Development Hell (also known as Development Limbo) is a term used to describe games that remain in development and haven't progressed to production, or games that was stuck in development for at least six years and ending up being of low quality. There are several reasons for this for which we will describe below.
Games stuck in development hell are often referred to as "Vaporware" due to how long it's taken for them to come out, to the point that people doubt they ever will. There is also a category of games that were suffered through this for more than 5 years.
There is also an article on this topic on the Awful Movies Wiki.
Rushing game development is the opposite problem, where the game development is rushed to coincide with a certain event, which causes the game to be unfinished, untested, and possibly become one of the worst games of all time in most cases (Sonic 2006 is an example of such case).
Reasons & Causes For Development Hell
- Changing game engines, likely due to the engine getting old and causing limitations such as poor graphics, or a newer version of the game engine being released. This can cause assets to be invalidated by the switch in engines as the assets are not compatible with the newly chosen engine thus requiring additional time to remake the assets. Daikatana was a notable example of this.
- Switching platforms during development, especially the time when there's a new gaming console released, such as switching from the Nintendo 64 to the GameCube. This could also invalidate the assets, or force a different engine to be used if the previous engine was not compatible with the new console.
- Mismanaging money during development, which wastes a lot of money. Some games can even get cancelled because of this, with a notable example being StarCraft: Ghost.
- Swapping video game genres, such as going from Platformer to Hack 'n' Slash, or Strategy, etc.
- Trailers were made constantly to overhype the game, wasting time and money.
- Hardware limitations.
- Executive meddling; this can cause games to be poorly designed or filled with glitches despite the long development time.
- Switching developers or switching teams. Both Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines were victims of this, as both games went through three developer studios before Gearbox Software acquired both games.
- Duke Nukem Forever: The sequel to the 1996 game Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem Forever, was in development for 15 years: from 1996 (first announced 1997) to its release date in 2011. The long development time was caused by numerous factors, including a switch from the Quake II engine to the Unreal Engine, having a relatively small development staff by modern standards (3D Realms' co-owners George Broussard and Scott Miller infamously maintained that the game would be released "when it's done"), conflicts between 3D Realms and its publisher, Take-Two Interactive, over how it had been handling the constant delays, and the eventual bankruptcy of 3D Realms. In 2009, the rights to the Duke Nukem franchise were sold to Gearbox Software, who eventually completed the game and released it in 2011. The game was ultimately a critical disappointment, with most of the criticism directed towards the game's clunky controls, long loading times, offensive humor, and overall aged and dated design.
- UnReal World: An extremely rare instance where executive meddling, development crunch, and other common problems in gaming development have no involvement to the game at all, it is all just two developers (Sami Maaranen and Erkka Lehmus) working on it for a staggering 28 years (Beating Duke Nukem Forever to the punch) and they're still going to this day since it constantly morphs from a genre to another. The latest version was released on Steam in 2016 from fan request while the game itself is still in development.
- Half-Life 2: Episode 3, Half-Life 3, or Half-Life: Alyx: Due to Valve's notoriously bohemian development practices, 13 years after the last release in their "episodic" series we are still no closer to a conclusion. Apparently development has started and stopped several times, but most likely the biggest problem is the series plot was developed without a clear outline, and got so caught up in faffing around with the Citadel that nobody can figure out how to write their way out of this corner. This was a mystery until of when Half-Life: Alyx was announced in October 2019, and was later released in March 2020 for when the fate of HL2: E2 or the original HL3 was revealed. According to Valve, HL3 started development in 2013 and was cancelled in 2014 along with Left 4 Dead 3 due to scope-creep, developmental issues with the Source 2 engine, lack of satisfying ideas, etc.
- Warframe: Announced in February 2000, when it was called Dark Sector and intended as an MMO sequel to Unreal Tournament. After years of attempting to work out the online infrastructure for such a game the plan was shelved as unworkable and the assets used to create a third-person shooter, Dark Sector, that was released in 2008 (hence the Technocyte armor in this game resembling the Warframe suits, and the protagonist being named Tenno). The original concept was dusted off by Digital Extremes in 2011, and two years later, just over 13 years after it was first announced, the original vision for Dark Sector was released as Warframe, which was ment with mixed reviews at launch, but DE listened very well to feedback and now today the game received with acclaim and has over 50 million players playing the game.
