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Does Take-Two’s Bioshock Delay Presage Greater Quality?
Jul 14th, 2009 by worldblee

One of the most frustrating things about working in the gaming industry is the focus on quarterly results. Time after time we’ve seen games that needed more polish released to fit their slot in the quarterly revenue queue. When one title gets pulled in to ‘save’ one quarter, another game has to be accelerated to fill out the next quarter. And so the vicious cycle goes.

It’s not a phenomenon unique to games, of course. The corporate obsession with quarterly revenue, which drives stock prices that drive executive compensation, crosses most industries. And that’s to the detriment of customers and the long-term health of the companies and their workers. The true worth of any company is in the quality of its products and the strength of its relationship with its customers. Neither of those factors is represented in short-term economic returns.

The mark of quality?

The mark of quality?

If there’s any upside to the economic downturn it’s that gaming companies are taking advantage of the fact their quarterly and annual revenue in 2009 is going to be down anyway, so why not look to maximize titles for 2010. Take-Two got into the act big time yesterday, delaying not only the highly anticipated Bioshock 2 but Mafia II, Max Payne 3, and Red Dead Redemption until calendar 2010. EA has also made noise the past couple years about increasing product quality and shipping games ‘when they’re ready’. (That’s quite a different philosophy than I experienced when I worked there, believe me.)

The sad truth is that the economy won’t be picking up anytime soon. While press reports endlessly hype ‘green shoots’ and any positive data they can turn up, the fundamentals don’t support any true recovery. A lot of government money has been pumped into the banking system but it’s not reaching consumers. Unemployment continues to rise, wages are decreasing, and consumer wealth has decreased by a whopping 13 trillion dollars since the latest bubble began bursting.

For game developers and publishers this means you need a quality game to succeed in the marketplace. The old hype machine and channel stuffing won’t get the job done. Having their rose-tinted glasses removed by economic reality is making game purchasers ever savvier. Whether they actually read game reviews, hear from friends on Twitter and Facebook, or just ask the GameStop salesperson if the game is any good, they’re demanding good value for their hard-earned dollars before they commit to a game. And if they want it, they may wait until they can get it used—or just rent it in the first place. Only if they really want to play it longer than a weekend will they pay $60.

Sales numbers, which are expected to be down substantially when the new NPD report comes out tomorrow, are showing publishers the stark reality of this. And if it means that games get a proper gestation cycle for development then it might, just maybe, be worth it. These days you have to look for positives where you can get them.

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© All content (c) 2008, 2009 by David C. Lee