The Thing About Game Delays…

Originally published on Trevor Trove on March 5, 2016

“A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” – Shigeru Miyamoto

Mr. Miyamoto make this remark in an interview with The Guardian in 2012. It has often been re-translated/paraphrased to read, “A delayed game is eventually good, but a bad game is bad forever.” This comment was in reference to his insistence that the Nintendo 64 be delayed three months in order to give his team time to polish Super Mario 64. Had the game and system launched as originally planned, perhaps its place in the history of gaming would be very different.

This was, of course, a drastically different time in gaming. A time when if a game shipped broken, it stayed broken. Nowadays, the always-online systems are filled with post-release patches and downloadable content that can fix the game or even “finish” it.

That said, a game almost never has more attention focused on it than at its launch so it’s still hugely important that the launch go as smoothly as possible (in the same way movie’s are frequently deemed successes or bombs based on their opening weekend sales). The Halo Master Chief Collection works pretty well now but crashed and burned when it launched and all eyes were on it, even putting a significant level of doubt in 343 Industries’ follow-up Halo 5: Guardians. So while Mr. Miyamoto’s quote might not be entirely relevant in the conversation during the digital age, it still bears truth in its core.

I never expected Mass Effect Andromeda to make its originally planned 2016 release date so when that was pushed back earlier this week to at least the first quarter of 2017, I wasn’t surprised. Nor will I be surprised if that one continues to push into the second or third quarter of next year, where it might benefit from better sales in the calendar. We haven’t really seen a lot from the game and EA and Bioware tend to have a much larger marketing push for their flagship Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises where we see multiple aspects of the game spread out over a long period of time. As that push has barely begun, the fact that the game is still at least a year out doesn’t surprise me at all.

Uncharted 4 pushing their date back, yet again, by a couple weeks adds yet another marker to what has already been a long, supposedly troubled development calendar. Originally dated for Fall 2015, then pushed to the first quarter of 2016, then dated for March 18, then April 26, and now May 10. Many gamers are crying out that this signals the game is (and has been) in trouble. I disagree but it will be virtually impossible for people to look at the game with fresh eyes and not think of the storied history of the title. Ultimately, I’m sure this is all in an effort for Naughty Dog, like Miyamoto and countless developers before them, to polish the game so it launches with it’s best foot forward.

The frustration that many are feeling when they complain about delays is purely an issue of entitlement. They feel an unspoken contract has been forged between publisher and player once a date has been announced. People often complain that “you never see this with movie releases” which is A) absolutely false and B) comparing apples to oranges.

With films, there’s a much more reliable production calendar built from decades of the same formula: a certain amount of pre-production, a few weeks of production on set, then a period of post-production. In its most basic form, you get a script, film actors performing their scenes and edit it all together. In video games, nearly everything has to be built from scratch. The script and gameplay mechanics might need to be built alongside one another over undefinable periods of time. The actors aren’t pre-existing people and need to be created and programmed from nothing (compared to actors who can show up and say their lines). The best analog in film here winds up being animated features or those with computer-generated characters but the vast majority of films feature direct live-action performances nearly impossible in keeping a consistent production value in video games. And while post-production for a film includes editing and adding special effects, post-production in a video game means trying to find every possible thing a player could do to break the game and safeguard against it. This last piece is nearly impossible to accurately predict, leading to shifting release dates.

Companies will announce target release dates for a number of reasons and very few of them are consumer-focused. Typically, release dates and windows are announced through earnings forecast calls with shareholders (“we expect revenue in Fiscal Q4 to be bolstered by sales of Game X”) or in an attempt to kickstart pre-sales and gauge early interest in a title. Both of these methodologies are far more concerned with the bottom line and there are likely entire teams of people at big publishers like EA and Sony that are running all sorts of cost-benefit analysis calculations to determine if the benefits of delaying a game a couple more weeks will outweigh the costs associated.

But some gamers feel they’ve now been “robbed” of those extra weeks with the game, often completely disregarding the state that the game might be in if released as originally scheduled. People will point to Fallout 4 as the new gold standard for marketing: a game being announced, shown off, and released over just a few months. The realities of the situation though are that very few franchises can rely on the inherent cache of their name and reputation. Long marketing windows exist in order to build excitement and show off a game in an effort to maximize market awareness of the product and generate the best sales totals possible.

As for me, I’ll take the delay every time. Uncharted 4 is still my most anticipated game of 2016 (just like it was in 2015) and if it somehow got pushed to 2017, it might still top the list. I’m excited to experience the final chapter of Nathan Drake’s story, whenever that may come. Besides, it’s not like there’s a shortage of games to play so this will just give me more time to work through the backlog and/or play anything else coming out in the next few months.

Leave a Reply