I initially intended not to do a reaction piece to the recent announcement that production on Scalebound had been canceled. I figured that several publications would have already jumped on it and as such; I did not want to appear to be piling on. However I do think that I have a somewhat unique perspective as during my early days of film and game coverage, I worked at two videogame companies including one which at the time was one of the largest game developers in the world.
That company was Sierra and from the Golden Age of the Apple computer onward to the PC age they had an extremely large library of award-winning games that spanned multiple genres and also included the initial Half-Life and its expansions where they served as publisher.
My duties largely involved quality assurance where I had to not only take calls and e-mails relating to problems people were having with various games, but I also had to develop fixes and anticipate problems that people would have with various games. I also was heavily involved with testing many new releases and the marketing side as well and a QA lead on a couple on various titles.
I had done this type work prior at Monolith but never to the scale that I did at Sierra. I do remember the day that Tribes 2 was assigned to me to be the primary troubleshooter for the game. With less than one hour of time with the game I had already filled two sheets worth of bugs and other issues with the game and turned in my report stating that the current build had major stability issues.
You can imagine my shock when the next morning I learned that the game had gone gold despite various departments pleading with management that the game was not ready. The fact was that the game had been over budget and over schedule as such it was decided to ship it as is and patch it into shape.
The fact that other games were already in development using the new engine was a big push and I can tell you that we saw a fivefold increase in our calls and significant increase in e-mail volume once the game shipped due to the numerous issues with the game.
Shortly thereafter the developers were shut down and a few months later the new ownership decided to shut down our office and centralize things in California. Subsequent games at built on the engine were canceled and I still remember boxed copies of the game destined for stores were handed out to us. The company also folded soon after as the new corporate owners had run a huge company into the ground with a series of releases that were of poor quality and riddled with bugs.
My point is that I’ve seen many games that were pushed out the door far from a completed state simply for financial reasons. There comes a point in any development cycle regardless if it is a game, movie, television show, or piece of technology where a company has to make a decision if it is in their best interest to continue to pour money into something, release it as is and take the backlash that will follow, or to accept their losses and simply say this isn’t working cut bait and move on.
We may never know the full details behind the cancellation of Scalebound when considering the amount of time and money that had been poured into the game as well is the fact that it was one of the titles that was heavily touted at E3 and other venues, one has to simply believe that it was not progressing as needed otherwise a delayed release may have been the most likely outcome. In situations like this quality of the product, budgetary concerns, and internal politics often are the biggest reasons behind product cancellations. Knowing the backlash caused by the cancellation one has to assume that this was the lesser evil and that either releasing subpar game or incurring greater expenses during a delayed production run was the likely result. In the end Microsoft made a business decision, right or wrong we may never know but one has to think that they firmly believed they had no other options and that additional development time and financial investment would not create a game they would be satisfied with.
If more developers took this stance then perhaps we would not have so many subpar games on the market and rather than condemning them perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt that the game simply was not viable.