I've read one of the DLC posts that said how you guys don't want to return "a partially-filled tank", or rather how you want to use up as much of the tank as possible. (It's the post that talks about budgets and "zots". The paragraph in question is right below the gas meter picture.) If the game feels as tight and complete as it could've been before you used up all of the money, wouldn't it be wiser to save the remaining money so the game doesn't have quite as high expectations of success?
It’s not that we don’t want to. It’s that we can’t. You can’t get a refund on partially-developed stuff any more than you can get the butter, sugar, and eggs back out of the cake batter, or the air out of the balloon and back into the tank. That money is gone. We used it to pay developers to do work. They turned that time and money into game assets and code, and that’s a one-way transition.
You have to realize that we can’t build each individual part of the game one at a time, test it out, and decide whether to keep going. That would take far too long to finish the project. Instead, we divide the developers up into different sub teams and build many parts of the game simultaneously. This way we can have many people working on many different parts of the game at the same time in order to do as much as we collectively can within the schedule. For example, the combat team probably doesn’t need to do much with the VFX team. The server programmers probably don’t need to talk to the UI artists. They can work independently of each other on different parts of the same game at the same time.
Unfortunately, predicting the future can be really, really hard.
What if Desmal, the senior programmer, gets a better job offer elsewhere and decides to leave? That’s certainly not going to be in the schedule. Somebody will have to take over the features she was working on, and she may have been the only person to understand how her code worked. That feature might have to get cut simply because nobody else can feasibly finish it. What if the system Neelo is designing just isn’t quite fun enough? The feature has gone through multiple design reviews and iterations and it’s close to being good, but everyone agrees that it’s still missing something. Unfortunately, the time Neelo was allotted is gone. Now what? Do we cut Neelo’s work? Do we pull Mike off of his work in order to assist Neelo and try to get Neelo’s feature over the hump? And if we did do that, what happens to Mike’s feature?
We can’t get a refund for all the work that Desmal or Neelo did up to this point either. We can’t suck that development time back out and put it into something else. That time is gone, and we aren’t getting it back. That’s where the unfinished content comes from - we try a lot of stuff, some of it doesn’t work, the stuff that’s lower priority gets cut to make sure we have enough left in the tank for the higher priority stuff. Maybe we can resurrect some of it with some additional budget, but that’s only going to come if we can justify that from a business perspective. Nobody wants to throw good money after bad.
These are all real examples (with names changed, of course) of unforeseen issues I’ve actually had to deal with on past projects. At one company, I saw months of engineers’ work wasted because the engineering lead on that feature passed away from a heart attack and the system lost its architect. Shit happens. Things don’t always go as expected. I have yet to work on a project where we were able to finish everything we set out to do with no cuts whatsoever, and I’ve been doing this professionally for over a decade. We’re often put into a situation of having to choose between one option and another, but not able to have both. We are also often put into a situation where we started something awesome with full intention to finish it, but circumstances conspired against us and there was nothing we could do to save it. Many projects have been sunk because we kept throwing more and more resources into a system or feature that just required too much and we were too busy thinking about sunk cost to see it.
Got a burning question you want answered?