- Aliens: Colonial Marines: First announced in 2001, Aliens: Colonial Marines spent over 12 years in development hell. The original game which was announced in 2001 to be in development by Check Six Games, was cancelled. The video game rights for the Alien franchise were sold in December 2006 to Sega. Gearbox Software subsequently announced that it would take over development of Colonial Marines, intending it to be a direct follow-up to Aliens. The game would spend another 7 years in development, during which Gearbox's resources were also being consumed by other projects, such as Duke Nukem Forever, as well as its own franchise Borderlands, resulting in much of the game's development being outsourced to other studios. The game was released in 2013, where it was criticized for having various bugs and gameplay issues, low-quality graphics, as well as a lack of consistent continuity with the Alien film franchise. Further controversy emerged due to Gearbox and Sega having presented demos of the game at conventions that were of noticeably higher quality than the final product, which lead to a class-action lawsuit against both companies.
- Mother 3/EarthBound 64: Mother 3 was originally developed for the Super Famicom beginning in 1994, and later jumped to the Nintendo 64, with a trailer that was dropped in late 1998/early 1999, showing a well finished product. Unfortunately the game was cancelled in the summer of 2000 due to numerous delays, the failure of the 64DD and possibly hardware limitations. However, Mother 3 was eventually re-announced for the Game Boy Advance in 2003. After 12 years, Mother 3 was released in April 20, 2006 (only in Japan). Sadly there seem to be no working prototypes of EarthBound 64, there are only several screenshots and trailers. You can find more info on EarthBound 64 on Unseen64.
- Prey: Trapped in development hell for 11 years from 1995 to 2006, this game was at one point on vaporware lists right alongside its slightly younger sibling Duke Nukem Forever. Being another 3D Realms title, it suffered similar problems with unachievable goals, staff departures (including Tom Hall leaving to form Ion Storm with John Romero a year into production) engine changes and multiple complete restarts. If that wasn't bad enough...
- Prey 2: 2006's Prey was originally going to have a sequel, but due to numerous delays and Human Head Studios (the sequel's developer) stopping production suddenly, the sequel was ultimately canceled after 8 years in 2014 under dubious circumstances. Bethesda's Pete Hines claimed the game "just wasn't up to our quality standard" (which is an astonishing claim coming from Bethesda of all people) while former Prey 2 Narrative Designer Jason Blair stated the game was actually finished and the cancellation was "political and petty." Development was handed off to Arkane Studios, who developed a game called Prey with no relation to either the first game or the cancelled sequel.
- Diablo III: Trundled through a tortured development period starting at Blizzard North back when it still existed in 2001, first demonstrated in 2008 and eventually released in 2012, after 11 years in development.
- Beyond Good & Evil 2: The time for this one is currently 11 years after work on a sequel was first announced. The original Beyond Good & Evil game, released in 2003, was critically acclaimed and gained a cult following, but was a commercial failure. Ancel explained that as he wrote out the game's universe, he found it was bigger than what he could practically include within a single game, and thus anticipated the game to be the first of a trilogy of works. However, the poor sales of this game left its publisher Ubisoft reluctant to invest in a sequel. Rumors about a sequel began to circulate around 2007, starting with a Nintendo Power interview with Ancel who stated he was working on a new project that was very personal to him, and mentioned his hopes to reuse Jade, the player-character from Beyond Good & Evil, in a future project without changing her personality. Ancel said in a May 2008 interview with the French magazine Jeuxvideo.fr that the Beyond Good & Evil sequel had been in pre-production for a year, but was yet to be approved by Ubisoft. Later that month, as part of their "Ubidays" event, Ubisoft released a trailer for the next, yet-named project from Ancel and their Ubisoft Montpellier studio, which had worked on Beyond Good & Evil. The trailer used Beyond Good & Evil music assets and showed characters that appeared to be Jade and Pey'j from the original game. Ubisoft reported that the trailer had all been recorded in-engine, showcasing high-resolution graphics representative of seventh generation consoles capabilities. A second, leaked trailer appeared for the game on the Internet around May 2009, showing a character that resembled Jade running through a crowded street, avoiding gunfire. The trailer was confirmed to be authentic by Ancel, while Ubisoft denied that they had purposely released the footage. In late 2016, Ancel used social media to post images from the game, showing a younger Pey'j, hinting that Beyond Good and Evil 2 may be a prequel. Ubisoft shortly followed by officially announcing the game. Ubisoft eventually showed the first official trailer for Beyond Good and Evil 2 during their E3 2017 conference and it was announced as a prequel to the first game. During E3 2017, Ancel confirmed that the 2008 and 2009 trailers were from initial work as a narrative sequel to Beyond Good & Evil, but during development they opted to change direction and make it a prequel.
