Feature creep: the bane of big software projects

Greetings all!  Today something happened
which got me thinking about one of the nastiest problems in software development:
feature creep.  This is when the feature
set of a product morphs and grows to the point where it’s a significantly different
product than when it began.

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I’m reminded of an experience a few months ago when I had a major software disappointment.  It
wasn’t with a Microsoft product, it was with a game made by another company.  (I
won’t name names here, to protect the guilty as well as my six.)  It
was the third version of a celebrated strategy game series.  I
had never played the first version, but I became a serious addict of the second version.  This
third version had been hyped endlessly on the company’s website, complete with user
forums and frequent sneak peeks at the product.  It
slipped for months, increasing the entire user community’s anticipation of the game.


When it finally shipped, it was a huge deal.  Some
stores had already sold out on release day, and others were late getting their shipments.  The
local Best Buy had it, though, and my wonderful wife was nice enough to get it for
me as a present to celebrate an important event that had happened around the same


The game had incredible graphics, but there was a problem.  It
was so complex and slow-moving as to be nearly unplayable.  The
previous version was exciting, balanced between strategic planning and combat, and
super fun.  This version was insanely
slow, and you had to spend hours learning the game’s AI systems that were supposed
to make it easier to play!  I played it
intensely for a few weeks but then lost interest.  It
just wasn’t FUN.


One of the key problems this game had faced was feature creep.  This
was evident reading the updates from the team on how the game was doing.  They
started out the project with an insanely grand vision that turned out to be not very
fun and way too complex.  So they started
cutting things, and this left a hacked-up nightmare that didn’t work together fluidly.  Worse,
it had a healthy dose of obvious bugs which got in the way of gameplay.  (All
products have bugs, but some more than others – Age of Empires I & II, by comparison,
never had any bugs which I felt got in my way.)


I feel for that team, but it’s too bad they didn’t start out with a manageable vision
and – most of all – ensure that they were taking the best parts of the prior version
forward and not ruining the things that made the prior version great.  Such
is the challenge for all of us who would produce a new version of a well-liked product.


That’s all for now! -Chris