On release dates, delays, and the turbulence inherent in releasing a video game in 2016.

News dropped the other day that Hello Games’ hugely anticipated universe simulator No Man’s Sky was to be delayed by a month and a bit. For me, this is a minor source of irritation. I was looking forward to playing the game in June, whereas now I have to look forward to playing it in August. I think I’ll cope, but it’s a situation that is happening with increasing frequency, or at least it feels like it. Read on for me having a bit of a moan about it.

I think the first thing that needs to be established it is almost always better to delay a game than to ship a game that feels unfinished. Perhaps there are instances where no amount of delays will improve the end product (I’m sure Mighty Number 9 is going to be great), but in many instances, given the choice of delaying a game from it’s previously announced release date, or shipping a game that feels unfinished and fails to deliver on it’s potential, the delay is by far the lesser of the two sins. I’d have actually thought that PS4 owners would have been more receptive to this kind of delay given how many times Uncharted 4 was delayed and then how well received the final game has been. That said, I think it’s worth discussing why this scenario even occurs in the first place.

In the case of No Man’s Sky, I am confident in saying that delaying the game is the right decision. It’s a title with a large degree of anticipation surrounding it, it will be under a significant level of scrutiny when it gets around to launching, and I commend Hello Games for taking every measure they can to avoid their customers being disappointed. That said, I do think they (“they” being Hello Games and their publishing partner Sony) have made a couple of mistakes leading up to this delay that have compounded the negatives here somewhat.

Firstly, I think it was a mistake to allow Kotaku to be the ones to break the news of the delay. Clearly that was not deliberate, Kotaku weren’t supposed to find out before the general public, and yet those press sneak fucks somehow managed to anyway. I’m sure everyone at Sony and Hello Games involved in the business and publishing side of things hadn’t really planned or anticipated Kotaku getting hold of marketing materials revealing a delay before it had been officially announced. But I’d categorize the failure to anticipate this potential outcome as a result of someone dropping the ball. Someone wrote the email informing Gamestop of the delay, and didn’t check to see whether the public had been informed of the delay before clicking send.

Marketing materials leak all the time, anyone who has maintained a cursory glance over the news cycle for video games in 2016 must have surely noticed how often headlines are generated by premature marketing materials being directly or indirectly passed on to some journalist who then shoves it in front of the rest of the world. I’d suggest that prior to any marketing materials referring to the delay having been produced, there should have been some statement from the studio announcing the delay.

When there is bad news to be released, it is better coming from the horse’s mouth than gossip-mongers (with no undue disrespect directed towards gossip-mongers). The general game-buying public are not and should not be expected to be educated about the intricacies of making and shipping games. Many people were told this game would be ready in June, and they took that entirely at face value, and perhaps even bought a PS4 on the basis of this information. As such they might reasonably feel frustrated and perhaps even misled by the delay. Were the announcement of the delay to have come from Hello Games/Sony directly, at least if could have been wrapped in more reassuring language, and it would have felt more like them holding their hands up rather than being caught out.

Secondly, I think the mistake was announcing the release date so far ahead of time in the first place. The initial release window announcement came as part of this trailer in October 2015. It’s extremely easy to sit on the sidelines and state with hindsight that announcing a date when they evidently didn’t actually know if the game would be ready by then was folly, but just because it’s easy doesn’t mean I’m wrong. This is hardly a problem isolated to this game, or indeed to Sony. I’d say it’s more of an industry wide problem, where a large number of publishers and developers for whatever reason announce release dates before they actually know whether they are able to meet them.

I understand that it’s not simply a case of finishing and releasing a game, but it’s also about coordinating PR, Marketing, Manufacturing, Retailer relationships, and all sorts of other boring business factors involved in video game publishing, but these kind of delays are so commonplace that it’s begs the question: Is the current approach being taken by many publishers the optimal one?

We’ve seen a host of Sony games get delayed, we’ve seen a host of Microsoft games getting outright cancelled, and Nintendo have repeatedly assured us that the new Zelda was definitely coming out in 2015, 2016 and then eventually 2017. I think it’s no coincidence that the most severe game delays are usually tied to platform holders, who are using release date announcements not just to hype up an individual software title, but also the hardware platform it’s associated with.

I’d love to see publishers avoid announcing a specific release date or window until they are actually certain they can meet it. I’m not attributing malicious intent to these delays, I am happy to accept that sometimes things go wrong, but perhaps putting more effort towards ensuring a release date is feasible before announcing it would help lots of publishers avoid these kinds of scenarios in the future.

Aspects of this situation that are absolutely not acceptable, yet a sadly predictable component of any incident in the video games industry that results in a vocal minority of man-children feeling that they are not being pandered to in a satisfactorily absolute manner:

    – Hello Games have been on the receiving end of some hideous abuse, including death threats and verbal attacks of an extremely personal nature.
    – Kotaku and their reporter Jason Schreier have been similarly attacked for having the audacity to report on current events in the games industry.

Both of these are horrific outcomes, given that it’s just people doing their jobs as effectively as they can, and yet it’s somehow become standard operating procedure for the games industry these days. I’d encourage anyone and everyone to voice their opinions about this situation, but please do so without resorting to personal attacks or hateful language.

Overall, whilst I do thinks mistakes are being made here, I’d like to encourage people to just be patient. If you are actually angry rather than just disappointed by this or any other delay, perhaps just use the extra time you’ve been granted to do something productive like get some exercise, or connect with family and friends. Hopefully this is a habit that the industry can grow out of, but in the meantime I suspect that the best course of action will be to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism for any release dates announced way in advance.

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4 Comments Leave yours

  1. Jack #

    What i personally think is, a lot of publisher have understood what their actions have done in the past with rushing games, and they dont want to make that same mistake again.

    Granted they made that mistake for YEARS, but the amount of games being delayed a lot only to come out extremely well round this time is great.

    I think publishers and advertisers need to slow down with the pushing of games into the public and expecting certain dates. A lot of it seems to be lying about the release to bring up hype, just look at your example here. No Mans Sky has been in the public eye for a long ass time now and these delays only add more to other peoples hype.

  2. hemmer #

    I agree wholeheartedly in pretty much everything.

    Especially Publishers/Developers just announcing games too early.
    Though we’ve recently had a few big name games announced a lot closer to release than usual (the most recent being Civ6) which I take as them learning something from past fuckups, hopefully, maybe.

    • Lewie Procter #

      I think in instances like Civ6 and Fallout 4, it is a little easier to do this because they are much stronger brands, and catching the attention of their respective fanbases at relative short notices is a little easier. But that’s not to excuse any other games without that benefit from announcing too early.

  3. Neil #

    I think developers and publishers are in a no win situation here. While I agree that holding off on publishing a release date until they know that it is at the very least possible to meet it, I’m also pretty sure that announcing a game without a release date will lead to howls from press and fans of vapourware and disrespecting communities etc.

    The only thing I can think that might help would be for not even announcing games until much later in the production cycle which is asking for developers and publishers to forego the typical marketing of their games.

    The only lesson that I think can be learned from this situation is that a significant number of gamers have lost any semblance of perspective. Which we knew already.

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