A screenshot of an Overwatch 2 cinematic.
Image: Blizzard Entertainment

The year of the game delay won’t end with 2021

Protocol Gaming

This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Game delays are the new normal, everyone shares their opinions on the metaverse, and indie darling Devolver Digital goes public.

Are game delays the new normal?

Each week brings a new series of game delays. Last week, there were four: Electronic Arts' EA Sports PGA Tour; Take-Two's new Marvel game, Midnight Suns, from subsidiary Firaxis; and two major setbacks for Blizzard Entertainment with Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 being pushed back indefinitely. A number of gaming publications now keep a running list of this year's delays, and it's grown long.

Unfortunately, this feels like the new normal for the game industry. Developers have had the last 18 months or so to adjust to the new reality of operating fully remote or in a hybrid setting during the pandemic. But the delays we're seeing now seem less like ongoing reactions to COVID-19 and more like systemic inefficiencies in the video game release model, which remains stuck between the brick-and-mortar boxed product era and the games-as-a-service model that's been taking over for years now.

Game publishers are still incentivized to push for unrealistic release dates. Due to ongoing industry consolidation and big acquisition spending sprees, many of the biggest game makers today are part of publicly traded corporations beholden to shareholders, which like to see aggressive release schedules and a near-constant cadence of big hits and reliable revenue streams.

  • This mindset has never made a lot of sense in the context of game development, which is a complicated and costly multiyear creative process unlike any other existing entertainment media. Games are hard to make, and sometimes the process goes awry. Meanwhile, turnover is high in the industry, and swaths of new studios are stealing away talent from established players.
  • Blizzard's delays in particular are partly the result of management issues at the highest levels of the studio in the wake of its ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination crisis. "Increased competition in the market for our talent and higher voluntary turnover" has also played a role, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said on an earnings call last week.
  • "As we have worked with new leadership in Blizzard and within the franchises themselves, particularly in certain key creative roles, it has become apparent that some of the Blizzard content planned for next year will benefit from more development time to reach its full potential," Kotick added.

Release dates are less important these days, for certain games. Many of the most popular titles release as early access free-to-play games that are constantly updated over time, making an initial release date an irrelevant window quickly forgotten about. But many major studios are stuck straddling the line, with some free-to-play titles but other franchises that depend on competitive holiday sales and heavy release-day marketing.

  • Such release date showdowns play out mostly in the shooter genre, home to major series like Call of Duty and Battlefield. Both of those franchises are battling it out this holiday season, after EA delayed Battlefield 2042 by one month and put it head-to-head against Call of Duty: Vanguard.
  • Microsoft will be entering the game late this December with Halo Infinite, after a yearlong delay from its original 2020 release date. But because the new Halo is both partly free-to-play and included with Xbox Game Pass, the game's success won't depend solely on sales.
  • Release dates will of course still matter for big single-player games, like Sony's Horizon Forbidden West (delayed to early next year) and From Software's Elden Ring (delayed by a month to February 2022). But more and more studios are shifting their strategies to games-as-a-service models, helping mitigate the downsides of delays and competitive release windows.

The pitfalls of Cyberpunk 2077 still loom large. It's easy to forget that this time a year ago we were all eagerly awaiting one of the most anticipated games of the last console generation. CD Projekt Red's open-world role-playing game did sell a lot of copies thanks mostly to pre-release hype, but it was a buggy mess, and Sony eventually pulled it from its digital store.

  • CDPR's reputation has yet to recover from the launch disaster, and the company is still struggling to fully patch Cyberpunk while also making good on its promise to release next-gen console versions and planned DLC.
  • Many game studios can now look at Cyberpunk as a cautionary tale, after CDPR developers blamed the studio's upper management for why the game was released in such a sorry state even after it was delayed numerous times.
  • Some game studios are now employing a kind of half-measure by stripping out promised features from launch and shipping them after the fact, as Microsoft is doing with Halo Infinite's co-op multiplayer mode to ensure the game meets its December deadline.

The classic Shigeru Miyamoto quote — "A delayed game is eventually good; a bad game is bad forever" — gets tossed around a lot these days, usually from fans in the Twitter replies to a game delay announcement as a conciliatory gesture.

