id Software, the iconic team behind the Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake franchises, is currently working on their first new IP in over a decade, RAGE. The upcoming cross-genre title, largely considered a first-person shooter with driving and open world elements, was recently given a firm release date of September 13th, 2011 in North America. The announcement comes over a year prior to the planned launch, a rarity in an industry that tends to reveal launch details at the last possible second in production. id's release announcement shows a degree of consideration and planning that the larger gaming industry should work to adopt.
Being able to set a firm release date well in advance indicates that id is confident in their ability to reach that target, likely meaning RAGE's development is somewhat near completion or at least far enough along to see the end in sight. It's also safe to assume that some time has been allocated for unexpected hurdles, creating a buffer zone after production is complete to avoid delays. This approach affords publishers and developers much greater stability when creating costly triple A titles, avoiding damaging delays.
Up until this point, launch dates set in stone well in advance have been a luxury only employed by the industry's top tier franchises. For example, Modern Warfare 2's exact launch date was announced at GDC in March 2009, eight months before the planned date. That process has now become a staple of the Call of Duty franchise. Halo's well planned and executed September releases are another example. The audience for these games know when to expect them well in advance, which makes the marketing effort easier and keeps the financials stable. It's something that needs to be adopted by more than simply the industry's biggest titles.
On the other side of the coin, there are countless examples of games that promise too much too early in the development process, ending up missing their release windows on a consistent basis. Titles such as Splinter Cell: Conviction, Alan Wake and Gran Turismo 5 that have been delayed numerous times are recent testaments to what's currently wrong with the gaming industry. Developers need the flexibility to reach the final stages of production before they are forced to make concrete promises.
The topic immediately brings an argument Silicon Knight's president Denis Dyack has been preaching for years. Dyack has long stated his belief that games need to adopt a system more akin to the film industry, where release planning generally only starts after a product is already complete. "You've got to be able to create a game and then be able to sit on that game for several months in order to release that game at the appropriate time. This is something the movie industry has done for quite a while now: you release it in the time that's best for that piece of entertainment."
He continued: "Right now, publishers and developers are releasing a game as soon as it's gold and mastered "“ all I'm saying is, wait for a while. Build up some of the marketing. Instead of doing it before the game is done, do it when it's gold and mastered, or maybe just before that, when the game is near final and you have a really strong idea of when you're going to be able to release it."
The announcement of a firm release date for RAGE over a year in advance is a positive sign for that game. However, the gaming industry needs to get to a point where all developers, not just icons such as id Software, can afford this model. In the end, we'll likely see a healthier environment for publishers and developers as a result.