Over the last couple of years in particular, a few notable games have come under the spotlight with regards to release dates. Dying Light 2 was originally set to release on Dec. 22. This was changed in early October 2021, as Techland announced a delay in release date, pushing the game back to Feb. 4th in 2022.
Amidst the holiday season, some people may have had their Christmas gift ideas for friends and family dashed when a particular video game gets delayed. Not just in 2021, but for years past. On the other hand, holiday gift ideas may have been sprung by a timely delay pushing the release date closer to the big day, as opposed to beyond it.
In today’s piece, we will talk about two of the most notorious instances of delayed games, compare and contrast how and why they did or didn’t work out, then talk about how companies should handle delayed games.
Duke Nukem Forever (2011)
Perhaps the most famous instance of a delayed video game in gaming history, the fourth iteration of the Duke Nukem series was originally set to release all the way back in 1997. It wouldn’t be until nearly fifteen years, finally launching in 2011 for PlayStation 3, XBox 360 and Microsoft Windows.
Let’s say in 1997, you were one of the biggest Duke Nukem fans around. You played the first three games of the series, loved every minute of them, and when the fourth was announced, you had the money ready to go, pre-ordered the game and patiently awaited that faithful launch date every day. Then the game gets delayed over and over again for a period of about four years, before 3D Realms would issue a vague, dismissive announcement on its release date before hushing up about it. Over the next few years, your interest in the series naturally wanes as you get involved with other video games, and you manage to eventually forget about the series entirely. Then, several years later when 3D Realms downsized themselves and a few companies picked the game back up, an official release date is once again announced. You then, after so many years, manage to put the game in your hands, you put it into your system and finally play it. How would you have felt?
Unfortunately, if you were like the average person who played this game, you were feeling anywhere from underwhelmed and annoyed to heartbroken and flabbergasted at how awful Duke Nukem Forever was on the day it finally launched. Duke Nukem Forever was delayed so thoroughly that, even though the game did eventually release, it was clearly a product of its time in which it was initially intended to release. Humor was outdated, mechanics were way too simplistic for a 21st century video game, the game’s story was bland and unimaginative and the overall design was very lacking and rushed, which is ironic for a game that was waiting in the wings for nearly long enough to get its own driver’s license.
Overall, the game got torn apart by critics in 2011 and may go down as one of the most verbally obliterated video games ever. Metacritic gave it a 53/100. Destructoid described the game as being “like a disease” and unceremoniously labeled it the “shittiest game of 2011.”
Overall, unfortunately, this long-awaited next piece of the popular Duke Nukem series was a complete bust despite having such a lengthy delay. It seems that it went so poorly in fact, that Gearhead Studios announced in 2017 that it had no interest in returning to the series, meaning Duke Nukem has presumably been nuked for good.
Now, let’s talk about a different delayed entry which took upon a much different pathway.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild was arguably the most ambitious and one of the riskiest games Nintendo ever developed. It was originally set to be a Wii U exclusive due to release in 2015, though it was delayed twice. It is notable for being the last Nintendo developed Wii U game ever, in addition to being a launch game for the Nintendo Switch.
Breath of the Wild is also notable, as it was the first time Nintendo dipped their fingers into the open gaming world. Breath of the Wild is essentially a sandbox game that doesn’t really give hardline instructions to the player, allowing them a large world to explore at their freedom to go with a compelling storyline.
At the time, it hadn’t been since 2011 that the Legend of Zelda franchise had seen a mainstream title.
Legend of Zelda has proven to be a very popular franchise. So for Breath of the Wild to turn out like Duke Nukem Forever would’ve been absolutely devastating. Considering it was largely attached to a console which was following up a failure of another console, Breath of the Wild figured to be a real make-or-break for Nintendo.
By all accounts, Breath of the Wild was such a rousing success that it set gaming history records that made it one of the biggest hits ever for the gaming titan Nintendo. As 2021 closes out, it has sold nearly 26 million copies, making it one of the highest selling games of all time.
According to Metacritic, Breath of the Wild was not only the greatest game released in 2017, but it also ended up being one of the greatest games of all time as well. Destructoid gave it a flawless 10/10, labeling the game “a new blueprint”
So Duke Nukem Forever sucked while Breath of the Wild was amazing. This brings us to the main point here: when should you be truly concerned when a game gets delayed?
How the games are marketed
Duke Nukem Forever was basically ignored for seven years. Before it even got released, 3D Realms got into legal trouble with their publishing company and were basically dismissive and vague, if they said anything at all, with regards to the game’s process. The company eventually collapsed, and it was picked up by a few smaller companies who did a patchwork job and just threw it on the market.
Breath of the Wild was being handled by a vastly more experienced, professional company in Nintendo. Nintendo not only provided regular updates on the game’s development cycle, but they also notably didn’t piss anyone off legally in the process and didn’t have to hand the game’s development off to development companies lacking significant experience. Nintendo also had plenty of financial incentive to make sure Breath of the Wild was as successful as possible — the game’s success has basically been tied to two entire consoles, and was mainly responsible for facilitating sales on one of them. In the end, the result was absolutely immaculate.
Duke Nukem is certainly a memorable franchise, though it seems to have died a horrible death a decade ago. In between the release of Duke Nukem 3D and Duke Nukem Forever, four spin-offs of the franchise were released, and DLC was eventually for Duke Nukem Forever. Though the game was received poorly, it did still sell quite decently, stated as being “quite profitable for the company” by Take-Two Interactive and selling nearly 400,000 copies in its first month of release.
Legend of Zelda, on the other hand, is one of the most famous gaming franchises ever. It pretty much rivals Minecraft, Pokémon and Super Mario Bros as being at the tippity top itself. This is reflected in Breath of the Wild’s amazing sales stated earlier in this article.
So, overall, at the end of the day, how should companies handle delays to their game?
Simply put, the way 3D Realms did it was repulsive and definitely had something to do with Duke Nukem Forever eventually failing. For one thing, acting like your fan base is a burden and constantly being dismissive and even irritated with providing updates on the game had to be a turn off. After all, fans are eventually going to line up and wait to give you their money for your product. You don’t need to bend the knee and let them bully you, but to shrug them off so much didn’t help.
Getting into a progressively negative and worsening relationship with publishing party Take-Two Interactive didn’t help.
Meanwhile, Nintendo seemed to have some representative on camera every other month who would cheerfully, respectfully provide an update on Breath of the Wild. As a company with an enormous reputation who had a lot to lose if Breath of the Wild tanked, they were no doubt feeling the pressure behind closed doors. But they didn’t let the pressure get to them, both with the general fan base and anyone they worked on Breath of the Wild with.
Overall, the question of “is this delayed game being handled properly?” can be answered by “is this company one I trust? ” as well as “How do I know they’re not just ignoring the game, and that it will eventually one day be released?”
Take a game like Dying Light 2 for example. This game has been getting teased and leaked since 2018. This year, it was delayed for the fifth time. Even though the delay wasn’t even two months, it’s still getting promoted and hyped all over social media and in the occasional television commercial. Plus, its predecessor was an astounding success. For what it’s worth, Techland also doesn’t seem to have any skeletons in the closet that have gone beyond closed doors at least, so the company seems quite competent in the public eye, which will help keep confidence in the upcoming game alive.
Overall, while patience in a delayed game is a good trait to have, it’s important to make sure your time and energy are well invested as you follow a game’s development. The great Shigeru Miyamoto once said “a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad” — Though as we’ve seen, delays don’t always produce a good final product.