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The Future of Game Release Dates

For some time now, the act of giving advanced release dates — whether those be months, quarters, or even windows — have been falling off in favor of a general release year, if that.  Heck, roughly half of the October games for this year didn’t have precise launch dates until E3 or just before it.  But a better example of this potential trend among developers might be MineCraft for the PlayStation 4,  Xbox One, and Vita.  The game is slated to be out next month but still does not have an exact date.  So, what’s going on?  Why are developers seemingly holding out longer and longer on revealing the release timings of their cherished work?

The most immediate assumptions would seem to be:

  • They don’t want to jade excited fans with false launch days.
  • There could be potential delays so why bother with a tentative date.
  • They just don’t feel the game is ready for a proper release window.

I don’t feel any of those are wrong, and this kind of tendency we’re seeing amongst devs could be the future of launch timings, where we aren’t informed until only months before the day of the game’s release.  What’s more important is what led to this.  In particular, I can point to two games that have at least helped pave the way.  Both had significant hype behind them as they approach first launch dates, and that were moved back: The Last of Us and Watch_Dogs.

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The Last of Us by Naughty Dog, a commercially and critically received success, was initially slated to be released on May 7, 2013, but as noted by PlayStation Blog, the game was pushed back by one month to avoid cutting corners.

“As we entered the final phase of development for The Last of Us, we came to realize just how massive Joel and Ellie’s journey is.”  Neil Druckmann, creative director for the game, posted to the site, “But instead of cutting corners or compromising our vision, we come to the tough decision that the game deserved a few extra weeks to ensure every detail of The Last of Us was up to Naughty Dog’s internal high standards.”

While there have been far worse delays in the history of gaming (Duke Nukem Forever, and ever, and ever, and ever…) and the polish likely proved worthwhile, the month delay still saddened and disappointed anticipating fans, just look at the comments section for the blog..  This could have easily been avoided by simply not giving a release date to begin with, or so far in advance.  After all, if such a well received game can be improved within a month, it stands as a demonstration to others to bide their time.

There is no worse a way to derail a high speed hype train than to throw a delay on its tracks.  The greater example of the two, and possibly the game that now proves the rule, is Ubisoft’s Watch_Dogs.

According to a report by Ubisoft, the game has shipped more than 8 million copies.  What’s more is the title has been recorded as the fastest selling Ubisoft game to date, having sold more than 4 million copies in its first week, as detailed on the Ubisoft blog.  Clearly it’s been a commercial success, but what the game lacks by comparison to The Last of Us is an overall critical success.

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Within the popular views of industry scores, IGN gave the game an 8.4, Polygon issued it an 8, Giant Bomb allowed it only 3 of 5 stars, and Kotaku gave an emphatic “No [do not play this game]”.  Of course, MONG gave Watch_Dogs an honorable 8.8 out of 10, yet couldn’t help but note it’s diminished hype.   Mostly, these aren’t terrible scores, but each expressed criticism that note a lack of polish overall for the game that would affect its playability; it was also hard to avoid the slew of issues that were being reported about the PC side of the game.

In addition, Watch_Dogs’ delay was rather substantial.  Originally, the title was slated to be released November 19, 2013, but was pushed all the way back to May 27, 2014.  They claimed this move was beneficial to other projects and allowed them to polish the game, but as I noted there were still criticisms on the game’s lack of polish.  Some such details, one in particular (Kotaku), could take away from the immersion of the game.

Oddly enough, the developer of the game originally wanted even more time.  They didn’t want their game revealed at E3 2012, as reported by Polygon, Ubisoft forced the devs into a preemptive reveal.

“They forced us to go at E3 2012,” said Jonathan Morin, creative director on Watch_Dogs, [in an interview] to Edge. “Yves [Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft] was the one who wanted us to go at that E3, even though we felt it was a bit early.”

Morin would go on to say that his CEO had the right intuitions, but perhaps, with the way the game ran and looked at launch, he would once more disagree.  Having played Watch_Dogs myself, I felt that the game lacked the appeal it had at its reveal and the E3 showing that followed in the year after.  Other developers could look at the result, feel the same, and draw these same conclusions.  But there’s something even deeper here.

I believe that there was a measure of drive created by fan hype that followed in the months and year after Watch_Dogs’ reveal.  Gamers can often be insatiable when it comes to the details of an anticipated title.  I think Ubisoft wanted to be a little too responsive to these desires, giving away too much detail, and once they ran out of material to keep the hype building, they gave a launch date that was too early.

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What we’ve begun to see, probably in response to the issues that arise from premature release windows, is the lack of any at all.  Developers like DICE for Mirror’s Edge 2 simply say “Coming…when it’s ready,” and others seem to be applying the same idea.  Bethesda Softworks has announced that the newest DOOM won’t be shown until it’s ready, with their VP having said the game is about the devs fist.  Blizzard has subscribed to such a standard for decades when it comes to launch dates, and I have always found their work to be of a higher quality than most.  Square used to do the same with Final Fantasy titles of the past, and has been working on Final Fantasy XV for eight years, and they’ve never given a release date!  And I still look forward to that game!

It’s a strong possibility that most of the games we look forward to now won’t be given release dates until they’re completed  (or just around the corner from completion) giving only three or four months notice before launch.  Allowing your game to have the time it deserves is far more important than satisfying excited fans’ desires with false release dates, or dates that are just too soon.  Delays are dumb, so why let in the potential for one?  Devs are generally smart; they’ve likely looked at these examples and have drawn the same conclusions.  I welcome them to adapt such a methodology, and look forward to even higher quality, more complete games in our future.


Scott Deisner is an Associate Writer for MONG.  He enjoys story and character driven content above all else, things made from potatoes, and long walks on sandy beaches ;P  You can follow him on Twitter.

Publicize: Could we be looking at the end of game delays, spurred on by @Ubisoft’s #Watch_Dogs and @Naughty_Dog’s #TheLastOfUs?

 

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