Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why are most games always delayed at the last minute?

This is the big question that a lot of people have, though most don't seem to understand why. Let me give you a situation:

You're waiting for that new, big AAA game to come out and you're told it's going to come out in September of 2012. As your anticipation grows, the deadline to the release looms closer and closer. Then, out of nowhere, the game is now delayed and pushed to December of 2012. That sucks, but it's not too long, right?

As that deadline too looms, you find that the game is delayed yet again, this time until next year in March! That sucks! Damnit! Why did they do it?? Well, I'm going to tell you why.

Money.

The truth is that most games (but not all) are actually completed long before their release date, so read on to find out the truth.

Corporations work on what's called a "Fiscal Year" and that is not the same as the actual year. Whereas we all live in January-December as our year, most corporations (Game companies included) will start their "year" in a random month, such as March. That means their company's "Fiscal Year" (google that term if you don't understand what it means) begins in March and that's when the Shareholders and those who own the company and provide them money look to forecast the future of the company's performance.

What happens is when that AAA title you've been waiting for in September gets delayed, it's more often than not (but not always, don't forget that) because of the "Fiscal Year." Allow me to explain. The company making the game, Company X, is releasing Game Y.

The game is set to release in September of 2012, and their next "Fiscal Year" begins in March of 2013. The company already knows they're not releasing the game in September, they had no intention of ever doing that. They needed to put that down as the date to entice people to keep their attention on it so they don't lose press coverage.

They always planned to wait until their next "Fiscal Year" to release it. The reason for this is because releasing a big-name game (or any game for that matter) that is going to be the most profitable will show Stockholders that they're set to make more money.

Now, you may be asking yourself "Well, why the fuck don't they just release it earlier? Why do they wait?" - Well, this I will explain as well.

When a company has a huge game they're releasing, a couple of things happen. First, this company is a Publicly Traded Company, which means they answer to Shareholders and they must show profits at all times. When Company X is set to release Game Y, they need to make sure that it aligns with their "Fiscal Year" to maximize profits during that period while not hurting their next "Fiscal Year."

What this means is if their "Fiscal Year" begins in March and if they release the game in December, that means they probably don't have another huge game coming in the next year to release during the next "Fiscal Year" to show that they're still making huge profits. The best thing to do, in their mind, is not release a game at the end of a "Fiscal Year" because any profits that are shown will only show up for the previous "Fiscal Year" because people would have already bought the game and sales will not stay strong 6 Months after a game is released.

Doing this makes their "Fiscal Year" starting in 2013 show a huge amount of sales and profit, thus carrying their company into the next year and boosting their companies values as well as Shareholders dividends and CEO's/Executives Paychecks. Of course, this fucks over the Consumer because they are forced to wait and wait for a game that all the while they're saying "needs to be polished" when in reality most games are done several months BEFORE their release date, but they need to coincide the release date with the "Fiscal Year" to meet the Publisher demands.

It seems very complex but it is all really simple when you think about it. It is all for profit, profit at the expense of the consumer.

Have you ever wondered why there are Day 1 Patches that they release? How can they already have to fix bugs? The reason is the same as I posted above and solidifies the truth: The games are already stamped and you can't go back and patch a Game Disc now can you?

9 comments:

  1. As a developer in the industry I would disagree. Every single game I have worked on has been delayed due one of two reasons:

    A) Bugs that are either introduced or discovered late in development, typically ones involving obscure driver/software combinations.

    B) Logistical issues like servers or distribution

    I have seen initial game release dates try and target something like a fiscal quarter to make accountants happy, but in reality the most of the release time considerations are made to make the marketers happy. So if the game is ready in the ballpark of something like christmas then they might hold onto it for a month or so.

    Now the sub-contractors or developers under contract do get potentially screwed by fiscal quarters. We could finish a game, we see the game ship, we can play the game...but it might be months before we get paid out on our contract because big companies will typically only do contract payouts four times a year.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment, as it's good to hear more from developers in the field. As I said in the post not every game is like this, in fact there are quite a few that aren't, but the huge AAA games and games that are heavily promoted are the ones that get hit.

      I too am in the Game industry, I am not just some dude who has a thought. I have been involved in the Game industry as a Writer for over 10 years and I have simply grown sick of seeing the bullshit the bigwigs want to push onto the consumers.

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  2. Hello Mad Mod Mike, I glad someone is making a blog about this. And you are right about the fiscal year. Shareholders are one of the many reasons why gaming is hurting today, not to mention they also DO not like taking risks....aka innovating.

    I might let you read it, while its not long, I wrote a paper on how Publisher abuse the copyright laws to make themselves more money on a developer's idea, while short handing the developer outright. I hope you go into that and finally expose the truth about IP's and copy right laws and how they abuse the vague nature of these laws.

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  3. things like this and DRM, disc locked content sold as DLC, region pricing and other bullshit practices hurt the gaming. but my faith is restored thanks to things like kickstarter and humblebundle (and other indie bundles). Indie publishing is the soul of gaming. fair prices, money goes to developers and in many cases, (like humblebundle) charity and most important, really awesome and innovative games.

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  4. This article makes sense, and yes it does suck.. Yes, it's commercial and gaming is a multi-billion dollar business now (that's a lot of dosh!).

    Shareholders make it financially possible for 'blockbuster' games to be developed. They look for a few things, the main being income and capital growth (US seems to be more about capital growth - hence why game developers rely on blockbusters generating ongoing income and at 'particular times' for reporting season).

    Like any form of entertainment - unless you develop something that's going to provide 'solid' income for years to come, you are only as good as your last hit. So maintaining the brand (goodwill) they will try to drag some releases out (hence why product mngers prefer 'specific' release times)

    I don't know the industry that well, however I can imagine that you would have to pay for;

    -Talent (good people don't work for free, remember?)
    - Fixed costs (rent/hardware/servers etc)
    - Marketing (including distribution/advertising/focus groups and what not)
    - Legal (especially when devp patents, licensing etc - you'd be surprised as to how much it costs to create those T&Cs that most people ignore for any product, let alone protection of intellectual property).

    Now when you're creating a game that's catering to millions of people, you would want to have plenty of money to sort this out. Given the amount of pirating out there, the small developer would find it difficult to make ends meet (it's sad, but true)..

    I guess it doesn't help that some publishers rort their staff to line their own pockets, though I can't really comment on the politics inside the industry. The indie gaming industry is good in the way they leverage distribution through some of the big players without having to worry about all the major overheads - though some of them would get eaten up eventually.

    I have probably just pointed out the obvious, but if I held a share in one of these companies, yes selfishly I would also like to see a return.. Otherwise I'd just put my money into Google .. ;)

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  5. do you think this is what happened with the new tomb raider? the game, i believe, was gonna come out this year and then bam many many months later they say TR will come out.

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    1. That's absolutely what happened. They didn't want people to lose interest in the game nor have it compete against any other games so they delay it to meet their profit goals.

      It's despicable.

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  6. curious how numerous these consumers that they're targetting are. i never lose interest in a game based on anything short of changes they make that I don't like after the day I see a preview of it, or if a similar game comes out of nowhere and actually looks better.

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    1. Yeah, but more then a few do forget about games to be released if updates are not readily available over time, or their release is severely overshadowed by the stronger publicity for a different game, even if Game X and Game Y are being released in different quarters.

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