It’s astounding how much work goes into making a game.
Most AAA titles spend at least a few years in development. These are not simple pieces of code that can be written ‘jam style‘ in a weekend. AAA games represent the best the videogame industry has to offer. So why is it that there are times where a game is hyped by its publisher all through its development cycle, but when it comes time to drop this title on the general public sometimes it’s with a whisper? There are cases every year where a game is announced with a ridiculous amount fanfare, but when it comes time for writers like myself and the staff here at CGM to get our hands on it I get the impression that the publisher was secretly hoping we’d forget about it.
“You never really believed in this game, did you?”
First of all, not every game that’s announced makes it to market. It’s no surprise that over the course of a year game journalists and gamers alike find out that game X or Y has been delayed indefinitely or outright canceled. This is part of the business and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most often games are canceled due to quality issues or projects running over budget. Basically the publisher, the one bank rolling the title, will just decided that enough is enough. Publishers will normally make a call like this if they can no longer continue to support development on a title that isn’t going to perform the way they want it to. Not releasing a game sucks, but there are options. Assets can be re-purposed, developers can be reassigned and money spent can be recouped. Releasing a terrible game can be even worse than canceling one because after all – you’re only as good as your last game. What bothers me is that sometimes a publisher will reach this decision far too late in the process and instead of canceling a title before it goes to market they will simply hide it from members of the press, hope that they forget about it, and then prey on unsuspecting consumers or uninformed moms to recoup their costs. When a publisher doesn’t allow for a review of their game I always wonder, “What are they hiding?”
“If publishers don’t believe in their children, why the hell should gamers?”
Over the years I’ve learned a lot about this business from some really amazing people. As I learn, grow, and change over time I feel that the one thing that will never change about me is that I’m a journalist first and a gamer second. It is not only my job but also the game journalists mandate to educate the readers and gamers out there on what’s worth your attention and, most importantly, your hard earned money. When a publisher doesn’t allow for a review of their game before it hits the market, I feel that they’re basically banking on your ignorance. This is in hope that they might sell a few thousand units before word gets out on how terrible a title might be. However, I will acknowledge that sometimes stuff happens. There can be supply chain issues, PR screw ups, or a million other reasons why a title isn’t available to be reviewed. It’s a shame because sometime I feel that it’s because either a publisher assumes a game is going to get universally panned or is unsure about how the critics will react, which says to me: “You never really believed in this game, did you?” If that’s the case, why bother with all the hype? Why spend millions of dollars marketing a title that you never thought was going to do well or be any type of good? If I were a game developer and I found out that a title I’d spent the last two or three years of my life working on wasn’t being sent to magazines, blogs, or websites for review I’d be pretty damn upset. Not to mention that it hits journalists in the pocket as well. Unless you have a super popular website that gets bought by a massive corporation, I doubt you’re a game journalist and rich. Personally, I make a very meager living doing what I love and that’s fine, but when I am waiting for a game to review and the publisher just decides “Naaw they’ll hate it, no review copy for them,” that’s my paycheck they’ve just canceled.
Fortunately there have been cases where games have succeeded without many formal reviews. Word of mouth is still a great way to find out what’s worth your money, but that still requires at least one person to take a chance. Like any other form of entertainment, sometimes you roll the dice and lose. Personally, I would rather see a publisher eat their babies than be a cold uncaring parent. If you don’t believe in a game, cancel it or better yet don’t green-light a project to begin with. If you really do need to release a specific title than do so with all the faith and support you can muster. The harsh reality is that this is a very cruel and unforgiving world – and if publishers don’t believe in their children, why the hell should gamers?