Here’s why game delays really aren’t a bad thing

Let’s break the habit of premature announcements and avoid disappointing both players and developers with cyclical delays

I can’t even begin to imagine how it must have felt. Eight years we’ve been waiting for Cyberpunk 2077. That’s eight Christmases. Eight birthdays. And one whole console generation. In 2020 alone, it’s had four separate release dates, but if you think you’re fed up with the constant delays, imagine how the development team must be feeling. Imagine being in the room when someone finally admitted that yes, Cyberpunk 2077 needed a few more weeks in the oven.

The most recent delay – which sees the sci-fi RPG pushed from mid-November to December 10 – went down about as well as you might have expected it to have: CD Projekt Red was prompted to open up about the abuse some of its staff had received from fans, pleading for some sections of the gaming community to remember that “we are people, just like you”.

Look, I understand you might be disappointed – I am, too. Delays suck, especially when it’s a game that’s been on your must-have list for as long as you’ve bloody had a must-have list. But here’s the thing: there’s absolutely zero shame in a studio taking more time to get things right.

A studio delaying a game to iron out bugs and further polish it should be commended, not criticised. It’s an arse-clenchingly difficult decision at the best of times – particularly if there are investors frowning in your direction and impatiently tapping their Rolex watches – but that pressure shouldn’t be coming from us. Don’t you want it to be the best it can be? Wouldn’t you prefer a game that’s smooth as glass and bug-free?

I doubt it’s a coincidence that games that drop with zero marketing or pre-order sweeteners can make the biggest impact. I appreciate that this is beyond the scope of most indies, but EA’ss Apex Legends, for instance, launched the same day it was announced, and picked up 1million unique players in the first eight hours. It went on to clock up 10million-plus players in just 72 hours of its debut, and 25million players within a week.

A month later, it was boasting 50million. While it didn’t quite turn out to be the Fortnite killer some were expecting (or maybe even praying for), it did prove that for the studios and publishers lucky enough to command a spot on the E3 stage or in a presentation event like Sony’s State Of Play, it doesn’t matter how long your game is in development. It doesn’t matter (except to your financiers) if it’s pushed back once or twice or 20 times – if your game’s good, it’ll generate headlines. And if it’s bad? Well, arguably, it’ll generate even more.

Watch Dogs: Legion
Watch Dogs: Legion. Credit: Ubisoft

Even if a game has been delayed, that doesn’t mean it’ll be worth the wait. As I write this, I’m in the midst of reviewing Watch Dogs Legion. I fucking adored Watch Dogs 2; for all it’s feigned anarchy and day-glo spray paint it offered a vibrant playground in the sunny climes of San Francisco, and protagonist, Marcus, who was stuffed with character and charisma.

Watch Dogs Legion? Ah, man. At the time of writing, reviews still haven’t gone live, so I’ve no idea what others are making of it, but personally, I’ve been unable to progress because I can’t complete my current mission without overheating – and then shutting down entirely – my Xbox One X.

To Ubisoft’s credit (or crime, depending upon your viewpoint), Legion was pushed back, too. And yet despite the added time, the version I’ve played so far – which admittedly has yet to be corrected by any day one hotfixes or patches – is… so broken. Bugs range from laughable to inexcusable. It makes me miserable to say it, but, honestly? It shouldn’t have come out yet. Watch Dogs Legion needed several more weeks in the oven, too.

While I appreciate the need to drum up interest, secure pre-orders and keep executives happy – not to mention the burgeoning problem of leaks and spoilers spilling out ahead of time – we need to break the habit of announcing games when they’re still in their embryonic stages. Concept art and cinematic teasers are all well and good, but when they’re utterly unrepresentative of the final product, they mislead more than they inform. And as an industry we should be pushing back at early reveals not just to avoid disappointing fans, but also to mitigate the temptation to push developers into crunch situations.

Yes, it’s disappointing Cyberpunk 2077 has been pushed back. But you’ve waited eight years. Another three weeks won’t kill you, will it?

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