As gamers, it’s something we’ve all experienced before. You’re hyped up, ready and waiting for a game that you’ve been dying to play. Then, all of a sudden, the proverbial carpet gets yanked out from under your feet. The game that you’ve been looking forward to, the one that was riding high on the hype train, comes crashing down to Earth. Development for the game is cancelled by the publisher, and you’re left disappointed, wondering what could have been. Cancelled games no doubt have a lasting impact on the gaming community.
I remember vividly, back in the Dreamcast era, the sheer disappointment I felt when Shenmue II was cancelled by Sega. I was 14 or 15 years old at the time, and I couldn’t understand how Sega could do such a thing. How could they cancel the sequel to my favorite game of all time, on my favorite console of all time? Of course, I was able to play Shenmue II on the original Xbox later, but I still remember to this day the disappointment I felt when Sega made that initial cancellation announcement.
This is worth talking about due to recent events surrounding Microsoft Studios and the Xbox One. It seems as though the Xbox division is in an unhealthy pattern of cancelling anticipated games. What about cancelling games makes it hurt us so much as gamers? Does ceasing video game development truly make sense? And how can publishers soften the blow of a cancellation?
The Pain…The Agony…
No one can deny the sheer disappointment that gamers feel when an anticipated game is cancelled by a publisher. This was evidenced merely days ago, after the cancellation of Platinum Games’ Scalebound. Social media exploded after news of the cancellation was made public. Twitter was flooded with tweet after tweet from upset gamers. What caused this reaction?
A key reason why gamers get so upset over cancelled games is hype. Let’s take Scalebound as an example. Scalebound was announced in 2014, as a Microsoft-published Xbox console exclusive game. Since then, the game has been demoed and featured heavily by Microsoft. The game was so important for Microsoft’s games division that it even appeared in the reveal of the successful Xbox One S console. Scalebound represented a welcome “change-of-pace” type of game for Microsoft Studios, which has leaned heavily on shooters and racing games over the past year. It was a vastly different type of experience that had Xbox gamers salivating. With one press release, literally years of anticipation was crushed. It’s akin to someone popping a balloon.
Another crucial factor to consider is the overall games lineup of a console. Cancelling a game, while disappointing, is an easier pill to swallow if gamers have many other unique games to play to fill that void. However, 2017 is looking a little sparse for Xbox-only gamers at the time of this writing. There are currently only 12 Xbox console exclusive games scheduled for release in 2017, and most of them are indie games. With so few major releases on the horizon, the loss of Scalebound stings more. The lack of a strong exclusive lineup to soften the blow of Scalebound’s cancellation makes it that much worse.
At the time of a game being cancelled, another big concern of gamers is the state of the developer. No true gamer likes seeing games cancelled, as there could be significant money lost that will impact the developer of the game. Platinum Games looks to be okay, with Nier Automata and other projects in development. Sadly, the same could not be said for Lionhead Studios after Fable Legends was cancelled.
We’ve come to the determination that cancelling games sucks quite a bit for us as gamers. However, there are some valid business reasons why a publisher will cancel a video game. Much of this can be applied to other areas of business and entertainment as well when projects need to be canned.
There is a saying that “money makes the world go ‘round,” and money is possibly the number one reason why games get cancelled. Publishers, such as Microsoft Studios, are chiefly concerned with return on investment (ROI). Quite simply, a publisher wants to be able to make back more revenue from a game than what they had to contribute towards development, marketing, etc. Microsoft, having dedicated years of time and money into supporting the Scalebound project, likely reached a point that they determined their ROI would be inadequate. Another saying goes, “money talks, B.S. walks,” and the numerous delays and troubled development of Scalebound meant that Microsoft was making zero money from the project.
This brings me to the other reason why video games are cancelled: poor planning or an apparent lack of planning altogether. After a multitude of delays, ultimately leading up to its cancellation, rumors are swirling regarding some behind-the-scenes factors affecting the development of Scalebound. Completing the game proved to be an arduous task for Platinum, with the heavy workload causing the developers to take significant time off. This, combined with missed deadlines and issues with the game engine, conspired to ruin the game before it had a chance to launch. It is certainly understandable why a game would have to be cancelled in this type of scenario. One can’t help but think that proper planning and project management may have gone a long way to rectify these issues, and ultimately save the game.
With that being said, the unfortunate reality is there are valid reasons to cease development of a game, as upsetting as it is to us as gamers and fans. With this information in our minds, what are some strategies that publishers can take to quell our disappointment?
Softening the Blow
There are some strategies that businesses, including video game publishers, can use to announce the termination of a game gracefully. One strategy described by the linked article would be to have a face-to-face announcement, as opposed to a cold and stoic press release. It is also very important to have a recovery plan in place to restore consumers’ confidence in your brand. I know I’m not alone when I say that, as an Xbox fan, I would appreciate some updates on upcoming projects and Scorpio right about now.
Another important strategy that I believe all publishers should follow would be to not announce games until they are ready to release. Microsoft essentially strung gamers along for years with Scalebound before pulling the plug, which makes the cancellation seem unfair. For example, if you have a game in development with November 2017 target, hold off on announcing the game until around March – April, or maybe even wait for E3. Marketing probably doesn’t like this idea, as it results in less time to crank up the hype machine, but it would communicate good will to the gaming community.
What are your thoughts on all of this, readers? How upset are you when games are cancelled, and how can publishers handle cancellations differently? Let us know in the comments.