I know I’m being hyperbolic here, but it seems like about half of the gaming news I stumble across as I meander through gaming-related internet spaces are about release delays. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon for me that the first I’m hearing of a game that has piqued my interest is when the developers are announcing that they’re not going to make the target they set for themselves. Most recently, I saw the trailer for Nightingale, a first person survival crafting game that looks so damn cool, for the first time in an article explaining that Inflexion Games was pushing back its release to sometime in the first half of 2023.
Now, this is nothing new. It wasn’t even new when everyone and their brother started complaining about pandemic-related delays back in 2020. Roughly a quarter of my (admittedly excessive) Steam wish list is taken up by games that aren’t out yet, and at least one of those has been on my wish list since 2017. Games take a long time to make, and indie games often take longer as they’re passion projects rather than full time jobs for dozens or hundreds of people. Even when I back a game on Kickstarter, I don’t ever expect it by the anticipated release date, and am usually pleasantly surprised when the key shows up in my email.
Now, I understand why AAA publishers drop release dates early. They need a lot of hype to validate their big budgets, and many also come with physical releases, which retailers like to be able to plan for. But when it’s so very easy to set the release date on steam as “Coming Soon” or “TBA” – why do developers publicize their targets and risk disappointing their intended audience?
I’d already been ruminating about this a bit, when Naithin made a post talking about the games he was looking forward to that are supposed to release before the end of the year. In it, he talked about a couple of titles that would have been on his list, but have already announced their delays.
For me, I prefer if a developer doesn’t guess at a release date until it’s fairly close, but I also have no qualms about wish-listing games that may not be out for years, if they ever show up at all. What I have noticed is that the discussion threads on Steam tend to get a little heated when dates keep getting pushed back with little or no other communication. Since obviously, Steam doesn’t require a concrete date in order to get a store page up, why use projected release dates that are months or years in the future? Is the attention gained from goals that go unmet better than from the honesty that a game will release when it’s done?
Obviously, I’m not a developer, and I really have only the slightest inkling of how long it should take for a game to go from an idea to a finished product (or, at least to a playable Early Access build, if that’s the route one chooses to go). I do know that constantly shifting release dates, even in these unprecedented times erode consumer confidence, and to me, that feels like a direct route to devaluing your brand.