A current problem in the video game industry is the backlash developers get from players whenever they decide to delay the release date of one of their games. In this article, we’ll discuss why developers give release dates far in advance in the first place, the consequences of releasing a game too early or delaying it too often, and if the trend is likely to change.

Why Announce (Too) Early?

Developers have a number of reasons for announcing their games early but it’s highly likely that pres-sales is the main one. When a game is announced about a year and a half before release, it gives the studio plenty of time to market the game and drive presales. Many upcoming titles have funded their entire studio from what players are willing to pay in advance.

Another advantage of an early announcement is that a game with a large following and presales is much more difficult to shut down. Studio bosses should have many, many good reasons to end a project or face the wrath of the consumer.

The trouble really starts when game studios aren’t able to deliver on their promises by either delivering the product too early, postponing too often, or canceling it altogether. Let’s take a look at a few recent examples of all three cases.

©CD Projekt Red

Not Enough Delay:

Cyberpunk 2077 is still probably the best example of how a game should NOT be released before it’s ready. Most people are quite familiar with the woes of this game but let’s quickly sum them up.

CD Projekt Red, the studio behind Cyberpunk 2077 is also the creator of the unforgettable Witcher III: The Wild Hunt; a game that is universally described as one of the best RPGs of its time. Even though Cyberpunk was officially announced a full three years before the release of the Witcher III, once the gaming community saw what the studio was capable of, Cyberpunk became of the most anticipated games of a generation.

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The game was announced in 2012 but didn’t start full development until 2016, leaving gamers already impatient. The title faced three public delays and increasing pressure to get it launched together with the next generation consoles. Although we will never know exactly what happened behind the scenes, the final results spoke for themselves. The game’s performance on the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 were so utterly abysmal that both Microsoft and Sony had to make emergency exceptions on their refund policies.

Financial Consequences:

CD Projekt Red later revealed that the total amount of refunds given was in excess of 50 million dollars in 2020, even though the company ended up making over half a billion dollars in revenue in the same year. Gamers that were not able to get a refund via their game outlets, were offered the use of the studio’s special “Help Me Refund” campaign, which ended up paying 2 million out of the 50 million total.

Furthermore, a class action lawsuit was filed against the studio by investors, claiming to be misled regarding financial performance. After the results of the launch, CD Projekt Red’s stock dipped by a whopping 50 percent, and the sales projections were quickly adjusted. The suit has since been settled but the knock to investor confidence surely remains.

Reputational Consequences:

Cyberpunk 2077 has since been patched a number of times, making the game playable even on the PlayStation 4. Sony had initially pulled the game from the store altogether because of its extremely poor performance and game-breaking bugs and glitches. The PC version has received a number of updates that make it a decent enough game to get a “mostly positive” score on Steam, a huge improvement from its launch reviews.

Even though the studio has done many things to try and restore its reputation within the gaming community, players will surely be hesitant with any future title announcements. Exactly how skeptical management, investors, and most importantly the public will be with the newly announced Witcher title remains to be seen.

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©Bethesda Studios

Delay Despite Overwhelming Anticipation:

Bethesda Studios’ Starfield has been 25 years in the making and the gaming community has been waiting for this game for a very, very long time. The studio, however, never rushed its titles and had a very decent reputation for meeting release dates. Starfield unfortunately broke that trend.

After the game was announced to launch on November 11th, 2022 with much fanfare, the studio changed its mind pretty quickly. Claiming that the game could benefit from a bit more polish, fans are now left in limbo with a new release indicted to be somewhere in 2023.

Bethesda Studios did finally treat us to some gameplay footage with was met with mixed responses. Here is what 9to5Gamers author Jack Collier had to say:

This all sounds amazing, as it’s from the talented minds behind the Elder Scrolls and the Fallout series. However, Starfield’s reveal trailer definitely left some concerns for fans. Despite the fact that it was a test build, the game was barely managing 30 frames per second and appeared to be struggling to run at all.

Additionally, many fans found the gunplay and fighting to be lackluster. The biggest concern from fans, however, was the highly noted “1,000 planets to explore.” This has given many people “No Man’s Sky vibes”, leaving them nervous and worried. Many believe that there is simply no way for all those planets to be unique and detailed. It feels like this could be a huge downside for the game, considering Bethesda’s recent track record with over-promising and not-so-great final products.

Here is the full article: “The Most Exciting Upcoming Games for 2022 & 2023”.

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Financial Consequences:

Every delay inevitably comes with extra cost, on top of all the extra costs associated with the COVID19 pandemic. Bethesda Studios was recently acquired by Microsoft and we don’t know if their new corporate overlords are expecting the developers to do more for less or whether they have received an additional budget to guarantee the title’s launch success.

Development Consequences:

Having shown the public a gameplay trailer after announcing a delay is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the studio has an opportunity to add player feedback into the last phase of development whilst at the same time, the gaming community will now expect to see their changes in the final product. Bethesda will have to tread very carefully and maximize its compliance with the new expectations whilst avoiding the need for even further delay.

We will have to actually play the game to find out if all the disappointment surrounding the delay was ultimately worth it but if Bethesda can avoid pulling a Cyberpunk then they are definitely better off for it.

Will The Trend Change?

It is highly unlikely that despite the fallout from the gaming community over delays or too early releases, studios will change their ways. Presales are simply too lucrative and even the Cyberpunk 2077 multimillion dollar disaster didn’t kill CD Projekt Red.

Even though gamers are voicing their concerns, disappointments, and even outright anger across social media, in general, they are still buying the games and often as a presale. As long as we the consumer won’t show studios that they can’t do as they please, their behavior in this regard will continue.

Maybe, a day of reckoning will one day come… (Probably after the Zombie Apocalypse).

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