Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the media and gaming industries. This Friday, we’re taking a look at the release date controversy surrounding Sony’s God of War Ragnarök, as well as what to read, watch and play this weekend.
The year of the delay looms over God of War Ragnarök
The game industry has had a tough time in 2022. Some game companies are resorting to layoffs and canceling projects, and many more have pushed their anticipated releases to next year. That has left a massive hole in the release calendar for the remainder of the summer and fall, with just a handful of console exclusives and the next Call of Duty to look forward to.
Yet no game maker is feeling the pressure to make a deadline quite like Santa Monica Studio, the developer behind God of War Ragnarök. The Sony subsidiary is on the hook to deliver its sequel by year’s end — one of the last remaining holdouts that could help salvage the second half of 2022 — with astronomical expectations for another bestseller in line with the critically acclaimed 2018 reboot.
But there’s no release date yet, leading to speculation of an impending delay. And now, studio representatives have begun pleading with fans to exercise patience.
The recent controversy started with a leak. As many of these episodes begin in an industry that shrouds itself in NDA-protected secrecy, the leaker’s information was thin and largely unverified, delivered largely in a series of cryptic tweets.
- An anonymous Twitter user, named The Snitch, suggested God of War Ragnarök would get its long-awaited release date yesterday, after Bloomberg reported earlier this month that a November time frame was still on the table.
- The day came and went with no info from Sony. Producer Cory Barlog, who often acts as the public face of Santa Monica, took to Twitter to ask that fans understand his position and give them the benefit of the doubt.
- “Dear all, if it were up to me I would share all the information when I know about it. But it is not up to me. So please, be patient. I promise things will be shared at the earliest possible moment they can be,” Barlog wrote. Later, when implored by a fan to just admit Ragnarök would be delayed, Barlog was emphatic in saying no delay had happened — at least not yet.
- Gaming personality Alanah Pearce, a writer on Ragnarök, was more critical, telling fans on Twitter that “screaming” and “harassing” developers was not acceptable and wouldn’t get them a release date any faster. (Barlog later tweeted an expletive-filled critique of some of the harassers in question.)
God of War may be trapped in a Catch-22. Speculation is running rampant right now over Sony’s strategy around Ragnarök, and at least one plausible theory has emerged: Santa Monica doesn’t want to commit to a release date if it means having to disappoint fans with a delay.
- Countless developers over the past few years have tried committing to firm release dates, only to resort to eventual apologetic Twitter statements announcing delays. The list keeps growing.
- Nintendo delayed The Breath of the Wild sequel, Microsoft delayed Bethesda’s Starfield and Blizzard delayed Diablo 4. In 2021, Elden Ring, Horizon Forbidden West and Overwatch 2 were all pushed to the following year, too. In 2020, Cyberpunk 2077 arrived as a buggy mess after not one or even two but three delays.
- Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, who initially reported a November release window for the game, confirmed the rumor yesterday, writing on Twitter, “As of very recently, there was indeed a release date announcement planned for Thursday, June 30, per people familiar.” Schreier said it appears the announcement was scrapped, pointing to Barlog’s tweets, but he also said he hasn’t heard of a delay.
- The silence from Sony here suggests it doesn’t want to commit to a release date until it’s absolutely sure the studio can meet it, and Santa Monica is no doubt in the final stages of trying to get the product across the finish line.
- By not announcing anything yet, fans are assuming the worst; if Sony did announce a release date and then delayed the game, it would be met with fierce backlash. It’s a lose-lose.
Delays are not ideal, but marketing misfires are worse. The game industry has learned a lot of hard lessons of late, especially around planning during the pandemic and trying to manage fan expectations when dealing with projects that are many months or years away from release.
- Games are sometimes pushed out the door on time, but the cautionary tales surrounding titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and EA’s Battlefield 2042 have changed attitudes in the industry.
- "CD Projekt is one of the most respected games studios in the world. And they released a game so broken that Sony pulled it from their own digital store. That's unprecedented. That's humiliating,” one game director told GamesIndustry.biz in an article about the industry’s attitudes toward development cycles and release schedules. “We saw Cyberpunk and decided it wasn't worth the risk. I suspect that was a wake-up call across the industry."
- Delays have become more commonplace, but so, too, has a heightened level of transparency between game studios and fans. That’s created precarious relationships in which companies have to be extra careful how they communicate so as to not set unrealistic expectations or set consumers up for disappointment.
- Microsoft, for instance, carefully threaded the needle earlier this month during its Xbox and Bethesda showcase by only showing games “targeted to launch” over the next 12 months. But the gaming community can be fickle, temperamental and prone to lashing out, and it’s often an impossible situation for some companies to manage.
Santa Monica’s Barlog enjoys a more direct line of communication to Sony and God of War fans as a visible public figure on Twitter. But even Barlog has a boss, and it’s now clear the higher-ups in charge at Sony are calling the shots when it comes to when and under what circumstances the studio can disclose its release plans for Ragnarök.
It’s likely anxiety-inducing for Barlog and his team, but the game industry might believe, rightfully so, that a delay in secret is better than an apology in public.
— Nick Statt
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#TGIF: How to spend your weekend
The enduring popularity of the roguelike deckbuilder — The Verge. The surprising combination of two of the most influential video game genres into the so-called roguelike deckbuilder has, against all odds, inspired a massive and enduring movement in the indie game community. In a great new report for The Verge, writer Lewis Gordon spoke to early pioneers like Magic The Gathering creator Richard Garfield, Slay The Spire designer Anthony Giovannetti and Signs of the Sojourner maker Dyala Kattan-Wright about the evolution of card games and procedural design, and why so many breakout Steam hits these days are incorporating elements of the genre.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” — Apple TV+. A Coen Brothers take on Macbeth ends up being a lot more interesting than it sounds, thanks in part to the noted absence of Ethan Coen. Directed by Joel Coen, in his solo directorial debut, this monochrome and rather faithful adaptation of the classic Shakespeare tale is a big departure from the duo’s typical dark humor-infused Americana, featuring a legendary performance by Denzel Washington as the title character. The A24 film was released last year in a limited theatrical run, but it did pick up three Oscar nominations and landed on Apple TV+ back in January.
“Stranger Things Vol. 2” — Netflix. The finale of Stranger Things’ fourth season debuts today, bringing an end to the show’s most horror-filled and grave storyline to date. Though this volume is billed as a second part to the show’s fourth installment, it is in fact two extra-long additions tacked onto a season already filled with hour-plus episodes. The first will be 85 minutes, and the second is roughly 2.5 hours long. That’s a lot of “Stranger Things” to tide you over this holiday weekend. I’m hoping for a happy ending, though given the tone so far, it sure seems like “Stranger Things Vol. 2” might have its fair share of tragedy, too.
Neon White — PC / Nintendo Switch. Neon White is best described by its inexplicable mashup of genres. It is one part speedrun-friendly parkour game, one part first-person shooter disguised as a deckbuilder and one part … dating sim. The resulting combination somehow works wonderfully, creating a high-octane action platformer that dares you to try to beat your high scores by striving for near-perfect runs. Between the action, you chat with NPCs and can even romance other characters, sending this bizarre gaming concoction to a totally unnecessary but hilarious new height.
— Nick Statt
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