Now that the blazing, celebratory fires of the New Year’s celebrations have settled, (and the mandatory 2015 top ten lists have finally ended) it is time to cast an eye forward towards the big mystery of 2016. Of course, it is the tantalising promise of brand new shiny games which occupies most people’s minds for the year to come. But while 2015 saw some truly outstanding achievements from the industry, it would be folly to forget the terrible blunders taken by some developers and publishers. With the New Year comes a fresh start, and a chance for the videogame industry to set themselves a few self-improvement goals. Will they abide by them, or risk piling back on the pixelated pounds before February? Who really knows; but here are a few of the New Year’s resolutions developers and publishers should tackle.
The first and foremost of which is the issue of delays and release dates. Too many times last year games were hyped up, given a date, then delayed and pushed back, sometimes multiple times. What is worse is that others were even postponed into this year, a fate which has befallen both the new Deus Ex and Uncharted games. It is disheartening, not to mention mind-numbingly frustrating, to have to wait year after year for a game to release, especially when it was first unveiled three years ago. You just want to get your hands on it, and there’s only a certain amount of time you can tolerate the carrot-on-stick dangling in front of you before you snap and lose interest.
This problem has been taken to the extreme, particularly by Square Enix with Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3. These two titles have been stuck in the swampland of public consciousness for years now, unable to free themselves from the tight grip of development and just fall into the laps of eagerly awaiting gamers the world over. The former of the two was first announced almost ten years ago – since then, Square Enix have been feeding players a pitiful trail of breadcrumbs to try and keep interest brewing for the game, but there is only so much a person can take. Worse still, no one knows exactly when Kingdom Hearts 3 will be released, though chances are it will not be in 2016. It is simply unbelievable.
However, 2015 did see one big developer show the industry just how it’s done. Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 4 was one of the most effective marketing strategies employed for a game in recent memory. Gamers had known for years that Bethesda was developing the new Fallout game, ever since the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim back in 2011. They could have announced the game back in 2013, even the year before, but they kept the game under their power armour helmets. Fast-forward to E3 2015 and Bethesda host their first ever press conference at the prestigious event, and reveal to the baying public Fallout 4 in all its glory for the first time (though a trailer did surface a week before.) The developer wowed audiences the world over, yet it was their final revelation which brought the house crashing down in celebration. Fallout 4 would release in only five months’ time, at the end of the year.
The short lead time between first reveal and release day was a stroke of genius by Bethesda and ZeniMax. The hype-train was speeding along at fever-pitch, with no chance of slowing down. As a result, there was none of the burnout which often comes stringing out a game year after year. It was a much welcomed change, and one which the rest of the triple-A industry should take note of. Saving your game up, keeping it in the dark until it’s almost cooked, should be the new industry norm. It would relieve years of potential disappointment and delays.
Of course, this resolution is fraught with danger for publishers. They all want to achieve the maximum possible sales, and the majority of these are dictated by thorough and prolonged marketing campaigns. Announcing their latest game a year or more in advance allows time for the title to assimilate into the public mind, to gain that marketing momentum needed for the game to even potentially be a success. Reducing that valuable lead time to only 5-6 months could spell problems, yet for established IP in the same vein as Fallout, such a short span should not really be an issue, and might, as it was proven last year, work in a game’s favour. That said, for a brand new IP the tactic is not as sound. Awareness needs to be drummed up in order for a new idea to have even the remotest chance of succeeding, and thus the five month plan would not work.
However, on the whole, there is no reason for big publishers to lead gamers on years-long rambles. Keeping the cards close to their chest until the last possible minute can only be beneficial, and it’s the New Year’s resolution the industry most needs to take to heart. In fact, it’s a must. People want to play games, not sit there imagining themselves playing them in two years’ time, because even when they get them the game can’t match expectations. True, the hype and excitement surrounding the announcement and build-up to release is great, but it does not need to go on for a year, two, or especially nearly a decade. By that time it is even possible to see excitement dwindle, or have a game’s contents spoiled. The five month gap demonstrated by Bethesda is almost perfect, and is more than enough to create enough enthusiasm and anticipation need to satisfy both the gamer and the publisher.