A few years ago, one of my client studios was just starting out and had landed their first game deal. It was a bare bones sort of deal with minimal funding. But the game that they pitched could have probably been delivered within budget.
The game was a PC FPS built around a multiplayer theme, with a ladder system for the single-player using the same maps as the multiplayer. The AI for the single player was pretty much within the scope of what was built into the engine they were using. The PC release was to be followed, at the publisher’s sole option, by an Xbox version.
The agreement with the publisher was a typical staged milestone deal and had the design document attached to it. These guys were in heaven. After doing contract work for a few years, they finally had their own game based on their own original IP.
They went out and rented cool offices, got new computers and brought on a few additional developers to bring their team up to size. Everything was good. Each of the members of the team was extremely talented and as a team, they were amazing. And they were totally stoked. But, it was their passion, combined with a lack of discipline, that was their downfall.
As they began development in earnest, they realized that although the single player ladder model would be OK for the PC, it would not make it on the console side, where multiplayer had not yet gained any acceptance. Without a solid single-player experience, the game would never be green-lighted by Microsoft. The publisher contract was back-end weighted, so the Xbox part of the development followed the PC, with more money allocated for the development of the console version of the game.
The original Xbox. Nostalgic, eh?
The multiplayer design was done, but that single-player design challenge was out there. As they brainstormed about all the cool things that could be incorporated into the single-player game, they began to develop their design. The concept: a 21 level linear adventure with AI-driven NPC allies and enemies, a real multiplayer experience in a single player game. Awfully ambitious. But they believed that they had the talent to do it. (And in my opinion, they did.)
When they took this new and substantially-enhanced design to their publisher, the publisher was thrilled. The team also told the publisher that rather than waiting to do this for the Xbox version, that they thought it would just make more sense to do it in the PC version first and then port it to the Xbox. After all, why not deliver all of these cool features on the PC as well? The publisher was all for it. This was gonna be great! This is also where the title to this article comes into play... Discipline and the Up Sell.
At this point they should have taken into account more than just how cool this game was going to be. But their passion blinded them to the harsh realities of running a business. The scope of the project had changed substantially. More features, more levels, a more demanding AI; all would necessitate more time to completion.
And as we all know (or should know) more time means more money out the door for salaries and expenses. Sure, publishers get upset when a game slips. But the real problem with slippage is with the additional operational and personnel costs to the studio.
This was not even a slippage situation. This was a situation where the studio knew that the new, expanded design would require significantly more time to complete. And while the game that they originally sold to the publisher could have been made within the original budget, this new game would ultimately take twice as long to build, which meant it would cost twice as much to make.