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XIII And Delaying Games

Read two pieces this week about the evidently launched-as-best-it-can remake of XIII asking why it couldn’t just be delayed until it’s sorted.

Kotaku’s Luke Plunkett gets straight in there with an epic use of “just”, which is invariably a sign that an argument may be a wee bit more complex than the person making it is letting on.

Blaming the pandemic seems pretty weak, since there was surely no super important deadline they had to hit with this! At least 2020’s sports games had an excuse for being a little light, but nobody was demanding a remake of a 2003 shooter land this quarter or else. If the pandemic was causing “unexpected delays”, just…delay the game!

Sometimes I wonder how people manage to write about games for years and years and, well, write this.

Needless to say, it’s more than likely astoundingly wrong and suggesting that a global pandemic isn’t a good enough reason to not get a videogame launch right is certainly something. People are dying, Luke. People are dying.

Anyway. Now that a small amount of big publishers are adding extra time onto development, and of course some small devs are able to take a more luxurious approach to releasing something sometime for whatever reason (someone else paying the bills, contract work or a steady job keeping things ticking over, surviving on noodles) – it does rather seem that a bunch of folks think just delaying a game is always an option. It isn’t.

Making a videogame is a costly endeavour all round. The bigger the game, the more complications at play. The bigger the game and the smaller the studio – oof. Especially at the mid tier where studios can (unfortunately) be surviving from game to game.

Often, a game can’t just be delayed because keeping the lights on and people in work costs money. Every hour of every day there isn’t some money coming in makes that all the more fraught, it can make the difference between someone working on the game and no-one because the studio ran out of money and had to close down.

As folks can see from the recent Capcom hack (No linking, soz), payments to a studio developing a game are often tied to what’s called “milestones”, essentially the game must be at a certain stage for the studio to get paid. The longer a gap between milestones, the more money the studio leaks.

The amount of leeway a studio has to move milestones along can vary. Maybe the publisher or investors can’t or won’t budge, maybe they already have and are putting the pressure on for a release or else scenario, maybe the studio only has enough money to last another month because it’s been a long, difficult, haul. Maybe the staff are just burnt out and exhausted from trying to meet them.

I’m a bit out the game these days but things like studio heads maxing out every line of credit they have, including putting their own homes on the line, has certainly been a thing. Money is finite. People’s ability to work is finite. The tolerance of the people holding the purse strings is finite.

If Ubisoft delay a game, they’re not going to go under (I hope?) from adding a month or two on. That’s simply not a luxury afforded to the bulk of people working in games. Games are costly in time and in money, bills don’t tend to care if a studio has ran into difficulty developing a game, same as they don’t care if I’ve had another rough month cash wise. It’s systemic bullshit, sure, but it exists for all of us. Perhaps a bit of compassion and understanding here, yeah?

“This game certainly needs work”, our old go to standard, at least leaves some room for understanding that the situation is complex and messy where “why don’t you just delay it” does not. Perhaps sticking to the former is best all round as pretty much most devs don’t want to release something less than amazing. Unfortunately for everyone, things happen. Things happening that happen to be a pandemic, that seems like a lot of happening to me. Maybe a dab of compassion wouldn’t harm anyone.

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