Project cancellations in the video game industry are an unfortunate certainty. Some developers and some publishers underestimate the time and budget that is necessary for development, and I'm not just talking about small time devs. This cancellation plague happens to the big boys too. Most recently we saw it happen with Microsoft and their dragon-centric game Scalebound. This game was even being talked about as recently as last year's E3 but it was still canceled back in January 2017.
Microsoft has had a history of cancellations over the years, like Stormlands in 2012 that was eventually released as Tyranny. In 2015, there was the Xbox One reboot of Phantom Dust that was cut short. Even more recently, Fable Legends was canceled, another super high profile title. It seems Microsoft hasn't really been learning from their experiences, even though Xbox head Phil Spencer says they're trying. During an IGN Unlocked podcast he said, “I have learned some things from the Scalebound experience. You'd think I would be smart enough to remember the learnings I have gone through every time, but sometimes when we start something new, we talk about it too early... you go through this process in the public, of what does it mean to try to ship something, and everybody's asking, because you've asked them to ask, because you've announced it. And, I've learned when we try to do something ambitious with a new team, or a new IP, I'd rather not run out there and put a target on it too early.”
It seems Microsoft simply announced Scalebound too early in the development process. It's interesting that Spencer points to that in particular as the downfall of Scalebound, considering the footage that was constantly shown for the game seemed to be very along in the development process. The real reasons for Scalebound's cancellation are still mostly unknown, with suspicions that it might have been in development purgatory. If it wasn't making any progress, there shouldn't have been more trailers released as late as E3 2016.
Announcing a game too early is definitely a no-no if you aren't 1000% sure that it will make it to market. Equally important, however, is how you cover it during the development. The general public likes to be kept in the loop; they like to know what's going on in their world. Especially in the land of game development, where things can be incredibly uncertain. If Microsoft and Platinum Games had been a little bit more upfront earlier on about the development troubles, I think the Scalebound cancellation would have hurt much less.
Large scale cancellations like this are an incredibly difficult subject to handle. You want to let the consumers know if there are going to be issues so they don't get too emotionally (or financially) invested, but you also don't want to hinder sales if the troubles are only temporary. It's a constant tight rope walk that developers and publishers have to tread. You have to dip your toes in the water to figure out what you do or don't tell your customers in any business. When it comes to technology giants like Microsoft however, they really are running out of excuses.
Xbox's Spencer said one more thing on the matter that's relevant, “I'm probably going to be a little more careful about when we announce things-I know people will want a roadmap for the next three years, so that they feel proud of it. I'll balance that a little bit.” Development roadmaps are an excellent idea for developers and consumers alike. In the development process, you never know what is going to happen, but having set goals for everyone to follow along with certainly helps ease the pain when things go wrong.