When do you want to start seeing footage from an upcoming game? Do you want to see clips of it in its most raw state? Is seeing alphas and betas appealing to you? Or do you only want to see videos when things are almost done. It is something companies struggle with every day. When do you finally reveal gameplay to the public? But the answer might just be that any time is a good time, as long as you are upfront with people about the current state of the game and your expectations.
CD Projekt Red is one developer dealing with this. At E3 2018, it was showing off behind-closed-doors footage of Cyberpunk 2077. When the reel was made, the game was in a sort of alpha state. It was not even possible to play the basic elements from start to finish. Still, about 48 minutes was available. The public clamored for access, and on August 27, 2018 CD Projekt Red answered with the footage. However, the company expressed concern over it both at the end of the video itself, hidden in a secret message, and in interviews. It was worried the final product might not live up to expectations or what was shown might not excite people. Given the reception, it seems they had nothing to worry about. CD Projekt Red has made clear this is a work in progress, and people are showing an appropriate level of excitement.
Of course, having concerns is normal. Think about what Insomniac went through with Marvel’s Spider-Man. This game was very visible during its development. Sony often showed it off at events like E3. When the actual release date crept up, some people were surprised. They accused Insomniac of downgrading the visuals. This was not the case. Different elements, like video quality and the time of day in the game, had an impact on the overall quality of some footage. Plus, the other videos were works in progress. Still, hearing such criticisms could make a developer uneasy.
The important thing is to avoid misrepresentation. If companies are upfront about things being alpha or beta footage, maybe even putting disclaimers in the videos, people will understand. As long as no one is pulling a Gearbox and Sega move, ala Aliens: Colonial Marines, there will hopefully not be a backlash. Making sure it is established that things could change gives people a chance to get hyped up and anticipate how games may turn out. It gives us insight into the development process. Lots of companies even already preface such footage by putting notes in them or a subtitle that says it is not final.
Besides, having this kind of footage is important for historical purposes. We don’t often get very detailed looks at games while they are growing. If we are lucky and a title is popular enough, maybe some of the best storyboards, early screenshots, or builds will get a little attention after launch. These sorts of early bits of footage are a way to chart progress, see growth, and learn how projects evolve. Scaring companies away from sharing such things does not benefit the greater community.
Releasing early footage from a game is a difficult decision to make. Companies are putting their hard work on the line. The footage may not represent a final product. While it could pay off and generate hype, it could also result in negative responses criticizing the progress so far. After the full game is out, it might even make people critique the final project and claim early footage was a lie. But as long as companies are honest about things being based on early builds, everything should be fine and it should be a way to give people a look at how game development works.