One of my good friends sent me Prototype for my 360 the other day. I started playing it last night, and I have to say... I'm really disappointed. The idea behind this game was fantastic and fun, but feature creep and an evident lack of QA really killed the potential it had.
Playing through the game, I saw all of the things that I've griped about: Feature creep, lack of a solid design destination, and this blog: USE YOUR QA!
At some point in the development process someone needed to ask what kind of game they were making: A parkour game with third-person action.adventure elements, or a third-person action/adventure game with parkour elements. Instead they wound up with a third-person action/adventure parkour rpg shooter that felt only-mostly finished. Some of the features in this game felt forced (like buying my upgrades) other's felt great, but were tarnished by something else (parkour is fantastic, flying through the city like a mad man is awesome, but the crappy controls leave you frustrated many times). Part of this is feature creep, yes, but a lot of that creep could have been avoided by letting your QA department lose on this game early.
Turning your game lose into the hands of unbaised gamers before its release is one of the best things you can do. That feedback is vital and important. Glitches in your control scheme, clunky elements of gameplay, and poor design choices will almost all be pointed out by your QA: If you free them up to feel like something OTHER than bug testers. Remember, QA isn't just there to find bugs and glitches, they're there to give you invaluable feedback on your game.
With a better design scope, and more indepth QA, I think that Prototype could have easily been a 90+ metacritic game, instead of a 78. It's Vital that your game go to QA as soon as possible.
I'm currently designing a top-down shooter game in the vein of Galaga meets R-Type. I don't have the final graphics done, so the levels are basically grey blocks on a green or black background, but as soon as I finish placing the enemies it's going to my QA people. I'll be weighing everything they say. Too fast? Too slow? Bad controls? Don't like this, don't like that? Idea for something better? If it's possible, I'll make it happen. The player input that they'll provide is invaluable to me. It's what will ensure that I'll be able to make a solid game - and more than that: an enjoyable one.
Don't ever forget the power of QA. If you're an indie developer like myself with no staff to speak of, harass your friends. You'd be surprised how many are willing to play games and complain about them ;). Just don't forget to take their complaints with weight. You may disagree, if you do, weigh it against the complaints of your other testers. If they all agree the... the feature needs to change or go, no matter how much you like it.
Till next time, guys!