Recently it was announced that Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End, and BioWare’s Mass Effect Andromeda have both been delayed; and to be quite honest I wasn’t even the least bit surprised. A few years ago, I may have been a bit shocked had this news of two major games being postponed in the same week reached me, but not anymore. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that this is just business as usual for the gaming industry nowadays. Game delays are everywhere. Tom Clancy, The Witcher, even The Legend of Zelda; no game is safe. But why is this so, and why does it seem to be happening more and more as each year goes by?
There is certainly an aspect of corporate influence with regards to when games end up being released. During the last generation of consoles for instance, the FPS (First Person Shooter) genre was very dominant. Particularly around the month of November: it was likely that the latest Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honour games – as well as other games of the genre – would all have very close release dates. As such, if a brand new shooter game had an initial October/November release date, it was likely to be delayed.
Fundamentally though, games are delayed because the developers need more time to work on them. There are a lot of jobs that actually contribute to the whole process of making a game; art design, level design, graphics, assets, sound, motion capture, and voice acting just to name a few. Effectively this is why big AAA games take around 2-3 years to create; there is just a plethora of design elements that need to be considered before consumers can get their hands on the final product. As a result, it can be very difficult for publishers and developers to accurately predict when a game will be ready for release, and then to nail down a release date that won’t be pushed back at some point down the road.
For a game to be functional upon release it has to go through a rigorous glitch testing programme as well. In the past, this rarely led to serious complications with regards to release date as games were simple enough that any serious bugs could be removed relatively quickly. With the massive open worlds, intricate mechanics, and life-like graphics of the modern gaming industry however, this is not necessarily the case. It can literally take years to get a Triple-A game functioning properly, and even then the developers are only human. The PC version of Batman Arkham Knight for instance – despite having been delayed over 6 months from its original holiday 2014 release date – was so broken at launch that for many it was unplayable.
The vast majority of game delays do come about because of these issues. However, let’s imagine a situation in which none of these issues come up. You’re a developer that has set a deadline for a game’s completion. You manage to stick to the schedule, work out any serious technical problems, and have just announced a release date for the title; things are going pretty well. When all of a sudden: a brand new idea or development comes up. This could be a concept that would improve the game ten times over, it could be the release of a brand new console that would better suit the game, whatever the case may be, it transpires that the game needs a lot more work than was initially expected. You have a choice here: you could either continue working on the game to meet the current deadline and knowingly release an inferior product, or you could postpone the game to accommodate for the new situation.
This scenario is actually more common than you might think. GenDESIGN’s The Last Guardian for example has been in development for over 9 years now. The game was initially planned to be a PlayStation 3 exclusive during the early stages of development, but since the launch of the PlayStation 4 in 2013, the title has moved platform, and seen numerous delays as a result. Similarly, it has long been speculated that The Legend of Zelda Wii U – which was initially announced in January 2013 – has seen so many delays because it is in fact currently being developed for both the Wii U and Nintendo’s upcoming NX platform.
Delays can be frustrating for gamers. When a release date is close, you can practically feel the controller in your hands as you prepare yourself to get lost in the highly anticipated title, and then a delay comes along and ruins it all. But delays are necessary; if games never got pushed back then the industry would consist only of technically broken, and conceptually underwhelming experiences that would disappoint on all fronts. As developer Shigeru Miyamoto once said: “A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever”