5 month delays aren't "actually" acceptable and here's why...
Ok, now from reading my title, I already know the angry comments. I understand this might be an unpopular opinion with some but hear me out. I know the general attitude from most of my gamer friends when a game is delayed is something along the lines of “I am disappointed, but I’d rather wait to have a game be good than bad”. I understand this feeling and even feel much this way myself. It is the concept of the lesser of two evils. I think most gamers feel this way because too many times we have been burned by greedy studios or publishers who don’t know when to admit a game isn’t ready. 2018 & 2019 were both filled with massive examples of rushed games that were utter disasters at launch like Fallout 76 or Anthem. These are games that needed so much extra time in the oven you could still taste the raw dough in the middle. I even wrote an article about how publishers like EA and Bethesda should adopt Early Access models for their live service games to avoid these types of controversies. Check out my article "How to Prevent your game from becoming the next Anthem or Fallout 76"
Now why am I talking about game delays? Well January 2020 sure hasn’t been very kind to our expectations. I’ve even paused on my in-progress most anticipated games of 2020 article to write this because we have already seen THREE massive delays from some of the most anticipated games for this year. This has come after a Holiday 2019 that also gave out multiple major delays.
I want to make sure to preface that the content of this article is still specifically focused on AAA studios and not at all for indie developers. Indie devs, I don’t care they are welcome to take as long as they need to make a game. My history with game development and the many indie developers that I know, I know how complex, difficult, and time consuming game development can be. I’m strictly focused on experienced AAA developers, especially those who have successfully launched major game titles before.
I also want to make it clear, this conversation is aimed at upper management at these AAA companies. I don’t blame this directly on the lower developers hard at work on the games, but the developer studio management, the upper c-level executives, and/or Publishers who don’t care about their unrealistic promises.
While I understand that a delayed good game is a lesser evil to launching unbaked awful games; however WHY does the gaming industry seem to feel like game delays are the NORM instead of the exception? Just because game delays are the lesser evil to an early bad game doesn't excuse that question. We are talking about major studios here who have made several succesul and equally massive games before. I can’t help but ask what to me is the obvious question of “Don’t they know how long games take?”
I can’t help but ask, why does massive half year long delays seem to only be the norm in the gaming industry. The only other industry that parallels the gaming industry in structure is Hollywood. The movie industry has delays yes, but they feel more like exceptions not the norm, and when delays happen, they happen EARLY, not months before release, when people have their tickets purchased. While games are different, they are not so different where in Hollywood big budget films equally take dozens to hundreds of people working together, on budgets in the 100’s of millions, also over the span of a long time. Why is it that most big budget movies hit their release date when big budget games seem to have delays left and right months before release? I know some big movies are delayed, but there isn’t this sense of “dont ask off/buy your tickets because it will probably be delayed vibe” for films.
(Corporate would like you to spot the difference between these two images...)
(credit Polygon, same news, 5 years a part)
Why does it seem so difficult to track progress long term over time for games? If two games are similar in structure why is it so difficult to predict progress over time. We are not talking about delaying a release by days or weeks; we are talking MONTHS or even years. How is it possible for an experienced AAA studio with so much tenor and experience, studios that have made equally massive games before to fail to predict production time by a factor of months?
We are talking about long term publisher/developers like Square Enix, CD Project Red, and another less recent example with Doom Eternal being delayed also 5 months by Bethesda/ID Software!
Ubisoft has been DELAY HAPPY with Watchdogs Legions (Watchdogs 1 got over a year in delays so they haven’t learned), Gods and Monsters, Skull and Bones, Rainbow Six Quarantine all being delayed.
These are developers who have made massive projects such as Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider or The Witcher. These are in no way small games and should have prepared them for accurately predicting the total development time. Even if changed and delays were needed, they should have been seen before the final months. The total time tables should have been learned by previous installments.
Unrealistic Promises lead to delays, but also to Crunch.
Crunch is a term used by the gaming industry to refer to the poor conditions some developers work under with long hours, low pay, and poor work life balance. Already I’m reading that developers at CD Project Red are having to crunch once again to get Cyberpunk 2077 even ready for the new September release date!
Crunch is bad for gamers, bad for game quality, and bad for lower developers hard at work on these projects. Not holding publishers and management accountable for realistically and accurately predicting game development time doesnt just lead to delays, it leads to crunch. Delays are what happen when even crunch fails. I just want developer management and publishers to stop promising games they KNOW take 3 years and promising it in 2. Is that really unfair? What I want is C level executives and Publishers to give the developers the time they NEED UPFRONT to finish a game before making bogus promises to customers. If we know it takes X long to build the game dont tell us .75X and pray for a miracle.
I have been in sales for a long time, and we have a a phrase "Under promise, over deliver" and it works. People are made happy. Why do gaming publishers seem to think with "Overpromise, Under-deliver"?
What other industry is it beyond just accepted, but also seemingly common for products to be released months or years after their promised deadlines? Is it unfair to think that once paid pre-orders go live that deadlines should be given more seriousness? I’m beginning to think these larger studios don’t take their promised release dates seriously any more. The higher ups have forgotten that release dates are promises to their customers, customers who may have already paid for the product. I’m starting to think that these publishers and studio executives don’t take that promise seriously any more and under promise release dates too often. Does the gaming industry have to reconsider announcing products as soon as it does? Does the habit of announcing games 2-3 years before release contribute to added pressure to promise aggressive unrealistic release dates? Why do executives not learn from previous installments? I don’t have an answer for why, but I think it starts with gamers having higher expectations and saying “NO, that’s not ok” to delay games months before release. To be clear again, I don’t blame the lower level individual developer. I think it’s time gamers expect better predictions from these experienced studio executives and publishers on how long it takes to build the game.
Games have been getting more expensive for less content and less stable at launch that eventually it is time to say, we want MORE.
We want it polished.
We want it finished.
We want it good.
We want it on time.
We want developers to have the time they need.
We want a lot of things. These companies have the experience to pull it off.