- Final Fantasy XV: Development started in 2006 before its announcement, and it was originally titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a PS3-exclusive spin-off directed by Tetsuya Nomura (of Kingdom Hearts fame), who wanted to make a darker Final Fantasy game. Development slowed down until it was eventually re-branded to be a main franchise entry, so in 2012, Versus XIII was renamed to XV, and even that didn't prevent the game from getting more production issues. Eventually, after 10 years, Final Fantasy XV was finally released in November 2016, to positive reviews.
- Brigand Oaxaca: An indie FPS/RPG 10 years in development. In this case, because it is a massive game with a dev team consisting entirely of creator Brian Lancaster.
- Too Human: It was originally meant to be a PS1 game and later jumped on the GameCube, until it was finally released on the Xbox 360. Gamers had been waiting for 9 years. The game was released in 2008, and was criticized for having a dreadful camera, awful sound effects, poor combat mechanics, an unskippable death sequence that drags out for too long, and bugs and glitches.
- The Last Guardian: The Last Guardian was initially announced in 2007 as Project Trico and was set for a 2009 release. However, bugs and technology limitations caused the game to be delayed, and radio silence followed for years. The game switched devs from Team ICO to Japan Studio, as well a system switch from the PS3 to the PS4. The game was finally released in the holiday season of 2016. 9 whole years after it was first announced.
- Team Fortress 2: Another 9 year dev cycle, TF2 started development in 1998 and went through a change of engine and several complete redesigns before finally being released in 2007.
- Star Citizen: So far 9 years in development, Star Citizen started work in 2011 with an anticipated release date of 2014, with a Kickstarter campaign succeeding in pulling in US$6.2 million in 2012, with further crowdfunding totalling $200 million as of November 2018. The game was supposed to be a spiritual successor to the Wing Commander series, but a drastic increase in the scope of the game led to extensive delays. Mismanagement was also a major factor, particularly of the FPS component Star Marine which ended up being scrapped and started over, and Cloud Imperium's habit of threatening critics with legal action has led to many turning against them. A larger current problem is an ongoing legal action between Cloud Imperium and Crytek over Cloud Imperium allegedly breaking a contract with Crytek to use CryEngine for Star Citizen. The game won Wired's Vaporware award in 2016.
- Doom 4: John Carmack (co-founder of id software) announced Doom 4 in May 2008, which would be similar to Doom 2, (as opposed to Doom 3's more horror-oriented design), but it ran into various issues, thus making the development team restart the project in 2011, which was announced to have some Call of Duty similarities. This inevitably led to criticism. Even id's employees disliked it. Eventually, Carmack left id Software to work on the Oculus Rift in 2013 and some time later, the team decided to just make a reboot of Doom, which was released in May 2016, 8 years after work began, to critical acclaim.
- Spore: Wil Wright's ridiculously over-ambitious attempt at an everything-simulator had a dev cycle that ran from 2000-2008, a total of 8 years. However, it was drastically cut-down to a far more arcade-y game than was originally pitched, and it had issues with EA's insistence using the SecuROM DRM on launch.
- Tekken X Street Fighter: First announced at Gamescom in 2010, 8 years later there is still no sign of a release date with the game "on hold" since 2016, apparently due to concerns over "splitting the communities."
