Can killer apps kill a console launch?
One of the biggest draws of a next-gen console launch is the games library. The hardware certainly takes center stage, showcasing the next step in console evolution, but the games are always what make or break a system. With the Xbox One, we’ll get enhanced features such as integrated motion-sensing technology that will allow for a complete hands-free experience in some games, where the PlayStation 4 will continue to innovate by adding touch-pad capabilities to its DualShock controller (not to mention it was Sony who backed the correct horse during the current-gen by picking Blu-ray over HD DVD as Microsoft did). So both powerhouses know a thing or two about hardware. However, one major piece of the launch puzzle they have less control over is exactly what their launch libraries will look like. All the awesome tech in the world isn’t going to mean a thing without some stellar titles to prop it up.
Ubisoft recently announced that one of the bigger launch titles, Watch_Dogs, would be delayed until Spring 2014. In a post on their official blog, the Watch_Dogs development team writes: “Our ambition from the start with Watch_Dogs has been to deliver something that embodies what we wanted to see in the next-generation of gaming. It is with this in mind that we’ve made the tough decision to delay the release until spring 2014.We know a lot of you are probably wondering: Why now? We struggled with whether we would delay the game. But from the beginning, we have adopted the attitude that we will not compromise on quality.”
Now, the line regarding “compromise on quality” is what struck me most and is the central theme of this article; how much of a delay is too much in the eyes of gamers?
Also, we have a bit of “eggs in one basket” scenario. With more than one next-gen title being handled by Ubisoft, you have to expect that delays in one area may spill over into other departments. This may be the case, as the team also recently announced their intent to delay The Crew even longer than its predecessor (possibly not coming till this time next year).
Oh, and just to top off the bad-news trifecta, we hear rumblings that Driveclub (yet another PS4 launch title) may also be delayed. At this time, this should be seen as complete speculation (as it has yet to be confirmed), but our next-gen launch library continues to dwindle.
There is such a thing as “striking while the iron’s hot,” as they say. One of the biggest assets of a game like Watch_Dogs is launch-title status. Much of the buzz and hype was centered on that status. So, with being pushed well into next year (almost six months after launch, depending on what month in spring they choose), will it still be worth it? Will the decision to delay Watch_Dogs in an attempt to polish it actually halt the momentum of the game?
I recently touched on the size and scope of game development. It makes me wonder if these two issues aren’t one in the same. I don’t remember many classic titles being delayed to such great extents. The reason is, when issues late in the development of a simpler title such as The Legend of Zelda arose, it didn’t take six months to correct them. Now, with game-development crews totaling almost in the 1,000s, the games can almost be compared to a huge ocean liner (resisting the urge to reference Titanic here). A huge tanker in the middle of the ocean can’t turn on a dime, so when a course correction is needed, it takes a long time to steer it a little either way. It seems that with the nature of game development such as it is today, a simple thing like “polishing” becomes a six-month process. I also have to assume that this has some gamers questioning the importance of picking up the next-gen consoles the day of launch when their favorites titles won’t be available for months after.
So this brings us back to the point; should studios, instead of delaying their titles, just grit their teeth and deliver the best content they can in the time they promised to deliver it?
I can see people falling into two camps of thought here. One would almost certainly burn up the forums and blogs with flaming, hate-laced diatribes aimed at the developers who released an “incomplete” or “broken” game. Others will no doubt spend the next six months complaining that studios behind games such as Watch_Dogs didn’t deliver on the promise of releasing a launch title. It’s definitely a rock/hard-place scenario. I can still remember the anemic games library of the Nintendo 64 (with only a few titles such as Mario 64, Crusin’ USA, and Pilotwings 64 available at launch), and it still went on to be one of the most beloved consoles of all time.
So ask yourself; which is more important to you? Would you rather have your games adhere to a strict release date, or do you not mind waiting another half-year for a better version?
I say…is it really so crazy to ask for a little of both?