Gaming Delays are a Mild and Necessary Inconvenience

A long time ago on the Sega CD there was an RPG called Lunar: Silver Star Story and it was wonderful.  The sequel promised to exponentially improve everything that made Lunar great, but the US version kept getting later and later and later.  One release date after another flew by until eventually I just didn’t pay too much attention any more.  Then one day I stopped into a local gaming store, not coincidentally on the latest projected Lunar 2 release date, and there it was playing on the monitor.  To this day the experience of playing that game is one of my fondest RPG memories and the wait for it a forgettable annoyance.  Not completely forgotten, obviously, but irrelevant in retrospect.

Games get delayed.  It happens all the time, and usually we don’t know about it.  Summer 20xx becomes a Christmas release and then Spring 20xx+1, but the date was never official so there’s no press coverage of the extra wait or the dark glares the publisher sends the developer’s way.  Then there are the Kickstarter games, which come with a release date set in advance that’s practically a giant target made of glittering crystal and nitroglycerin.  These dates don’t hold, and the reason for this is because they can’t.  The way things are supposed to go is very rarely the way they actually do, but that isn’t the same as failure.  It’s just the creative process crossed with a project that’s a truly insane amount of work.

Yooka-Laylee’s delay was announced earlier and met with understanding and acceptance thanks to a trailer that showed off everything fans had been hoping to see.  Mighty No. 9, on the other hand, got kicked in the teeth after it’s (seemingly) dozenth delay, and No Man’s Sky somehow netted the developers death threats. All these games have reasons for their lateness, and from the perspective of the developers those reasons are strong enough to justify the need to deliver unpleasant news.

Yooka-Laylee is bigger and prettier than it was initially planned to be, thanks to clearing over 10x its initial goal, and Mighty No 9 met its third delay due to network coding issues.  That last one unleashed a wave of anger due to the main focus of the game and the reason people backed it being single-player, but these modes don’t get played if released later in a game’s life so a split release didn’t make sense for the complete Mighty No. 9 package. No Man’s Sky needed more polish, not quite living up to Hello Games’ standards, and the extra weeks of development will result in a better launch experience. The math seems to work out that the more anticipated a game is gets multiplied by how long a game has been in development to equal the value of negative reaction to its lateness. It’s ugly, and the primary reason this kind of thing usually happens behind closed doors.

Of the three examples above, two are from Kickstarter, and that’s because it’s a great place for this kind of data due to each project coming with an estimated release.  Sometimes the games are months late and others are years behind schedule, but only very rare projects meet initial estimations.  If you could have gotten whoever’s involved in the latest Elder Scrolls game to give a projected release date back when it was in a similar shape to the average crowdfunded game at the campaign’s start it would best be viewed as the setup for a joke that wouldn’t pay off for years.  Games take time, and very few of the best hit all their development milestones from the initial planning stages.

Back in the PS2/Dreamcast era I used to work for Electronics Boutique, and at the front of the store was the book of pending releases.  It sat on the counter so customers could browse through and hopefully reserve something, frequently goaded on by workers looking to hit their minimums for the week.  The book got updated on a regular basis, and there were always a few games getting kicked down the months as they dropped from one date to the next.  Chulip was delayed years before it finally came out, and poor Rent A Hero No 1 (Xbox) eventually got canceled.  Release dates are now and have always been an iffy proposition, and while it would be nice to see games hit when planned it’s not about to start happening now.  Honestly, it’s not even that big a deal.

It’s nice to anticipate things and frustrating when the anticipation drags on. The only option is to wait and it’s a conscious choice as to whether you wait angry or just let the time pass while filling it with other things. A game is generally delayed to make it better, whether that’s to add features or iron out bugs, and if that means waiting another few weeks or months then the final result will hopefully be worth it. If the game doesn’t turn out as good as planned then it would have been even worse earlier, and if it lives up to or exceeds expectations then the wait was worth it. In the meantime, new games come out every day, there’s a ton of work to do, plenty of books to read and TV to watch, and even people to hang out with on the days when social interaction is a possibility. A game not being available just means something else gets your time, and there are too many worthwhile things vying for attention to get too caught up on missing a single piece of entertainment. No matter how highly anticipated.