- Cuphead: Another 7 year dev cycle from 2010 to 2017, this time because the game started out as a small project with a 3-man dev team, worked on in their spare time. Most of the funding for development came from brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer re-mortgaging their houses as they began to focus on the project in 2013. The game was delayed several times to add more content, in particular the run-and-gun levels which were not part of the original design, but later on Microsoft funded the game for them and the game was finally released.
- Deltarune: According to Undertale creator Toby Fox, Deltarune, released in Halloween October 2018, has been in development since April 2012, for a total of 6 years in development. Fox has stated the game is not yet complete as he intends to recruit a team to work on it.
- Anthem: In a recent March 2019 article, Jason Schreier revealed that the game has been in development for 6 years due to Bioware's massive behind-the-scenes troubles that they have gone through. To make it worse, the actual production started in late 2017, and was released in early 2019 to mixed reviews.
- Fez 2: Fez received good reviews from critics and gamers, so of course a sequel was inevitable. Said sequel was announced in 2013 and fans were excited until realising developer Phil Fish had no intention of ever making it and would declare it cancelled every time he got trolled on Twitter, a process that has currently gone on for 5 years.
- Body Harvest: Began development in 1994 and was first shown off at Shoshinkai 1995, and intended as an N64 launch title. However, the game was subject to constant meddling from Nintendo of Japan (who wanted it turned into an RPG), and had the entire team from a completely different game, Zenith, reassigned to work on it. Body Harvest was eventually dropped by Nintendo, who did not like the action-oriented direction it was taking, and picked up by Midway and Gremlin Interactive, who bought out the struggling DMA Design, and the game was finally released after 4 years of development in 1998, sadly falling right between the releases of Banjo-Kazooie and Ocarina of Time. Of course there was a silver lining to all this: the team at DMA Design now had a decent idea on how to make a free-roaming game where the player could shoot in third-person or drive around in vehicles, and made a slightly popular little game by the name of Grand Theft Auto III.
- Daikatana: At E3 1997, Daikatana was announced, and soon followed by a litany of bad decisions and missed deadlines. The game was eventually released in 2000, still clearly unfinished. While this dev cycle of 3 years would normally be below the limit for this page, Daikatana was made at a time when the average game dev cycle was much shorter (Quake only took six months to develop, for example) and so it still represents a huge delay proportionally.
- Devil's Third: After Tomonobu Itagaki was fired from Tecmo and went on to create a new company called Valhalla Game Studios, the studio began work to create Devil's Third which began development in 2008. The first approached Microsoft to make it an Xbox 360 exclusive, however Microsoft rejected the offer since it wasn't going to utilize the Kinect sensor. They were then approached by THQ then Doobic who accepted the deal to release it. Unfortunately, both companies officially went bankrupt leaving the Valhalla Game Studios to put the game back into development hell. They finally approached Nintendo to release the game for the Wii U due to the console's lack of third-party support and lackluster mature games to which Nintendo accepted the deal and green lit it. The game was finally released on August 4th 2015 after 7 years to mixed and negative reviews, causing the game to sell poorly.
- Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord: It was announced in 2012 and it was released on Early Access in 2020. 8 years after the game was announced.
- Yandere Simulator: The game has been in development since 2014, and is not yet finished due to how much YandereDev wants the game to have, and because of how much he needs his volunteers for the graphics, as he is making a game without directly making its graphics. Also, YandereDev gave Yandere Simulator a deadline of January 1st, 2019, but later said that it will come out "when it's ready" and it took him 6 years to add a single rival (out of 10 rivals) to the game. Many people started to think the game never going to finished because of this.
- Zniw Adventure: This game had a long history, the game took 6 years to make, and the comic series being roughly 25+ years, this game's development cycle nearly beats out Duke Nukem Forever by a long shot between the comic series development and the game's development. The game is currently be available on Steam since November 6th, 2020.
