This post is my day 14 contribution to the 2015 Blaugust Initiative.
Every time I come across this phrase, my jaw starts to clench up, my knuckles turn white, and I start to hear my heart beating in my ears. I’m normally a very soft-spoken hobbit, but when someone uses “It’s not optimized yet” as an excuse for poor game performance after months or years of testing, I begin to feel a little swear-y.
It’s probably worth noting that in 20 years of testing games, I have not yet come across a single reputable game developer using this as an excuse. It’s almost always uttered by fans of a game in defense of questions or criticism from other testers. I picture them fluttering their fingers on the other side of the keyboard, like it’s some kind of Jedi mind trick. “This is not the finalized performance you’re looking for.”
It’s true that most game studios push their developers too hard, and this can lead to sloppy practices and lazy shortcuts. The imperative from management is sometimes just “write code that works,” rather than “write good code that works well.” In studios that value quality over deadlines, the developers and QA team will identify and either correct or remove any changes with a noticeable negative impact on performance before customers ever see it.
It’s also true that some studios will occasionally ask their developers to do an “optimization pass” to look for ways to improve a game’s performance. This should be reserved for taking games that already perform acceptably well, and making them perform even better. An optimization pass creates a cushion for future changes that could drag the game’s performance back down to merely acceptable.
If you’re using hardware and software within the targeted specifications given by a game’s developer, and that game doesn’t perform acceptably well during months or years of testing, it will almost never perform acceptably well for you upon release. The only exceptions I’ve seen are when a developer already has clear plans to take advantage of some additional technology prior to launch, such as multi-threaded rendering or previously unutilized GPU functions.
The only remaining alternatives are to eliminate game features entirely or reduce graphical quality across-the-board to reach acceptable performance goals. But that isn’t optimization; it’s amputation.
So for you passionate players out there, please stop trotting out this ridiculous excuse for your favorite game’s poor performance during testing. It’s almost never true. And developers, unless you honestly have an ace up your sleeve, please set the record straight when you see someone say, “It’s not optimized yet.” Your silence only perpetuates the fantasy.
Am I completely wrong here? Has some magic optimization bullet saved your game from subpar performance the day before release? Set me straight in the comments below!