Like most adult gamers, I’m a patient one with a significant backlog of video games waiting for me. I’ve got bills to pay and can’t afford to buy the latest AAA releases, especially with many of them asking for $70 now. I prefer to wait for discounts, because even most good games drop in price and have sales – with the notable exception of certain first-party Nintendo games.
Even still, I have become increasingly flabbergasted at the influx of delayed video game releases. So many games I was looking forward to this year – Redfall, Metal Slug Tactics, Hogwarts Legacy and Warhammer 40,000: Darktide – have been postponed to 2023. I wasn’t surprised by the plethora of delays throughout 2020-21, considering the pandemic’s impact on the industry, but I thought for sure that would’ve been sorted by now. Many game studios have permanently integrated work-from-home opportunities.
Game delays have become less taboo in recent years. Every time a postponement announcement hits social media, the vast majority of comments are actually positive – people would ultimately rather have a good game than a broken one. Personally, my optimism there is fading – Cyberpunk 2077 was delayed three times, and it was still an absolute mess on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. That’s just one high-profile example.
Part of what’s causing this trend of delayed games is likely the convenience factor. These days, it’s incredibly easy to get the word out online. But back when all gaming news was relegated to magazines and TV advertisements, delaying a video game could confuse consumers and seriously damage its sales potential.
And because game consoles weren’t typically hooked up to the internet either, developers couldn’t patch a game to fix its issues – that physical release had to be near-perfect or it’d be a bug-riddled mess forever. Accordingly, the pressure to release a game on time and in tip-top shape was immense. The same just doesn’t hold true today, for better and worse.
Over the past 10 years especially, many games have been releasing in subpar condition. Developers then spend subsequent months or even years patching out all the glitches, bugs and rough edges to finally craft the experience gamers were promised on day one. While it’s a strange business model, it can work out, provided there’s enough interest and cash flow. No Man’s Sky is notorious for its broken promises upon launch in 2016, but developer Hello Games redeemed themselves in the years that followed.
A counter-example would be 2019’s Anthem, a game released in a barebones state that bled players so quickly that BioWare’s publisher, Electronic Arts, had them pull the plug on all future work two years after its release. The intent was for Anthem to be a continually updated live service game a la Destiny, but launching in a shoddy state caused it to fail spectacularly.
In defense of such games, many point to massively successful games like Team Fortress 2 and Fortnite, which have received such massive content updates over the years that they barely resemble their initial release. But those games were full-fledged products from the get-go rather than half-finished messes that forced their playerbases to effectively beta test their game.
Unfortunately, gamers will continue to receive half-baked games until they demand better treatment. It all comes down to voting with your wallet. Halo Infinite’s multiplayer launched in 2021 with about half of the features and content that came with Halo 3 in 2007 – while the playerbase is audibly upset, many continue to purchase all the little cosmetic microtransactions that keep 343 Industries comfortably afloat.
Why rush to add meaningful content like Forge mode, cooperative campaign or new arenas when it’s so much easier and more profitable to nickel-and-dime all the players who will buy the latest piece of armor? Keep in mind, Halo Infinite was delayed for a full year – while the quality of content is fairly high, the quantity is exceedingly low.
The theory is that game delays will result in higher-quality games, but for the past few years I’ve seen plenty of titles launch in subpar shape despite being pushed back. It feels like we’re getting the worst of both worlds.
Riordan Zentler can be reached at [email protected]