- Cyberpunk 2077: CD Projekt Red announced the game in 2012. However, due to shift of the workforce to The Witcher 3, the development has been halted until the aforementioned game were released in 2015. After 4 years of hiatus, CD Projekt Red finally started their work on the game in 2016 and released the first teaser and information about CP2077 in the same year, and also planned to release the game as early as April 2020. But, due to COVID-19 outbreak, CD Projekt Red delayed the game release to September 2020, then to November 2020, before finally releasing it on December 10th, 2020, 8 years after the game was first announced. The game itself, however, is notorious for several technical issues at launch.
- Fortnite: The game was announced in 2011 by Epic Games, but it moved engines overtime and went into a long delay to a 2017 Release date, lasting 6 Years for it to be released as "Early Access".
- Metroid Prime 4: The next installment in the Metroid Prime was announced in June 2017 at E3 for the Nintendo Switch, and was confirmed to be developed by Bandai Namco rather than Retro Studios. The game went a hiatus for a year without any new trailers or images and it skipped every single gaming conventions and even Nintendo Directs until January 2019 that Nintendo confirmed that the development for the game was going so badly that they had to scrap the entire development from scratch, and changed the studios from Bandai Namco to Retro Studios, meaning that fans will have to wait several more years for the game to come out.
- Alan Wake: A trailer for this game was released in 2005, it shows a earlier model of Alan Wake (As he has a red shirt, different colored skin, and different hair style) from the looks of it, this was originally gonna be on PC, PlayStation 2, and the original Xbox. But overtime the game got delayed to a 2010 release. Lasting 5 years of development.
- Bayonetta 3: The third entry in the Bayonetta series which, like its predecessor, will be a Nintendo-exclusive, specifically on the Nintendo Switch, was announced at The Game Awards 2017 with a trailer of a bloody Bayonetta trying to fight back a mysterious force, and ends up losing in the end, shown at the convention, and the game has long since been on a hiatus without anymore trailers or images for 3 years other than vague statements by Hideki Kamiya saying that the development for the game is "going smoothly", despite the lack of updates on the gameplay or story. This may be an indication that the development for the game is actually going really poorly for it and PlatinumGames has been saying otherwise to cover the game's rocky development and dodge anymore questions by fans asking how long until it will be out.
- Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient: The fourth entry of the Corpse Party franchise, Corpse Party 2 originally released in 2013 with only one chapter but was put on hiatus to make room for a proper sequel to Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. It was then revamped with a new engine being called Corpse Party 2: DEAD PATIENT NEUES and released on October 5th, 2020 in Japan and on October 23, 2019 in the U.S. along with a new extra chapter. Since then there has been no new updates and fans are still waiting for a chapter 2.
- Omori: In July 31, 2013, Omocat has announced about the cancellation of Omori manga and starting development of Omori game. A trailer for this RPG horror game was announced in 2014 however it gotten delayed until the trailer was released once in 2017, due to Kickstarter backers of the game responding why Omori was delayed, the creator of this game Omocat was focused on her merchandise. The demo was released in April 10, 2018, before finally releasing on December 25th, 2020. Lasting 6 to 7 years right after the game was first announced. If Omocat's old drawings of Omori known as Omoriboy in late 2011 were counted, the game finally lasted 9 years of development.
- Super Meat Boy Forever: Initially, the game was announced in 2014 and was supposed to be released as a mobile-only sequel, but the plans for the programming process of the game were changed as a multi-platform full-fledged sequel to Super Meat Boy in 2017, as well as Edmund McMillen leaving Team Meat in 2015. The new version of the game was revealed at PAX Prime 2017 and was showcased by Nintendo during their Nindies Summer 2017 Showcase, and the PAX demo of the game was well received by the media. The game was originally scheduled to be released in April 2019, but has been postponed to December 23, 2020, as a temporary exclusive for the Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows via the Epic Games Store, with console and Steam releases following in 2021. This game took 6 years to come out, and will be 7 years for the later releases.
