Why Bethesda is uniquely capable of making games like Fallout 4
"Large teams diminish personal creative impact, ownership, and autonomy, and this drives some of AAA’s best talent into indie developers."
- Longtime game designer Zak McClendon reflects on the downsides of large-scale game development.
There's a nice editorial from veteran game developer Zak McClendon on Wired's website today that ponders why Bethesda Softworks is uniquely capable of producing expansive, enthralling games like Fallout 4 -- and why expanding the studio to throw more people at tasks like polishing and QAing those games might actually be a terrible idea.
While McClendon seems to be writing with a broad audience in mind, much of what he touches on is directly relevant to game developers pondering what sort of studio size and culture is the best fit for their needs.
"Bethesda is made up of a fairly small number of veteran developers, many of whom have worked together for a long time," writes McClendon. "While Bethesda’s tech and tools have seen updates and revisions, they are built on much of the same core tech and workflows that date to, in some cases, Morrowind. This combination of flexible tools and a lower level of polish allow people to work fairly quickly and autonomously."
McClendon is, of course, speaking with the authority of years spent at studios large and small, from Crystal Dynamics and 2K Marin to Harmonix. In seeking to unpack for readers why Bethesda games might be a bit more bug-ridden than many big-budget games, he speaks to how working on a huge team might meaningfully constrict developers' creativity.
"The bigger the team and more rapid the growth, the more rigid the process must be to keep things on the rails," he notes. "Many of the most talented developers from my old studio 2K Marin chose to work on smaller games like Gone Home, The Novelist, or The Magic Circle, rather than throw themselves into another massive AAA production."
His full editorial on why Fallout 4 is full of bugs (and why fixing them might ruin what makes the game great) is worth reading over on Wired.