Crossing a Pit in Two Hops

A half-finished project is often worse than useless. A half-built house is exposed to the elements and provides limited shelter despite significant expenditure of resources. The prospect of the completed house and all its amenities drives us forward, but (as when you cross the uncanny valley) the resources become less valuable in an incomplete project.

In the age of perpetual beta, we are living in half-finished houses. Games go online incomplete with the first months’ revenue paying for getting the game into a fully playable state, then ongoing revenue carrying the game into a state that might qualify as “going gold” where the discipline of needing to ship a physical medium forces a relatively completed state. (I am well aware that many “houses” went gold by walling off the incomplete rooms and calling it “built.”)

I have previously commented on Cryptic’s exploration of how early in the development cycle one can ship. City of Heroes launched missing its last 10 levels, then City of Villains did the same, then we had Champions Online and Star Trek Online. Kickstarter has changed the pre-order equilibrium for some games, not shipping early but selling the game before coding has even started. That might actually help things — if you already have the customer’s money, you need not rush to revenue. “You’re only late once, but you can suck forever.”

There are merits to releasing half-finished. But testing always reveals that some of the early ideas were not fun, good, or workable. You are free to revamp those during testing, but if you already sold the game and people are already playing, they are going to feel betrayed when you change a fundamental on them. NGE might have been a good idea in terms of design and the long-term health of the game, but you must survive the painful transition.

As commenters suggested under the “releasing half-finished” link, while you do not want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, you also do not want the marginally-better-than-nothing to be the enemy of the good. “Good enough” is often not good enough.

: Zubon