It’s the time of year when we dive headlong into gaming expos and shows. The largest of which is E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, that kicks things off this week. Every single year developers, publishers, companies all reveal new games over the course of the expo. These are made into a huge deal, whipping the gaming press and fans into a tizzy. Today, I’ll be taking a look at game announcements, delays, no-shows, and vaporware. Can game announcements be made too early? Are delays a bad or a good thing? Finally, I’ll get into no-shows and the mythical vaporware.
Watch Dogs was recently released to very positive reviews across the board. It also broke sales records at Ubisoft, selling more copies than any of their titles in history. Days later it became the best selling new IP launch for the “entire video game industry”. If you recall, Watch Dogs was revealed at E3 in 2012. E3 that year was not a particularly strong one and Watch Dogs literally stole the show. Ubisoft was said to have “won” E3 that year. However it is now June 2014 and Watch Dogs was just released two weeks ago. In the two years between its announcement and release, it has seen its ups and downs in the eye of consumers. From hype, to a lull Watch Dogs has run the gauntlet. Its delay last year, from the new console launch to late May disappointed fans and put doubt into the project. At PAX East back in April, I ran into many people who expressed concerns with Watch Dogs: “I heard the game is broken”, “no ones played it yet” (demo wasn’t at PAX despite release next month), “gameplay probably needs a lot of work”, “I’ll wait and see what the reviews are”. While these were from fans and not from industry insiders who may have had a chance to play the game (but weren’t allowed to speak about it) shows how the public perception can change over a long period of time.
Watch Dogs 2012 reveal trailer
Was the Watch Dogs reveal too early? Well… no. At E3 that year Watch Dogs probably got the biggest possible exposure, as 2013 focused on the new console releases. While it was impossible to know that 2013 would be the year new consoles were going to be released, Ubisoft got lucky with its 2012 reveal. As a result it became a hugely successful launch, from this perspective the early reveal worked. Take a second to think about this: what if Watch Dogs didn’t have that E3 impact? Would it have been this major financial success? What if fans were so divided due to the two year wait that it didn’t sell well? What if it could have sold even more copies if it was released with a better pre-release opinion from the public? We’ll never be able to know those answers, but despite these possibilities, its undeniable that Watch Dogs benefited from their announcement.
It may have also benefited from its delay. Even though previous gen consoles have a massive install base, Ubisoft may have been decided to hold off the release and wait for the PS4/X1 to sell more consoles. The reality is, Watch Dogs was released to critical and financial success. Developers and publishers may take a risk when delaying games, as their survival in this industry hinders on moving as many copies as possible (duh). A game that resonated with me this way was South Park: The Stick of Truth. It had a Fall 2013 release date initially, but was delayed until March of 2014. To this day, I have not played the Stick of Truth, but I would have bought it back in the fall, as there wasn’t too much coming out then I wanted. Although, someone out there probably bought the game in March that wasn’t planning to in October. In this way, delays depends on the situations and context unique to each game’s development.
South Park: The Stick of Truth launch trailer
Watch Dogs may have not been up to Ubisoft’s lofty standards before the decision to delay the game was made. As the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto once said, “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” Watch Dogs definitely benefited from a longer development time. It’s story is not a unique one however. Many games have been delayed for extra polish, or to fix problems/broken gameplay elements, or maybe to be released in a month with less competition. These delayed titles are often of the AAA variety that need millions of dollars to make, long development times, and demand the work of large teams. Just recently The Order 1886 and Batman: Arkham Knight (much to Bryan’s dismay) were delayed until 2015. Arkham Knight in particular is a interesting case, as a specific release date was announced two months before the delay. However, we all knew Rocksteady was working on a next Batman game (there’s no way they weren’t). Rumors started to leak in early March about the existence of Arkham Knight, shortly after it graced April’s edition of GameInformer. Assuming the game is released in Q1 2015, that would be approximately one year before Rocksteady official releases the game. Compared to Watch Dogs, the perspective of the game might be different. Fans of the series now only have to wait a year, not two, to get their hands on the game (assuming there isn’t another delay). This six month to one year sweet spot between the initial announcement and the game’s release, is something all developers should aim for. It creates excitement for the games release, without ever losing the hype as a result of being in development too long. It can also make a delay seem less crippling to consumers. In Arkham Knight’s case the release went from about ~7 months to one year.
