Hit Points #11: Knackered

A few years back I wrote a story for Edge about Sharkmob, a Swedish studio set up by a gang of former developers at Ubisoft Massive. I’d met the CEO, Fredrik Rundqvist, a few years earlier when I went to Malmö for a cover story on the just-announced Tom Clancy’s The Division. The game would go on to make Massive a star, but it took an awful lot out of the team along the way (for more on this, I recommend studio head David Polfeldt’s memoir, The Dream Architects). A sequel was promptly greenlit. Rundqvist asked himself if he could really do it all again.

The shape of game development has changed tremendously over the past decade. Projects take far longer, and require many more people to ship — and these days, shipping is only the beginning. A successful live-service game like The Division will also be supported for years after launch. The cost of failure is higher than ever, and even success takes a toll. All the while, the clock is running down. “I turned 47 last week,” Rundqvist told me at the time (he will be 50 now). “You start to realise there’s a limited number of games left in you. I want to make sure I spend those years making the right game.”

I was reminded of this over the weekend when I saw that Yuji Naka, 55, has left Square Enix after the dismal reception to Balan Wonderworld, and is now considering retirement. The sense of time advancing must be even harsher for Naka, who joined Sega when he was 18 and has been in and around games ever since (before he joined Massive, Rundqvist worked in the music industry). Naka rose to fame in the 1990s, when development timelines were measured in months rather than years. His name graces the credits of scores of classic games.

I wouldn’t blame him if he decided now was the time to step away. Balan Wonderworld is clearly not a good game, but nor is it as terrible as the gleeful dunking it received at review time suggests. Square Enix never really seemed that enamoured with the project: it supposedly told Naka he would get “one chance” at making a 3D platformer, gave him less than three years to make it, and clearly decided swiftly that he had failed to pull it off. It was given a graveyard shift of a release slot, launching on March 26, five days before the end of Square Enix’s fiscal year. It sold just over 2,000 copies at launch in Japan. It is not even mentioned in the publisher’s latest financial report.

When visiting developers during my time at Edge, they would often tell me that they did not understand how it was possible to make something to such a high standard every four weeks. I would counter that I could not imagine what it was like only making something every four years, and not knowing if it would be any good until the final stretch. If we made a bad issue — hypothetically of course, that shit was perfect — we could at least put it behind us and get back on track the following month. Developers don’t have that luxury, particularly those in the twilight of their careers. Just three years after his eye-catching hire by Square Enix, Naka now has one less game in him, and precious little to show for the endeavour. If this is the end, Balan be damned — the industry is losing a giant.


Better news from Japan: Hidetaka ‘Swery65’ Suehiro’s The Good Life has been picked up by Playism after being seemingly dropped by original publisher The Irregular Corporation. I will now have this in my head for the rest of the day.

Quantic Dream’s woes continue with tales of execs crying on the witness stand, and from co-CEO Guillaume de Fondaumière, the best quote you will read this week: “Since I’m not under oath, can I lie?” Laugh all you want: saying the inner monologue out loud is very on-brand for Quantic Dream, when you think about it.

You’ll be wanting the itch.io Indie Bundle For Palestinian Aid, which offers over 1,000 games for as little as $5. It’s raised over $400,000 at the time of writing.

More not-E3 shenanigans were announced over the weekend: Devolver Digital will do its thing on Saturday, while Panic will update us on its gorgeous crank-driven handheld Playdate tomorrow. If that’s somehow too long a wait, Apple’s WWDC kicks off this evening.

That’s it for today. If this is your first time reading, my heartfelt thanks. Do consider subscribing if you haven’t already, and if you feel like sharing it, so much the better. I hate self-promotion and promise not to get any better at it, so I need all the help I can get. See you tomorrow!