The game industry needs to stop announcing things so damn early
If there was one real problem I have with the gaming industry today, it must be the timing of announcements. It seems that there is no shortage of the need to blurt out that you are working on some sequel the moment development begins. What for though? Why even waste our time with this nonsense? I can certainly understand that you are all excited to be working on the next sequel to some game we all played 5, 10, even 15 years ago, but if there is no clear sight of the finish line then I just don’t see the point of telling us about it right away.
The worst scenario is when my excitement literally dries up before the game finally comes out, which sadly has happened for The Old Republic. Three years of great trailers that had me on the edge of my seat eventually gave way to extreme scrutiny: “Is the real game ever going to feel this epic?”, “When exactly will this game ever come out?” and finally “I don’t think I have time to play this thing anymore.”
I’m still confused over what it is these companies want us to feel in terms of early announcements. In the case of The Old Republic, it was first announced in 2008 and their first epic CGI trailer was shown in 2009. I was exhilarated by the prospect of a great MMO from Bioware set in the Star Wars universe, yet had there been a little asterisk by that announcement letting us know that the game wouldn’t be released until the tail end of 2011, I would have said “Well, why did you bother to make this great trailer?” As your attention is focused on one game, it is taken away from other titles, so in many ways it feels like Bioware wants us to not be as excited for other games, even some of their own games, as we patiently wait 3 years on this release. Both Dragon Age and Mass Effect have had 2 games either announced or released each in that span of time and neither franchise recieved the sort of announcement treatment that Old Republic got.
The worst offenders, of course, are Blizzard Games, who I’ve come to expect a delay of at least 3 years on any announcement (with the exception of WoW expansions). Just check out every major Blizzard release in the last decade:
- Warcraft III – announced 1999, released 2002
- World of Warcraft – announced 2001, released 2004
- Starcraft II – announced 2007, released 2010
- Diablo III – announced 2008, yet to be released
Yet on any of their announcements the public is usually convinced that the game looks near-complete, their excitement is brought to a peak and as the months wane on without any discernible release date it begins to set in that one will need to wait until Blizzard feels like the time is right. I don’t believe this is any accident, I don’t think it takes Blizzard three years to fine-tune their games to perfection. I believe Blizzard is announcing their games only about 25% of the way into development, right when enough has been completed to demo something. As the years go on the actual content is added, gameplay is fleshed out and finally rigorous testing done. It does give this appearance that Blizzard has a completed game on their hands and they just want to make sure its ever-so-perfect, but considering the previous list I’d like to call BS and say that they just love to announce whatever they are working on as soon as possible.
Then there is the other end of the spectrum, where game companies have the common sense to announce their game less than a year before the intended release. Say what you will about Activision, but I am in love with their Call of Duty marketing strategy: announce the game at E3, release that game months later in November. Its an excellent way of getting the public pumped at just the right moment and then delivering when they want it the most. Maybe this is part of the reason the Call of Duty franchise has been hitting record sales numbers each year.
I also couldn’t help notice Saturday’s announcement of The Last of Us, which is the next game for Naughty Dog and who looks like they want to become a 2-team, yearly producer of games. There hasn’t been any formal release date announcement, but all signs point to 2012 – the trailer was rendered with in-game graphics and Naughty Dog has been in the groove of an Uncharted game every 2 years for awhile, so it stands to reason that Last of Us is slated for next year. If it is delayed, I’ll certainly eat my words, but this is what I consider great marketing and timing and I believe needs to be widely emulated by the rest of the industry.
The real lesson learned is that a huge grain of salt should be taken with each and every major game announcement, even the ones with sprawling, expensive CGI trailers. Will I still play The Old Republic? Sure, it looks great. Will I continue to buy Blizzard-made games? Absolutely, they’ve managed to impress me on each release. If these companies could learn to hold back a little bit I could share much more of their excitement for the game, but at this point I am pretty much tapped out and will need to rely heavily on others to get me back into the spirit of wanting to buy on the day of release.