But the quote is less true now than ever; just look at Cyberpunk 2077. The industry is moving away from models that require launch-day perfection, mainly because developers can't possibly release flawless products while also consistently creating bigger, more expensive and more complicated game worlds. As such, games are now shipping more often in early access, relying more heavily on public alpha and beta testing, and sometimes just being pushed out the door unfinished. The one constant we can expect is many more delays, well beyond 2021.


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  • "I'm skeptical that we're going to wake up in the morning and intentionally sit at home, strap on our headsets and conduct all of our daily activities that way. We had to do that during the pandemic, and we don't really like it so much." ―Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick gave his thoughts on the metaverse during an interview with CNBC last week, saying he was not totally sold on Mark Zuckerberg's vision. Zelnick added that Take-Two is already in the metaverse business with Grand Theft Auto Online.
  • "I think that in the context of the games we create and the live services that we offer, collectible digital content is going to play a meaningful part in our future. So, it's still early to tell, but I think we're in a really good position, and we should expect us to kind of think more innovatively and creatively about that on a go-forward basis." ―Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson was a bit more optimistic about the metaverse when asked during the company's earnings call last week, though the company has yet to announce any formal blockchain gaming plans.
  • "You can absolutely expect us to do things in gaming. If you take Halo as a game, it is a metaverse. Minecraft is a metaverse, and so is Flight Sim. In some sense, they're 2D today, and the question is can you now take that to a full 3D world, and we absolutely plan to do so." ―Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is bullish about a metaverse for the workplace, but he was careful in an interview with Bloomberg TV last week not to downplay the role Xbox and the company's gaming business will play in the space.


On Protocol: NFTs and the broader blockchain gaming sector are promising players — many of them in developing countries — real-world earnings, either in cryptocurrency or valuable and unique in-game items. But that comes with all sorts of complex real-world tax implications, reports Protocol's Hirsh Chitkara.
Take-Two cancels a $53 million project. Rockstar parent company Take-Two Interactive last week canceled a game project it had sunk tens of millions into, Bloomberg reported. The project, code-named Volt, was under Take-Two subsidiary 2K Games' Hangar 13 studio, but it reportedly needed too long of a development runway.
Some Harry Potter games are hits, some are not. Last week, Pokémon Go creator Niantic announced it would be ending its Harry Potter AR game in January. Meanwhile, NetEase's Harry Potter: Magic Awakened for the Asia market has become the second-most successful game based on Harry Potter to date, earning $228 million in two months.
Microsoft's metaverse plan starts with meetings. Microsoft added its own twist to the ongoing metaverse conversation last week with its announcement of Mesh for Teams. The feature brings more lifelike virtual avatars to the company's video chat and collaboration platform. Thankfully, it doesn't require you to strap a screen to your face — not yet at least.
Devolver Digital goes public. Indie publisher Devolver went live on the London Stock Exchange last week, Gamesindustry.biz reported, making it the largest U.S. game maker to ever do so. Big-name investors include Sony and NetEase, and Devolver was valued at just under $1 billion at the time of its debut.
Zynga resurrects FarmVille. Seven years after the release of FarmVille 2, Zynga has brought the simulator game back with a third iteration for mobile, TechCrunch reported. The game has been in the works since Zynga CEO Frank Gibeau took over in 2016 and opened a new studio for free-to-play development in Helsinki.
Ubisoft is still in turmoil. The French publisher has been roiled by a series of connected workplace culture crises for the past couple of years, and it's not abating. Last week, employees belonging to the ABetterUbisoft movement published a petition calling for change, while the company's Canadian arm is now issuing pay raises to stop an exodus of high talent, Kotaku reported.
Activision Blizzard delivers some bad news. The company, still grappling with its workplace discrimination crisis, announced last week that in addition to Blizzard game delays, studio co-president Jen Oneal is stepping down. That leaves Mike Ybarra the sole leader in charge of the studio.

Blockchain gaming hires

Zynga on Monday announced its hiring of D20 founder and former Coca-Cola exec Matt Wolf to be its vice president of Blockchain Gaming. Wolf's job will be "to integrate non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and blockchain technology into Zynga's existing portfolio and owned IP, as well as to develop games from inception that are built with NFTs as part of the core gameplay loop."

This is likely the first of many such positions that will be created and then quickly filled in the coming months, as big game developers try and stay ahead of the blockchain gaming boom accelerated by Facebook's transformation into Meta and the eye-popping fundraising spree in the NFT gaming market.

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