How Far in Advance Are Video Game Release Dates Planned?

Video games are often made by big corporations. They have numerous developers, directors, accountants, marketers, producers, and more working there, making sure everything goes as it should. It's one of the perks of working at a billion-dollar company that those working there should have all the amenities and supplies they need to not only do their job but do it well. As such, something like a release date for the game that the company is making should be an easy thing to set. However, with recent examples of The Last of Us Part II, Watch Dogs: Legion, and Doom Eternal having to push their release dates to later periods, one has to wonder, do corporations truly plan releases ahead of time?

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Conventional wisdom states that anyone and everyone makes mistakes sometimes and that these kinds of faux pas are the exception and not the rule. If and while that can be the case, there's a precedent for why we as consumers expect this not to be. If you listen to any video game journalist who is discussing the matter of release dates, they will often tell you, despite acknowledging that they don't have first-hand knowledge, that corporations know what they're doing. They claim that there are people who work for these corporations whose job it is to plan these things out and make projections or exact times when these projects will be completed. They need to do this because many of these corporations are public and they need to keep their investors and stockholders informed.

Now, on face value, this makes complete sense. If you look at other forms of entertainment and how those industries operate, you would assume that they work in similar ways. Many movie studios will announce the theater date for a movie years in advance, and while delays happen, they are rare. Something could go wrong during the production of a movie, such as an actor getting hurt or difficulty finding a writer or director, and the project will remain on schedule. Albums can be teased as they're being made but once a release date is announced, it typically sticks to that date. TV shows rarely miss their time slot on their channel. Typically, it's only when breaking news or an emergency supersedes the broadcast of an episode.

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The Last Of Us 2

Going back to video games, however, while delays aren't what could be called the norm, they do happen often enough that it's common for people to speculate if a certain title will make that release date. Examples of this recently include Kingdom Hearts III, and the aforementioned The Last of Us Part II. Usually, this tends to follow games that have been in development for a long time and haven't had a lot to show to the public despite being announced early, which is something other industries rarely have happen. Once a project is greenlit in Hollywood, they have a period when the movie or show needs to be done and a time table is usually made to keep the project on track. Albums do this as well but only when the album is almost done or actually completed since the creation process can be unpredictable.

So what about the video games industry? Well, we can look at four examples of the video games industry and release dates. You have a title like Rise of the Tomb Raider, which kept to its November 10, 2015 release date, and mostly got overlooked at launch due to Fallout 4 releasing the same day. We can also look at Fallout 4, which revealed itself six months before it was released. We also have games like Anthem, which just kept on developing for five years before publisher Electronic Arts finally decided to pull the plug and demand that it be released soon, only for it to be delayed as well. And finally, we have a title like Final Fantasy XV, which was practically vaporware at one point as it suffered multiple delays and was finally released 10 years after its initial announcement.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

If you look at all these examples, as well as the recent delays, I think it can be assumed or at least an argument can be made that each video game corporation operates differently. However, considering that titles like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy XV are from the same publisher, ultimately it can be said that there is not a business standard the way there is with movies or albums. Furthermore, a lot of these delays tend to be because game development, whether it be in the planning stages, in beta, or in need of an additional polish, is not complete. It's never a marketing issue, a corporate issue, or anything else.

Therefore, it seems there's a disconnect between the corporate side of things or at the very least the planning side of things and the development side of things. Specifically, the corporate side still doesn't seem to understand how long it takes to make a video game. There are many factors that go into the development of a video game, including the studio's previous experience, the style of game they're currently making and the resources they have at their disposal, but all that would be understood and taken into consideration with multiple possible outcomes considered while planning a production road map in any other industry.

In summation, it stands to reason that we all need to realize that we don't fully understand what it takes to develop, produce, and release a video game. The disheartening thing is that it includes the bigwigs writing the checks and making the big decisions. There are already huge problems with the industry currently and it ultimately can be surmised by this conclusion. It comes down to those in charge not being informed but having the hubris to believe they are or that they can get away with it.

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