There’s one magic word that gets trotted out all the time in this hobby, a handy term used to describe all digital ills — lazy. ‘How did this bleh of a game end up on the eShop?’ ‘Who couldn’t be bothered to finish this puzzle / minigame / character’s face properly?’ ‘How much more effort would it have taken to add feature X / Y / Z?’
A new release that isn’t different enough from the last game in the series? Lazy. Reusing assets, which could be anything from handy 3D props of mundane objects to pre-existing (and expensive) motion captured animations? Lazy. QA staff — those people with the outwardly desirable job of testing games all day long — are another frequent target of this generic ire, often accused of being lazy for somehow ‘missing’ obvious bugs and other game-breaking issues. The truth is that QA staff find these issues, raise them, and then someone else — another lazy person, no doubt — decides what to address given the cost, complexity and available time.
Let’s get more specific: Nintendo Switch Online’s execution has been touted as lazy in both its original and newly expanded forms. Why aren’t there more games? Why aren’t there more of the ‘right’ sort of games? Why isn’t the emulation absolutely perfect? Why didn’t they recreate the Virtual Console again (even though a subscription-based service makes perhaps more sense), and who was too lazy to sort that out?
The developers of Monster Hunter Rise has been described as lazy for failing to include cross-play with other formats. What about Pokémon? Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are already considered lazy remakes by some for hewing so closely to their original DS releases. Brand new entries such as Sword and Shield never have enough new Pokémon thanks to the alleged apathy of their creators, or reuse too many old Pokémon, or the ‘meta’ game is off somehow. The only explanation a certain collective of fans seem capable of coming up with is ‘Because somebody either didn’t care enough or work hard enough to make this right’.
That’s simply not true.
Making a game, especially a game made available to millions of people worldwide in at least half a dozen languages, is exceptionally hard. And that’s when ‘a game’ is treated as nothing more than a completed, functioning product; a sellable collection of code. Making a good game — one that is enjoyed by those playing it, reviews consistently well, and then sells in a quantity that makes all of the effort that went into it worthwhile — is an almost impossible task, even for studios with a long history of producing great games and in possession of the staff and budget to pull it off. Honestly, it’s a minor miracle anything gets released at all.
Making a game that is enjoyed by those playing it, reviews consistently well, and then sells in a quantity that makes all of the effort that went into it worthwhile is an almost impossible task... Honestly, it’s a minor miracle anything gets released at all.
Even then, companies can still turn out something that can only be described as ‘utter rubbish’; something that was clearly rushed, bodged, or half-baked. But if this isn’t down to laziness, then what is it?
The truth is simple and familiar to most of us: Game development is a job, and like any other job sometimes talented people are given a week to do a month’s work, sometimes everything’s going smoothly until non-negotiable orders from on high force major changes at a crucial moment, and sometimes an enthusiastic newcomer is left to muddle through on their own with the support and training they were repeatedly promised at the project’s beginning never materialising. And even if none of those apply, it’s still not easy to keep dozens if not hundreds of people focused on creating one game for years on end.
But those are just a bunch of hypothetical excuses made up to protect ‘lazy’ people, aren’t they?
No, they aren’t. This is an industry where, unofficially, off the record, staff can expect to hear ‘You don’t have to stay late but if you were a really dedicated, passionate member of the team, you’d want to.’ Even when working for the most outwardly glamorous, profitable, and prestigious developers, staff can be worked to the point of physical and mental illness, underpaid relative to the number of actual hours worked, and can face various forms of harassment so sustained, systemic, and extreme US states feel the need to become legally involved, CEOs have to issue public apologies, and people are hounded from the profession.
‘Lazy’ is such an easy word to trundle out when something unexpectedly falls flat for no specific reason. I know I’ve thoughtlessly uttered it in frustration many times before now, but reaching for this term as the first, last, and only assumed cause of a game’s problems has to stop. It is factually incorrect to call the people working under gruelling conditions — just to make sure a wooden door realistically splinters when hit by gunfire, fresh pieces of armour shine in a satisfying way under torchlight, and a million other details nobody picks up on but somebody has to stay late at work for months on end to get right — lazy. It’s almost impossible to make a modern release of any size without a lot of talent and a professional attitude, and the language gaming at large uses should reflect that.
It’s almost impossible to make a modern release of any size without a lot of talent and a professional attitude, and the language gaming at large uses should reflect that.
So what’s the alternative? Bland blanket praise for fear of upsetting someone’s delicate feelings? Polite avoidance of any major bugs? Pretending everything’s fine and nice and we’re all oh-so-happy to spend our hard-earned money on a bland and tepid experience just because a team regularly worked through the night on it?
No. Dishonesty doesn’t help anyone sitting on either side of the fence and criticism — even the uncomfortably scathing sort — can be a useful, positive, tool. If something doesn’t work as intended or even if the finished game as a whole is irredeemably awful, then these flaws should be highlighted and, if appropriate, dissected down to the smallest atom so we can all understand exactly what went wrong and hopefully learn how to avoid the situation next time.
We don’t have to like or even appreciate the games developers make for us, and we should always — politely — speak up when we feel things aren’t right for whatever reason, but we all owe it to them to at least acknowledge that whatever the outcome, they’re far from lazy.