Transparency: 5 things developers really mean by "it's too hard"

Dear all developers, please, steal these alternative answers. Just stop making up lame, half-excuses.

I’ve had it. I’m done with letting developers tell me that something is too hard. It gives me zero insight into why something isn’t being done in a game. On top of that, it makes the developers look like idiots and it makes interviewers look like idiots for taking "it's too hard" as a real answer.

Readers should not take “it’s too hard” as a legitimate answer from a developer. There is always more to it; there is always a limitation on the development team that they are just not revealing.

Of course, I’m not trying to say that every game should have everything we want in it. Nor am I saying that there aren’t things that developers can’t do. Saying that things are too difficult or too hard not only doesn’t paint a true picture of what’s really happening, but it also makes it sound like the developer just isn’t skilled enough to pull off whatever it is the interviewer is asking. That might be the case, but you don’t want to tell people that! (Note: that’s not usually the case.)

In case you’re confused by why Assassin’s Creed Unity didn’t have a female multiplayer character model or why the PC port for Batman: Arkham Knight released unplayable, let me give a list of five things developers could really mean by “it’s too hard.”

1. Doesn’t fit within the limitations of the engine

Engine choices are obviously made early on in the design process. More often than not it’s simpler to license an existing engine when designing a game now because it takes a lot of developer time to create an engine from scratch. On top of that, many of the existing licensed engines are robust and highly customizable. I completely understand the cost-effectiveness of not reinventing the wheel.

However, there are sometimes limitations in tech within the engine itself. Of course, developers can usually rewrite the code of the engine, but if the game is already built, then rewriting something core to the game could easily break the game to a point where is it unplayable.

Instead of “too hard,” developers should reply something like: “We have assessed the ramifications of implementing this feature in the game’s engine and have concluded that adding it would cause irrevocable damage to the gameplay.”

2. Would require more man-hours than we can allocate

The ultimate idea behind making a video game is making money. And I don’t begrudge people from all levels of development for wanting the game to make money. Of course, there is a line where making money supersedes making a good game, and that is bad.

Regardless, when you make a game, producers have to keep in mind how much time is being spent on certain features. And if too much time is being spent on one feature that doesn’t benefit the game’s bottom line as much as spending time on another feature, then it’s understandable that the resources had to be allocated to another part of the project.

A better, although equally unwanted reply, could be: “There are many features that we wanted to implement into the game, but our allotted man-hours didn’t allow us to work on that feature.” That could be followed up with “But we hope to implement that in the future” or “If our sales of the game reach beyond our projected threshold, then we can work on implementing that.”

3. Would require hiring extra staff

This particular reason for not implementing something in a game is similar to the last one, but usually this means that they would have to hire staff that has a skillset that the current team doesn’t have. Think about it like this: It takes a completely different style of design for Kerbal Space Program than making Call of Duty. That also means that different designers are required.

Sure, there is overlap because they are both video games, but I think you can understand that from a more narrow perspective that different games will require different people to make them successfully.

If the current team doesn’t have the background to implement the feature an interviewer is asking about, the developers should state that. For example: “That feature does sound great, but our staff consists of a different type of developers. If we wanted to implement those features, we would have to hire a different team, and unfortunately, that is not in our current budget.”

4. Will not fit in the client-side minimum requirements

One of the biggest limitations on game developers is the platform it’s being developed for. Everything from the controls, to the GPU, to the amount of storage required for the game all weigh against the choices behind what is or isn’t implemented in a title.

Sometimes, certain features have to be scaled back so far because of the console limitations that it’s not even worth implementing. For instance, Elder Scrolls Online didn’t bother implementing a chatroom on its console version because the keyboards for consoles are just plain awful and are rarely used. There was more benefit in implementing a built-in voice chat.

If this is a reason why something hasn’t been implemented in a game, simply say: “We had to scale back that feature because it didn’t work on this platform.” As the PC master race, it’s sometimes hard to accept that, but understand that it's often better for business to cater to console and low-end PC users.

5. It’s outside the scope of the vision for the game

Lastly, games have to have a solid vision to work out well. If it attempts to do too much, then it enters the dreaded sea of feature-creep, meaning that the things that the game does will not be done well. Sometimes, developers have to choose.

Of course, that will mean potentially losing players, but it’s better to satisfy the players that you do have than to satisfy no one.

A developer can say here: “We had considered that feature at one point when designing the game, but we felt it was beyond the our vision for the game.”

When we live in a world where CGI is better than what we can see with our eyes, there is nothing that is impossible or “too hard.” It all has to do with the limitations that developers have placed. I just wish developers were sometimes more forthcoming with their reasons why.

Published Aug. 14th 2015
View Comments
  • mmoblitz
    Well written and right on the money. I can think of many games where those same lines were used and It aggravates me to no-end when they give those lame excuses. Many devs do it, but those that fall under the EA umbrella do it the most.
  • Zach Stratton
    This is incredibly well-written and extremely topical. Well done.
  • Larry Everett
    Featured Columnist
    Thank you.

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