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Game Delays Harming the Biz?


adamsappel
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From Wired.

 

Delays in the game industry are nothing new. But as the games become more complex and sophisticated, less of them seem to meet release dates that companies initially tout. A few years ago, the fallout was usually just disappointment among fans. But as the video-game industry matures and surpasses Hollywood in size, more is at stake -- like marketing campaigns delayed and intricate positioning against competitors disrupted. What's more, missing a promised release date can bleed buzz, precious in an industry where many young buyers have to take the time to squirrel away $50 for a typical purchase.

I have $50 spent on a pre-order of Ninja Gaiden that I've nearly allocated to something else due to the delays. One more and I'm probably getting a different title.

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I haven't reserved Ninja Gaiden or Halo 2 for just that reason, I usually reserve a game by paying for it in full because I never really know what else may come up with that other $45. I just can't stand to have $50 + in limbo, when these 2 finally do make it out I'm sure I'll be scrambling to find a copy though.

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Delays don't bother me that much. I often feel overwhelmed by all the new releases so a delay or two usually ends up lightening the load. There are a few games each year, probably less than 5, that I really and truly want and a delay on one of those games is tough to swallow. For example, the Morrowind, Panzer Dragoon Orta, and GTA3(original PS2) delays tested my sanity. However, when something gets delayed that's on my "buy" list but I'm not desperate to have, I take it as a blessing. I'll either try to make headway on my growing stack of unbeaten games, or pick up a reduced price game that I passed on at full price.

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Ok, this got long, and rambling, and I'm not getting my feelings across as well as I'd like, so if you're getting bored, please skip past my Blizzard and BG&E ranting when you get there and at least read the last few paragraphs... and no proofreading done as usual.

 

It's a tough thing for the industry to deal with. On one hand, the unrealistic release dates that are set for games, and the constant changes to said dates is extremely frustrating as a gamer, retailer, and I'm sure equally frustrating as a publisher.

 

But you cannot put enough emphasis on releasing a finishes, polished and complete product.

 

Some games are obviously going to be immune the any real adverse effects on constant delays. Most people who were going to buy a game like Halo 2, Half Life 2, Doom 3, or Sims 2 at Christmas, will still buy it whenever they actually do come out.

 

Unfortunatly it tends to be the smaller titles that get hit the hardest as any hype that might have been built up usually fades away as the media and public's attention is diverted to something else, and the marketing budget dries up.

 

Timing can be everything, and it can mean nothing. It's such a hard thing to predict. We all saw stellar titles come out this XMas that got swallowed up by sequels and big name franchises. Yet I have to wonder if games like BG&E, Metal Arms and Sphynx really would have sold any better if they were held up until the spring, or even late winter. It might have helped somewhat, but probably not by the amount that would have created a runaway success.

 

Anytime a topic like this comes up, I have to think about the wonderful situation that a company like Blizzard has managed to create for themselves. They'll announce a game with a completely unrealistic release date (usually with assurances that they will meet it this time as the game is further along than any of their previous games), yet everyone now expects their games to be delayed numerous times... and they can get away with it unscathed every single time.

 

They have one of, if not the best reputation in the industry for releasing fun, polished and just overall AAA games and I can't think of the last time they've released something during the Christmas rush. Diablo 1 was released in early January for goodness sake, and it still sold millions.

 

Anyway, it's too bad that more developers don't have the luxery and reputation that they have. Obviously certain titles HAVE to meet a release date (could you imagine Enter the Matrix being released tomorrow?), but I can't help but wonder what might have been if a game like BG&E had had a few extra months to make it just that much better, and UBI was able to time it so their hype machine was kicking it into full gear right about now (instead of all these damned Star Wars cover stories) and doing a proper job of it too!

 

As much as I tried to read and find out about it before it's release, I didn't really "get" it until I played the full game (the demo actually confused me more than it helped). They possibly had the next Zelda on their hands, and they completely dropped the ball. Scream to the world that the creator of Rayman is making his Zelda and it will be like nothing you've seen before.

 

Anyway..... I'm getting a touch off topic. I really don't know what can be done. Is it at all possible that publishers could start to sit on their finished games before they try to hype them up? What if a game with little, to no, information publically available was completely finished in say, June before it ever saw a magazine cover or website splash screen to get ready for it's planned release in November? Is that even possible today? Or do the developer absolutely need some form of feedback from the public while the game is being produced? Is it too risky for another game to come out during this time that would eclipse the one you're sitting on?

 

But could this even help with the other bane of games (especially on PC), bugs. With a complete code/feature freeze on a game, and 3 months or so until it's actual release, they could spend just that much more time testing the games to make sure they are absolutely ready to go.

 

It also seems that this is a somewhat recent phenomenon. Back in the 16-bit days, we got to a point where we knew exactly when a game was coming out (who could forget Sonic 2'sday? and Mortal Monday?). I assume that the main reason for this was the slower production time for the carts over CDs. I seem to recall reading a long time ago that it took about 3 months for an order of carts to be finished, where nowadays it's possible for a game to go from Gold master to store shelves in just over a week. I can only assume that that extended gap was a blessing for marketing people back in the day.

 

I don't really know though.

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Game delays might be harming the business with respect to the financial health of parties involved in games production (developers, publishers, etc.). I really don't know.

 

I'm not sure, however, that it has any material impact on customer buying. When I look at what I suspect to be a heavy hitter in videogame sales -- WalMart -- I think people are buying because someone told them they'd like it, saw an ad or commercial, or liked the in-store demo.

 

Sure, we might be part of a small minority of people who track release dates, read previews, download huge exclusive videos and so on. But even among us, would many people turn down Ninja Gaiden if it turned out to be amazing for the reason of the delay?

 

-j

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Videogames are a different animal than movies or books. Books and motion pictures don't freeze or bomb while you're reading or watching them, and they're far more interactive in nature so there's far more that needs to be done.

 

Frankly, I'd rather have Team Ninja take their damn time and release Ninja Gaiden when it's ready. The last time they rused a game we wound up with Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball, which was CLEARLY unfinished.

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Delays easily convert to budget over-run, thanks to the wonder of Time Is Money (its not just a winning hand in Flux, you know).

 

But the big thing that hurts them, I suspect, is more than delays its not having the release strategy well planned. Its an extremely rare thing for a film or book to get released a week after its finished, so why is it so natural in the games world? Every project I've ever seen involves the last few weeks turned in to mad crunch sessions to ensure that a deadline is met, because every producer wants a game on the shelves yesterday.

 

Proper planning of release dates, and a schedule that accounts for that with plenty of over-run would make the whole thing of game marketing far more sensible.

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I don't find delays a big deal because being a PC gamer for numerous years, I've seen what happens when you do rush a title out the door. A book can have a misprint and it's still fine, but a game that gets something wrong can seriously muck up your play experience, which translates into crappy word of mouth and all sorts of potential lost revenue.

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