Why Games Get Stuck in Development Hell

Most games are released in a few years tops, assuming they are backed by a competent team of developers; this includes the programmers, designers, voice actors, storytellers, and marketers.

That may not be the case if the game doesn’t reach its crowdfunding goals or fails to generate any interest from gamers like us, which means it’s harder to get noticed by a publisher.

The biggest known obstacle to game development is poor management, shown by constantly shifting priorities and little to no progress made on the core gameplay, though a lack of resources poses another problem in of itself.

A game that takes forever to come out is stuck in what’s known as “development hell”. This phrase was coined to describe any project that remains in the conceptual stage, moving forward at a snail’s pace, not confirmed to be canceled, but still considered a waste of potential.

Developing a game from the ground up is already a complicated process, but using an outdated engine, porting over to a new platform, adding too many pointless features, changing publishers midway, mismanaging money, and being overly ambitious can all cause a game to be trapped in development hell.

The longer the development hell persists, the more people will lose interest in a game, often abandoning it in favor of a better one, based on a similar idea. Even if the game does get completed, it will not live up to its initial hype, as a low-quality product that won’t deliver what was promised in the official trailer.

Let’s take a look at some of the worst offenders of development from the 21st century:

Exhibit A: Duke Nukem Forever

A really blatant example of development hell is none other than Duke Nukem Forever. Frankly, it should have won the #1 slowest game ever developed award.

15 years in the making, this much-anticipated sequel to Duke Nukem 3D, a highly successful game that took shoot ’em ups to outright comical levels, would infamously leak a bunch of gameplay teasers every few years, and then run back into hiding when it drew too much attention from nostalgic fans.

The sad part is, Duke Nukem Forever was supposed to tie up all the loose ends, to give the old Duke the epic showdown he deserved, against the alien menace that tried to kidnap some hot chicks. But instead, the fans were rewarded with a half-assed game that barely did justice to its predecessors.

From what others have said, Duke Nukem Forever’s execution was subpar because it tried to be a sci-fi FPS with sports cars and plenty of explosions and could not deliver when compared to modern FPS games. The developers would’ve had to update their assets multiple times only to bite the dust once a new operating system arrives.

It makes you wonder, why didn’t they quit when it became evident that the game suffered from severe scope creep? The funny thing is, their publisher Gearbox, actually sued them because they were just fed up with waiting for the game to get released. Man, 3D Realms really screwed up on this one.

Exhibit B: Star Citizen

Star Citizen was launched back in 2011, presenting itself as a space exploration adventure in which players can acquire resources on uncolonized planets, fight other players, and modify their own spaceships. There was going to be a crafting system, and three different playable modules among other things.

However, everything went downhill after that. For the last 7 years, Cloud Imperium has been adding and removing many features but contributing very little to the actual core mechanics. According to Kotaku, the developers faced numerous setbacks when introducing new elements of gameplay.

For one, the scale of this game is immense: It tried to be the best space game ever envisioned, as many directors, developers, backers, and critics hopped on the bandwagon to help improve the game. Despite everyone pitching in, the game is still stuck in alpha, which means players only have access to the demo builds.

Star Citizen is a prime example of how NOT to develop a game, demonstrating that not every project on Kickstarter deserves your money. In case you didn’t know, Star Citizen managed to hit an impressive $2 million goal in crowdfunding. And as a consequence, Cloud Imperium let their ambitions run wild with creativity.

At first glance, both the webpage and the trailer were masterfully animated, rivaling the CGI of Marvel’s Infinity Wars. But dig deeper and you’ll notice that this company is notorious for shutting down critics, threatening news outlets with lawsuits, and actively enforcing bans on the Star Citizen community.

Given their track record, it’s not surprising that people have accused them of running an elaborate scam and intentionally halting progress on virtual ships to further milk their investors.

Exhibit C: Yandere Simulator

Hoo boy, it’s gonna be tough to describe what went down the rabbit hole with this indie game. For starters, I won’t be talking about the personal drama surrounding YandereDev. There are already many videos that show why he’s a bad developer who can’t code very well, lashes out at criticism, and takes advantage of his Patreon supporters.

That being said, it makes perfect sense to put Yandere Simulator on the development hell list. The game was first announced in 2014 as a Hitman Persona crossover, featuring a yandere girl named Ayano Aishi who fell madly in love with Taro Yamada, aka “Senpai”.

The goal was to eliminate all the rivals before they could confess to Senpai, which explains why it attracted a large fan base of mostly anime “weebs”. But to this day, none of the rivals have even been implemented yet! Hell, most of the game’s assets were taken directly from the Unity store.

After six years, it seemed there was no end in sight for the development of Yandere Simulator, a game that still has not gone past being a debug sandbox. As recent updates consist of Easter eggs and bonus minigames, the first rival, Osana is unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon.

Development Hell Only Applies to Games Expected to be Released

As a disclaimer, I have deliberately omitted any games that were either canceled or scrapped by the developers during the conceptual stage. Just because a company bounces off some interesting ideas for a game, doesn’t mean they already have plans to finish it.

In fact, many sequels to big-budget games were never announced with a specific release date, despite the number of trailers or news articles published on their development. This includes Half-Life 3, Prey 2, Doom 4, and Final Fantasy XV.

Most of these games struggled in production due to switching studios, trying to upgrade the engine, increasing the scope too much, dealing with staff departures, lacking in a sense of direction, and of course, changing the title and story midway through.

It feels disappointing to see a sequel game unable to progress especially when the series left players on a cliffhanger or showed footage of innovative gameplay that looked exciting. But once the game finally hits the Steam store, it could be filled with bugs and glitches, proving that the detractors were right all along.

Even if the game gets more traction, people will always complain about the ugly graphics, poor mechanics, and clunky controls, resulting in poor sales and an embarrassing situation for the studios that backed it in the first place.

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