Video game release dates are almost never set in concrete. Save for a few high profile blockbuster titles—your Madden NFLs and your Call of Duties—the street dates for most games are fluid, to say the least. News of game launch delays is almost a weekly occurrence. In contrast stands the motion picture industry; the release dates of even the smallest films are often set in stone years in advance.
For instance, you were probably already aware that The Amazing Spider-Man movie is coming out on July 3, 2012. What you might not have heard, though, is that the sequel to this blockbuster hopeful is set to release on May 2, 2014. That's right. They've set the release date for the sequel before they've even released the first movie. At the same time you'd still be hard-pressed to find release dates for games that are scheduled to hit stores in the first quarter of 2012.
So what would happen if the video game industry adopted a mechanism for releasing games that was similar to the motion picture release schedule? Let's take a look.
Beware the Bargain Bin
We've all been there. You go down to your favorite games shop, money in hand, to pick up the next game in your favorite franchise only to find out that it's been delayed. The clerk doesn't know for how long, of course. Disheartened, you turn to leave when out of the corner of your eye you see an old friend, the bargain bin, there to comfort you in your time of need. You leave $20 lighter and with a copy of Project Gotham of Duty - Sport 7: Prologue, which you had been meaning to pick up before it was itself delayed. This never happens at the theater, and game publishers and developers lose money this way. Complaints about consumer demand or unsuitable market conditions may very well be founded, but not sticking to an advertised release date could also be the cause of lackluster sales at times.
Having a concrete release date set long in advance might help studios avoid some the problems associated with delays, including lackluster post-delay sales.
If the Shoe Fits…
Often publishers offer up explanations as to why a title has been held back. The reasons usually given have some merit. After all, no one wants to play an unfinished title, and frankly, there are quite a few titles that would have benefited from a little more time in the oven. Other times, however, the motive for a delay might not be entirely necessary. Features that might not enhance the experience or don't fit the gameplay style might be shoehorned into a title at a late date, causing unexpected delays and garnering mixed reactions. It's difficult to say whether or not having a rigid release schedule would completely eliminate this practice for two very important reasons: 1) Sometimes those last minute additions actually turn out to be excellent, and 2) any good schedule allows for unforeseen occurrences which could allow for this kind of practice to take place without disrupting the development process or causing unnecessary delays.
Negative Fan Reaction
Fans would be able to rest easy knowing full well that whenever a publisher announced a release date there would be no back-peddling. Numerous developers have been guilty of baiting their fan bases. This might be a way to avoid that to some extent, if not completely.
This is a difficult one to tackle here, as it would still be up to each publisher/developer as to how to go about using their resources to make sure their various projects were progressing in a way that allowed them to finish on time. There are so many factors (staffing, hardware issues, etc.) that lead to developers undergoing a "crunch" period prior to release that it's difficult to conclude that having a release date well in advance would completely alleviate that. The recent drama surrounding the closure of Team Bondi, the development studio behind L.A. Noire, demonstrates that quite clearly. We maintain that it would ultimately be up to both the developer and publisher to come to an agreement on what steps will be taken to ensure that the project in question will be completed in time to deal with any inconveniences and in a way that ensures a quality product.
Having a more cemented release schedule would certainly alleviate some problems with the game industry, though not all. It would be a great step towards maturing the industry and having it taken seriously. It's certainly long overdue. The cost of producing a quality video game these days is at times equal to that of producing a motion picture. With so much at stake, it's a wonder a safer structure hasn't been put in place to ensure that all involved in the process of bringing these projects to life are secure in their investment.
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*