I’ve talked about the upcoming release of Combat Cards enough that I’m not going to go into it again here, but as part of planning for worldwide launch the team has been looking at our longer-term ‘vision’.
Establishing a shared vision for the next six, 12 and 24 months of Combat Cards’ life means we can ensure everything we’re working on is going in the agreed direction, without wasting time on features which don’t match our goal. However, I’m not going to talk about that vision, either!
Instead, as part of our occasional looks behind the scenes of the videogames industry, I thought I’d share with you guys the concept of ‘the Iron Triangle’. I’m sure that the Triangle applies to other creative industries too, and people call it different things, but though I’ve seen many changes in the games industry over the last 22 years, this one concept has always remained brutally true.
So, what is the Triangle, and how does it apply to Combat Cards’ vision? As this is a subject which fundamentally affects how a videogame is created I’m going to go into enough depth that we’ll cover this in two posts. Let’s begin with ‘finishing’ games…
In the eyes of its’ creators, no videogame is ever finished – they just get released to players in some form on some date. This applies to boxed (or downloadable) games, to early-access games, and to live, serviced games like Combat Cards. It also applies just as much to games made in a 24 hour game jam as epic, ten-years-in-production blockbusters.
As a creator, you can always see the areas where your game isn’t finished. That might mean bugs and glitches, but it could also be entire missing features you intended to implement or poorly balanced or dull areas of the game. Some of these things may be visible to players, but missing features or lost sections of a game may never be discovered – living on only in a designer’s brain or in a forgotten document.
The Iron Triangle is the reason that games are released in an unfinished state, but it isn’t some malevolent force – it’s simply where reality butts up against creativity in videogames development.
The Iron Triangle relates to three areas of game development:
- Content – how much ‘stuff’ do you want in your game? This could be raw gameplay (in terms of hours you can play the game), but it also applies to polish, in that the more slick and bug free you want your game, the more new stuff you have to sacrifice to implement that polish (if someone’s polishing, they’re not making new content). Basically, this area dictates how big your game is, but also how deep its’ systems are and how structurally sound it is.
- Time – implementing all of the above stuff takes time, so as you’d expect, this area relates to how long your game will take to create and release. As businesses, most game developers have to release their games in a reasonable timescale (though what’s considered reasonable depends on how much money the developer has in the bank).
- Money – yes, this relates to time in that the longer the game’s in development, the more money it has to make to pay for its development – but money also affects team size. What I mean is, as long as you have the funding, games can always be given longer in development, but there’s a limit to how much money you can spend on a game right now. If a feature is going to take a lone developer ten months but I want it done in one month then I can just pay more to put ten developers on it, right? Actually, this doesn’t work very well, because people start getting in each other’s way, and you have to add even more cost because that many people need a lot of coordination and management and so on. As I said, you can keep adding time, but you can only throw so much money at a problem.
Now you’ve seen the factors every developer has to weigh up when creating a game, the second post will cover what choosing one of the above elements over the others actually does to a game. We’ll also look at where Combat Cards sits on the Iron Triangle, hopefully giving some insight into the decisions we made and why we chose to go in those directions.