Is Delaying a Game Really All That Bad?

Cyberpunk 2077 delayed games (Pic: CD Projekt Red)

We seem to exist in an era where delaying games has become the norm. There is, quite predictably, much frustration from gamers whenever this happens. Waiting a few more months when you’ve already spent near enough two years in anticipation can feel unjust. That being said, the act of delaying a game’s release isn’t a problem. In fact, it should be felt with some level of appreciation that developers and publishers are more inclined to delay a release, and produce something they’re truly proud of… Instead of releasing a clunky / buggy mess. In the words of one of gaming’s biggest heroes, Shigeru Miyamoto, during an interview, “a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad”.

Chances are you’re fed up with hearing that saying, but it is undeniably more relevant today than when he said it. It was stated in the wake of a 3 month delay of the Nintendo 64’s release – a console which is held in such high esteem by the vast majority of the gaming community. Coming up to 8 years on, it seems that we’re in the midst of a number of developers taking these words to heart. Developers who are truly trying to release games that they’re proud of – games that meet expectations.

Recently we’ve had a string of high profile games moving their release dates to help accommodate further development for playable-but-slightly-lacklustre games,  or perhaps in Marvel’s Avengers case, potentially to also move away from highly competitive release windows. Games like The Last of Us 2 (which had recently been moved from February 2020 to May 29th), or Cyberpunk 2077 (which would have been released a month before Marvel’s Avengers, but would certainly have competed for sales). Square Enix’s plans to try and avoid other big name games didn’t quite go to plan though, with Cyberpunk following Avengers into September.

The Good

Cyberpunk 2077 is an interesting case. When the delay was announced, Marcin Iwinski and Adam Badowski (co-founders of CD Projekt Red), stated “we are currently at a stage where the game is complete and playable, but there’s still work to be done.” This is at odds with what renowned Polish insider Borys Niespielak claimed while speaking on a podcast. He highlighted potential issues the game encountered on current gen consoles, stating the performance of the game was “extremely unsatisfactory”.

Regardless of the reasoning, the studio is delaying the release under good faith. At no point would a studio delay a game out of spite or for the sheer sake of it. Any kind of delay in release also delays revenue coming through the door (aside from the divisive top of pre-orders). It also increases overall production time, which lets face it, makes an awful business choice. Longer development The same gamers whining at CD Projekt for pushing the release are the same ones that would very likely berate them for releasing a sub-par product.

The Bad

When looking for examples of games that were quite clearly rushed out, you don’t have to look much further than Bioware’s Anthem. The myriad of problems within Anthem run deep. Both the games performance and the content of the final product (or, more specifically, lack of content) were atrocious at launch. Bioware’s answer to the “Looter Shooter” is a bit of an inflated example, a particularly large delay would have been necessary to iron out all the kinks it had. The game’s laundry list of problems included: inconsistent connection issues, textures refusing to load in, and probably the most infuriating issue – a lack of content to keep players engaged. A lengthy delay would, of course allow the studio to iron out these bugs, provide greater stress tests for connection issues and provide a richer content experience. It has recently been confirmed however, that Anthem will be getting a complete overhaul.

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Publishers can always tease a game, announcing its existence, and then provide a release date further down the line. This allows could easily allow for a more relaxed development cycle. Studios aren’t tied down to a specific date and as such when they have to push the release internally, as gamers, we’re none the wiser.

The Ugly

Delays aren’t always success stories though. Too Human and Duke Nukem Forever are two of the most well known cases of games being constantly delayed and then eventually being released to lukewarm or even outright negative reactions.

It is almost laughable how delayed Too Human became. It was initially announced by developer Silicone Knights in 1999 to be released on the original Playstation. A teaser trailer was even unveiled at E3 that year. Work on the game was then halted after Silicone Knights signed an exclusive deal with Nintendo and focus from Silicone Knights eventually turned to the creation of other titles instead.

Eventually it was revived by Microsoft in 2005, in hopes it would become a new trilogy for the Xbox 360 console. Considering the amount of “development time” the game received, the 2008 release was met with much anticipation, thanks to years of speculation and fan build up, but ended up falling flat. You would hope a game that took almost 9 years to release from the initial announcement would be praised.Ultimately any good features found within Too Human, were disregarded thanks to the release of an unpolished and disappointing game after such a long development cycle.

From a game that took almost 9 years to develop, to one that took a whopping 15 years – Duke Nukem Forever is widely regarded as one of the biggest flops the gaming industry has ever seen. Announced all the way back in 1997, it was initially thought it would be released no later than mid-1998, but after 15 years and 4 studios, it was finally thrust into the world in June 2010.

Forever (arguably one of the most ironically named games) felt like it was never to be released and I’m sure a large number of gamers wished it never had. The release was met with understandable venom from the vast majority of the industry, with most calling it “buggy”, “dated” and hilariously, “rushed”.

Crunch time

‘Crunch’ is almost the boogeyman of the gaming industry these days and for good reason. The amount of stress people are under to release a game for a specific predetermined release date is absurd. Time and time again we’re informed that developers are putting in 15 hours a day and sleeping at the office. Not only is this unhealthy, its like some horrifying dystopian realism. Publishers expect gamers to praise the developers for their hard work and dedication, when in reality they push their bodies to the limit to receive only a minutiae of the overall praise from the general public.

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The constant action of delaying a game can have two effects on ‘Crunch’, one a bit more optimistic than the other. Either, developers receive more time to iron out any bugs in a more relaxed atmosphere or perhaps pessimistically, they’re subject to these stressful situations for longer, now with the added pressure of gamers disappointed with the delay of release. These same developers are then subject to online toxicity thanks to the ease people have to contact them through the likes of Reddit or Twitter.

We need to return to the days where games were released when developers are confident in the state of the game, not when a publisher hopes it’ll be ready. 

It is very rare for a game to be announced for a release date that is only a mere couple of months away… That is unless you’re Nintendo who continue to raise a torch as the shining beacon of the games industry. You can experience just as much excitement and anticipation for a short marketing lead.

Think for a moment, the surprise and elation people had when Apex Legends was announced and released on the same day. The launch of Apex was incredible, surpassing 25 million players after its first week alone. Respawn have commented on the lack of feedback being a significant drawback of this approach. A lot of lessons were learned after the release of Season 1 and since the game has cultivated a very dedicated following. This same model wouldn’t work for every game mind you, the fact that Apex is an online, constantly evolving world lends itself to the implementation of sweeping changes to how it plays and content. The same model

Slow burn campaigns do allow for increased feedback, but release information too slowly and you can run the risk of boring the people whose opinions matter to you.

We need to move back to the time when games were given a release date as soon as they were confident it would be released. Yes, you publishers won’t get those sweet pre-orders to the same extent, but gamers shouldn’t be pre-ordering games when they’re unsure what the final product is going to truly look like anyway. You can even announce a game a couple of years in advance and then subsequently announce a release date closer to when you know it’ll be ready.

In the time being though, while we live in a world where release dates are announced months, or even years in advance, accept that short delays can and will happen. What it means for us as gamers is hopefully an improved product that runs that little bit better, culminating in a better experience overall.

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