Batman: Arkham Knight Gameplay Trailer
One the opposite end of the spectrum are two games you should have heard about: FFv13 (now Final Fantasy XV) and the Last Guardian. Both games were very early in development when they were announced. Developers for these games pulled the announcement trigger too early, as development for games can be incredibly unpredictable. In the case of the Last Guardian, things at Studio Japan (Team ICO) something went horribly wrong. Holding off the announcement until they were certain the game could be released in a year, year and a half might have avoided this entire debacle. Like I said, development is unpredictable and no game is without its problems. We will never know what it was like at Rocksteady Studios during Arkham Knight’s development. Arkham City was released in 2011, assuming they started early stages of development for AK a few months after release, that’s about ~4 years from start to finish. Maybe Rocksteady had monumental problems to overcome, maybe they had to shift the direction of their game and scrap what they were working on. However, from the perspective seen from everyone outside of the studio is that development went swimmingly… but they need a bit more time to polish the game. If you’ve ever checked out a comments section on a delay announcement, most fans are disappointed, but here’s the kicker… they are forgiving and understand why games are delayed. Most say something along the lines of “I was really looking forward to this, but would rather wait to play the game when they perfect it”. Sadly that’s not the case regarding FFXV and The Last Guardian where every delay and no-show is met with an increasingly negative response. The two games. Both have suffered from announcements made too early, delays, and no-shows at major gaming events. As a result we have been through countless rumors, resulting in vague statements from Square Enix and Sony. Was the game cancelled? Was there a major overhaul? What exactly happened?
Final Fantasy versus XIII trailer in 2011 (Japanese audio)
As of right now, The Last Guardian is vaporware. A description that doesn’t bode well for any game (unless you thought Duke Nukem Forever was worth the wait). Vaporware is a product that is announced to the public but never official released or cancelled. Revealed in 2009, all the game did was spurn rumor after rumor about whether it has been cancelled or not. Rumors being answered by vague comments from Sony giving fans and press nothing to work with. Even now, IGN reported conflicting reports about the game’s development. This has done nothing positive for Studio Japan. If they waited until 2010, even later until they were sure it could be released within a year, we might not have had to deal with Last Guardian’s vaporware status.
Although FFXV, is actually getting released, the wait time has had a negative impact on not only the game, but on how people view Square Enix in general. The first trailer released for the game sparked an incredible response from fans of the franchise. Now, skepticism and hope (that the game will actually be good) have replaced that initial response. While I’m excited for FFXV, I have no idea if the game will be good or even if it will be a financial success for Square. Sadly, and ironically, they had to make the same mistake with Kingdom Hearts 3. In a sense, it was a necessary evil. Fans heard nothing about the game’s development, even after countless side titles were released. However, their intent in 2013 was to give fans an answer; the game is in development. Reassuring some fans, but maybe causing some to be even more impatient. You shouldn’t expect KH3 in 2014 and probably 2015 for that matter.
What makes these announcements and wait times worse, is that many of these games are no-shows at events after their initial reveal. That really isn’t the best way of keeping up buzz about the game. E3 2013 saw a new FFXV trailer and a short KH3 tease. Now both games are confirmed to not appear at E3 in 2014. It might not be until the Tokyo Game Show later this year, that fans can get more info on these games. How many major gaming events will we have to go through to see more of a game? FFvXIII was announced in 2006, and spent years upon years of being absent from the public eye. Every year fans would get excited about seeing more of the game, but every year it was a no-show. Even in 2014, 8 years later, FFXV will not be at E3.
Final Fantasy XIV E3 Trailer/Gameplay
Where does it leave us? For starters timing on announcements is everything. If FFXV and The Last Guardian weren’t announced so early, they might have avoided a few years of public scrutiny. We may have wondered what Team ICO was working on, but they could have avoided the countless rumors and no-shows at gaming events that left fans confused and disappointed. Watch Dogs and Arkham Knight are good examples of games with perfectly timed announcements. While in another situation, Watch Dogs might have been a bit too early, it benefited from a weaker E3 that year. We recently learned about Arkham Knight and will be able to play it with a year of its announcement, even with a delay. The buzz around these games from announcement to release will help the game in selling more copies. These delayed titles aren’t necessarily a bad thing, as developers now have more time to fix and polish their game. Watch Dogs and South Park: The Stick of Truth are prime examples of delayed games that released to very good reviews. While fans of FFXV are still excited for its release, I don’t think the game will ever get to the height of anticipation than the year or so after its initial announcement. Its hard to determine what will happen during a games development, each one has a different process and hurdles to overcome. Ultimately, it might be better to wait announcing a title until the developers can see the end of the tunnel.
Tomorrow is E3, gaming’s biggest event for major corporations, developers, and fans alike. I’m sure fans across the globe will be glued to their monitors watching press conferences, eagerly anticipating the new game reveals. I just hope we don’t have to wait ten years to play them.