- Dead Island 2: Techland was originally set to develop Dead Island 2, but instead they decided to focus on developing Dying Light with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Yager Development then pitched the game to Deep Silver in 2012 and got the deal. At Gamescom 2014, Deep Silver demonstrated gameplay footage from an early version of the game stating the game is going to be set in California, including landmarks such as the Santa Monica Pier and Hollywood, as well as many locations in San Francisco. Similarly, only a fraction of the weapon modifications and the new zombies were shown at the stage where Deep Silver stated that the game will feature four playable characters and it will also feature eight-player cooperative multiplayer. The game was originally scheduled for a 2015 release, but in July 2015, Deep Silver announced that Yager has been dropped from developing the game and development would be moved to another unnamed developer. According to Yager this was due to them and Deep Silver's respective visions of the project falling out of alignment. The game switched between multiple studios over the years with Sumo Digital in March 2016 and then to Dambuster Studios in August 2019. Deep Silver has confirmed that the game is still in development, but there has been no updates on the game since, however, a 2015 playable version of the still-under-development game while at Yager was leaked in June 2020.
- Freedom Planet 2: The sequel to the original game was announced in late-2015 with a teaser trailer. The sequel will offer new mechanics, changes based on feedback, and Neera Li being a fourth playable character. In a loosely similar situation to Bayonetta 3, it lacked any updates about it and may indicate that the development is going poorly. Aside from gameplay showcase, it's been 6 years since it was announced, so time will tell if any updates will be made in the future.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Sequel: The sequel to the original Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was announced on June 2019 at E3 with a teaser trailer to accompany it. However, in the Age of Calamity announcement in September 2020 as well as the Nintendo Direct in February 2021, Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma said that "fans would have to wait a bit longer" before more news about the sequel would be announced, and that development was going smoothly (sound familiar?). However, like Bayonetta 3 and Freedom Planet 2, due to its lack of updates, images, and trailers, it could indicate that development of the Breath of the Wild sequel is actually going poorly.
- Geometry Dash 2.2 Update: RobTop announced a new update Geometry Dash in 2017, with is said to include a challenge mode and Multiplayer mode. However, it had been 4 years since the announcement, and there is still no updates about the release date. It is possible that the update is suffering from poor development.
- Stinkoman 20X6 Level 10: The game was periodically updated since its debut in 2005 until the release of level 9. Level 10 was planned to be released for said year, however due to The Brothers Chaps' lead programmer, Jonathan Howe, moving to another state, the game wasn't updated in said year. No news about the level was made until 2017, where a screenshot trailer was shown on the official StrongBadActual Twitter account. While scheduled for a 2018 release, it was delayed for 2019 before finally being delayed again to 2020. Level 10 ended up being released in December 2020, just days before the discontinuation of Flash Player. As a result, said update has been under development for 15 years, and said level has been often joked around throughout the Homestar Runner website itself.
- Agent: An action-adventure game teased by Rockstar Games with only a logo. No trailer or any gameplay was shown. It was teased back in 2007 at E3 2007 for the PlayStation 3, but on November 2018, the trademark has been abandoned. Rockstar Games hasn't yet confirmed if it was cancelled or not.
- Granblue Fantasy Relink: An action RPG that ties into the gacha game known as Granblue Fantasy, was announced in 2016 by Cygames & PlatinumGames, was originally going to be released in 2018 but pushed back into 2022. After PlatinumGames was announced to be dropped in 2019, rumors were flying around that Cygames, the main developer was rebuilding it from scratch. This later on proved to be true, as on the 2020 trailer & the Twitter statements, they stated they announced the game too early. The most recent gameplay trailer had shown very poor graphics, looking like they're half the resolution. It will take 6 years for the game to be released.
- Monster Tale Ultimate: The remake of the original Monster Tale game on the Nintendo DS was announced in 2015 by its developers Dreamrift, best known for their game Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion. It was going to be released on the Nintendo 3DS as a eShop exclusive and that it would improve most of the aspects of the original, such as rebalanced gameplay, higher-resolution graphics, stereoscopic 3D support, Circle Pad support, and an orchestral soundtrack to replace the old one. 5 years later however, nothing has said about it since, until January 11, 2021, when its publisher Majesco announced that it will coming back on modern platforms. So it safe to say that the fate of the game will be finally revealed, much like Half-Life 2: Episode 2.