developer Creative Assembly shoots for a 90 percent Metacritic score for its games, and has a "brutal" approach to getting there, the studio tells Gamasutra in our latest feature
Metacritic's average review scores have become increasingly important for developers in recent years, as many publishers and consumers refer to those numbers as an indicator of a game's quality, as well as the quality of a studio's output. In some cases, those scores can determine whether developers receive bonus payments
Creative Assembly's studio director Tim Heaton says that his team goes through a rigorous process when deciding what features to include in a game. The Sega subsidiary will cut some features immediately, but it will prototype and judge the quality of others before deciding to ditch them. And while prototyping ideas and examining their process, the group will also abandon features that it feels will take too long to turn into a high-quality addition.
"Through production, actually, we do what we call 'Metacritic analysis,'" says Heaton. "We will break those features down into subsets, and we both look at it from a player's point of view, and a reviewer's point of view, and we'll weigh certain features as to how we see players and reviewers look at them, and they'll build up to a 100 percent score, and then we'll judge where we feel we are on those individual feature sets, and see the momentum on those and the velocity on those, too."
He adds, "And so if we see one flat line and it's not where we want it to be, we then will cut it. Well, we'll cut it really late in the day. I think teams are really scared about doing 90 percent of the work and then cutting it. It's kind of like, 'Well, it's nearly finished; I... I've done all the work! Please don't cut it! I'm sure I can make it better.' And we're fairly brutal on that."
Heaton says he would much rather reject a feature that the studio invested resources in, than have it left in the game and affecting its quality. "You know, every step of the way -- from the beginning to the end -- we're talking about a 90 percent Metacritic," the Creative Assembly director emphasizes. "That's our goal. That's what we tell Sega. And we communicate that through graphs, basically, of where we think we are."
He continues, "We build into that also, on that Metacritic analysis, external events. So if we think we've done a really great PR job, if there's an individual event that we've done really good, we might add, you know, a .5 percent Metacritic. If we think it's fucked up or somebody's not done their job right, or miscommunicated something, or whatever, we'll see that in our Metacritic analysis. And we share that with Sega on a weekly basis, so that they can figure out how we're doing, too."
Heaton admits that cutting a feature that might have been nearly completed can affect the studio's morale, but he believes the team eventually buys into the idea that these decisions are for the best: "Certainly some elements of a team -- and this always happens with every team I've ever worked with -- just go, 'Come on, just give me a game design document. Just tell me what I need to do and then I will do it to the best of my ability.' And we slowly, hopefully, educate people that's just not the best way.
"And we will enter a fog of ideas for quite a long time, and some of those things will have risks against them right up until the end, and then we might pull them. It pisses people off, absolutely, but it's for the best. But nothing makes the team prouder than delivering a 90 percent game and selling two million copies. So that's the bottom line, and people do come to understand that."
The full feature interview, in which Heaton talks more about Creative Assembly's process for building high-quality games, is live now on Gamasutra