Welcome back to this look at the Iron Triangle, where I’m laying out the harsh realities of videogame development and looking at some of the difficult decisions every team has to make. Part one covered the three areas that make up the Triangle – cost, content and time – so let’s wrap up by looking at what happens when a team does choose A, B or C, and where Combat Cards fits into all this.
So, we’ve established a development team can choose to focus on content (how big and polished the game is), time (how long it will take to be released) or cost (how many developers will be needed to make the game). Where things get interesting is that these three points of the Iron Triangle – content, time, money – are all locked to each other, and the rule is you can only control two of them.
You can pick which two you want to control, but the third one is always a result of your other two choices. That’s why it’s an Iron Triangle – it’s a fixed and rigid rule that no matter how much you want to, you can only control two of the three points.
As an aside, I’ve worked at studios that have tried to control all three points of the triangle, but like a mortal trying to master the power of Chaos it always ends one way (stress, disappointment and overtime in game development, Chaos spawn, tentacles and teeth in the Warhammer universe).
Assuming you avoid spawndom by not trying to fight the Triangle’s ‘you can only control two’ rule, these are the outcomes you can expect:
- The most common option is to control time and money – as seen with licensed movie tie-ins. Because the game needs to release alongside the movie, it must come out on date X and can’t cost more than Y budget (otherwise it’s not worth making the game in the first place). The point of the triangle you can’t control here is content, which means the game is as big and polished as it happens to be when the time and money run out. Though made for solid, business reasons, this choice often leads to games that feel unfinished or buggy, because the team simply wasn’t large enough or ran out of time to polish the game.
- Your second choice is to control time and content – which means it must come out on date X and be at least ‘this’ big or ‘this’ polished. This option means you have no control over the game’s budget – it will simply costs as much as it needs to to ensure it’s big, polished and released on time. This is where the ‘AAA’ console blockbusters live, with their publishers able to add person after person to the team to achieve their vision.
- Finally, you can control cost and content, meaning the game will be big and polished, but the team will be kept small so development doesn’t cost too much. This means you have no control over how long the game will take to release, because a small team making a polished product will take as long as it needs to take. All of which leads us back to Combat Cards, because this was the direction we chose to go in. We want this game to look great and play well, ideally without too many bugs, but the team size is relatively small, so the result is the game takes as long as it needs to to be released.
Hopefully these occasional peeks behind the curtain of videogame development are of interest, but please do let me know if you’d prefer more or less of this sort of topic.
When we set up Well Played Games, part of our ethos was being as open and honest as possible, and I feel that demystifying the decisions we’re making with Combat Cards should be a big part of that. That way, even if you don’t agree with our direction, you can at least understand why we’ve made a particular decision.