Early next-gen buyers should get used to the word delayed
The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are now just days away, and the industry’s hype has long since spilled over. What with next-gen pre-order leader Amazon posting tempting photos of a PS4-stuffed warehouse, Sony and Microsoft handing out Christmas gifts early, and Watch Dogs, The Crew and Driveclub being delayed—wait. The former two are fine and dandy, but what’s this about delays? Sure, we’ll still have a next-gen racer day one in the form of Need for Speed: Rivals, but that sounds pretty annoying. Is my GameZone colleague Mike Splechta trying to tell me that the launch of the most powerful and intricate consoles to date will be, for some freakish reason, preceded by the delay of equally intricate triple-A releases? Inconceivable!
In all seriousness, these delays—particularly in the case of Watch Dogs, a monolithic cross-gen title—come as no surprise. Along with ushering in newfound power, the release of PS4 and XOne also places new hurdles in front of developers and publishers. Granted, The Crew, Driveclub and Watch Dogs were probably delayed to ensure ample time for their respective studios to polish their initial next-gen poster children—first impressions are important, after all—but with network overhauls, new distribution and platform infrastructures, and a new player market to work with, it’s clear that next-gen devs will have their hands full.
It's fine; I'll wait.
Multiplayer-heavy games are particularly susceptible to delays, as they are more heavily reliant on the stability of PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. They will have to maintain a delicate balancing act between their own design, and keeping pace and remaining compatible with the ever-changing networks of PS4 and Xbox One. It’s no grand secret that the networks of both consoles will likely require numerous updates and catch-all patches in their early weeks, nor is it surprising. Regardless, games like Call of Duty: Ghosts, Killzone: Shadow Fall, and more pertinently, The Crew will be forced to optimize for each network iteration. More massive titles like Destiny and The Division are more vulnerable still, what with the scale of their multiplayer interactions. This will only compound the difficulties of developing for new systems, and could easily spur delays—if only for updates and the inevitable horde of additional content.
The systems’ architectures are, reportedly, easier to develop for, sure, but the jump to next-gen itself will invariably induce some head scratching. In the hunt for a precedent, we need only look to the troubles of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 development. Late 2011 through 2013 proved to be the golden years of the current systems, in which developers had finally smoothed out hardware kinks and learned to squeeze the most out of the platforms. Given developer testimony, we can safely assume that the optimization gap won’t be nearly as large for PS4 and XOne. Despite this, the challenge of adjusting to new systems remains.
Yeah, they'll probably look like spaghetti.
With any luck, incidents like Watch Dogs and Driveclub will remain isolated to the initial launch period. Once next-gen developers have a product out there, deadlines can relax and development can begin to focus on smoothing out the process rather than promoting the living daylights out of visual fidelity and social integration. However, from firmware to patches to digital content to hard-copy releases, you may want to add a few months to the release dates of next-gen content—at least until the industry can master its new terrain. If we can snatch a bit more luck, gamers will be compensated with a bit of free content for not marching on developer studios following delays.
*At the time of this posting, the Xbox One version of Lego Marvel Super Heroes was delayed as well. Hmm....