexander October 16, 2015 6:54 PM  

I always wondered how publishers could be in their right minds when they released crap like Homefront; thanks for dispelling part of the mystery.

Blogger Retrenched October 16, 2015 8:19 PM  

Sucks that THQ went under. I was a big fan of the wrestling games they made for the N64. Still the best of the genre.

Blogger Sithicus October 16, 2015 8:40 PM  

I've played it. Still remember the scene when little boy's parents were shot.

Blogger Red Jack October 16, 2015 9:24 PM  

I really, and I mean really, wanted to like it. I saw the promo's for Homefront, and was excited for a "RedDawn" type of game.

Honestly, stuff in my life at home got nuts (Kids do that) and I stopped gaming for a bit. Saw Homefront on the sale rack and thought "Why not?"

I was disappointed. It was another FPS knockoff which of COD, without the production values. This article lays out what happened.

In many projects, the price of selling the project is often higher than you or anyone can deliver if you are not careful. Homefront could have been a good game, but they decided to make something different mid stream, and then changed again. This wasn't scope creep, it was not having a solid scope to begin with.

Blogger Joe A. October 16, 2015 10:30 PM  

You met with THQ execs? Damn, you live an interesting life to put it mildly.

Blogger Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus October 16, 2015 10:51 PM  

Homefront. Wasn't that the one with the Koreans invading the USA?

Blogger Garuda1 October 16, 2015 11:52 PM  


I completely agree that these game dev posts are absolutely fascinating. While my available time to game has dropped, I still hit the big releases or fun indie titles as well as reading about the industry daily. I rarely comment here (daily reader and lurker for about six years now), but I wanted to express my enjoyment for this type of post to encourage more in the future (Dark Lord willing).

OpenID Jack Amok October 17, 2015 12:58 AM  

The way games are financed is definitely less than optimal. But any time budgets get as large as the typical AAA title these days, there will be a lot of overhead, waste, and mistakes

Chris Taylor was livestreaming on Twitch tonight playing Warships. Actually, I think he does almost every Friday at 5pm Pacific.

Blogger Eric October 17, 2015 1:13 AM  

Every time I've been in a company where something went horribly wrong, the culprit was always a decision made by higher-ups who didn't stop to think for five minutes how self-interested people would respond to the decision.

Blogger ScuzzaMan October 17, 2015 2:32 AM  

Is the implication here that the new "pushing s**t up-hill" method actually made things worse? Studio execs became desperate to sell no matter how ordinary the game they were working on?

Blogger JN October 17, 2015 8:48 AM  


Self-interested people. The bane of socialists everywhere. (Really almost any

Blogger Den Ekte Norsk October 17, 2015 5:08 PM  

Hi Vox,

I worked at a THQ owned studio when the change in Greenlighting happened. When the changes were rolled out to us THQ management visited from HQ and made a big dog and pony show about the quality of pitch that Kaos made.

We quickly learnt to lie (or I guess more politely "overpromise") on the proposals because everyone in the room who could rub 2 thoughts together knew Kaos couldn't not possibly deliver a CoD killer...

Blogger epobirs October 17, 2015 5:09 PM  

"How do you get a group of people to collaborate better so that it doesn't have to cost you?" said one former director. "Because I assure you, when you have a title that's upward of 30 million dollars, there's probably a couple of those million that are just re-doing work because the game industry is so immature. You don't have that kind of waste in the film industry. … And the reason for that is there's very little common language about how to make a blockbuster video game, and people are re-inventing the wheel at every production cycle."

This guy hasn't a clue about the film industry, apparently. Reshoots at great expense are far too common. Also, entire productions with very big names and investments getting relegated to the direct to video market rather than attempt to put them in theaters. What Hollywood has that the game industry mostly still lacks is Hollywood accounting.

Imagine a $5 million asset, say, a render farm, being used for five entirely separate games games but the entire cost of building that facility charged in full to each game. Rather than one game listing it as a $5 million expense and the other four games paying a far lesser service fee or each game kicking in $1 million from their budgets, instead each game listed it as a $5 million expense. Where did that extra $20 million go?

In the game industry that would probably get someone sent to prison. In the film industry that is Thursday.

Blogger FP October 17, 2015 6:46 PM  

Homefront was decent enough for one play through. I got it in a $20 mega pack of THQ games on steam though.

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