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January 19, 2018
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Poor Application of the "Fail Early" Strategy in Game Development

by Fumiaki Shiraishi on 08/16/14 02:16:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I've been listening to some old podcasts from Freakonomics and Radiolab, and heard some episodes about quitting and failing quickly. They make some great points, and in general I agree with the idea.

Personally, however, I have nothing but bad experiences when game companies talk about the importance of failing early. I've seen a bunch of instances where this strategy was applied, sometimes first hand, and they have all failed quite spectacularly.

There are actually a myriad of different reasons why projects and games fail, but for this post I'd like to focus on how companies often mistakenly apply the fail early strategy in game development.

The "fail early" strategy with game development projects assumes that you can predict the probability of success at an early stage of development. With some aspects of development, this is pretty straight forward. Can we simulate enough enemies on screen for this game idea? Do we have the budget to create the art assets for this look? Questions like these, we can answer fairly quickly by doing some homework.

But how about the million dollar question of "Is this game going to be fun?" This is really hard. Even in the short history of game development, there are many examples of games that really weren't fun until all the pieces were in place, or a minor tweak was made at the last minute. I've also seen many instances of the reverse, where a game looked really promising in the beginning, but faltered later on.

Games that depend on moods ands emotions are extremely difficult to judge in pre production, or even in Alpha. How can we possibly fail early with these?

The strategy of failing early also ignores the human factor. Many developers are motivated by the project and its potential. But what if you were working on a project that your boss says it's probably not going to be good, and that it'll be scrapped? How motivated can you get?

Motivation is a huge factor in game development. Motivation helps create the thousands of little ideas that we have during production that actually makes a game fun. It definitely helps to have a good core concept, but even the best concept can't survive without a motivated team.

Now, my argument is not that "faily early" does not work. On the contrary, I think good teams naturally employ the "fail early" strategy on a daily basis. Even in the simplest game, developers iterate on ideas and designs many times over.

Where companies error, is when they make the mistake of equating a project with the team, and applying the "fail early" strategy on projects directly. Sometimes, I wish I was a robot, but being human, knowing that I'm just ball in a lottery box does not motivate me.

A better approach would be to say, here's a project with this goal and this team. This project will not, and can not fail. With regards to the process, the team structure, the ideas, and the designs... well those you should fail early.

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