After 2020 was rather tumultuous year for video games, with situations in the world forcing studios everywhere to figure out how to remotely create something fantastic, there was some hope that 2021 would lead to a more normal year. Early signs, unfortunately, point to no, serving as a stark reminder that the waves of 2020 are going to be felt well beyond last year in the gaming industry.
We’re already starting to see some of it from what was supposed to be a major 2021 release. Hogwarts Legacy, the highly-anticipated Harry Potter RPG, is now going to come out in 2022. This is presumably to make up for all the time they lost in 2020 adjusting to changing landscapes.
Video games are incredibly difficult to make, especially in the modern age. It’s in many ways a miracle that any video game comes out at all with the constant moving parts, changes in scope, absurd work hours, bugs, quality analysis for those bugs, internal reviews, polishing, and everything else that goes into the process. It’s all held together with duct tape and staples, which was enough until the last decade or so. Yes, video games have never been perfect, but generally, a video game would come out and work. How much you enjoyed it was generally more due to artistic vision than if the game itself worked.
As video games have grown, the industry itself has struggled to adapt to the new technology. Simply getting by on hopes and prayers doesn’t work the way it used to, and the results have been mixed. Masterpieces still come out every year, but they’re frequently the result of endless crunching with absurdly high budgets. Over the last 10 years, the new video game norm is to crunch as much as possible, hope the game works, and even if it doesn’t, you’ll just send out patches until it does work while hoping it was rated high enough in critic review scores that you can get a bonus for the endless crunching. If you’re lucky, you got overtime pay for your work.
None of this is to sound like an old man and say video games were better in the old days. Crunch always existed, releases have always been imperfect, and some bugs would get fixed in follow-up prints of games depending on when you bought the disc. The industry has never been perfect, but it has felt like it has been reaching a critical mass as of late, one that a year like 2020 put on full display in all the wrong ways.
No better example of that was Cyberpunk 2077, a game that was originally teased all the way back in 2012, promised developers and fans they wouldn’t crunch to make it, did that anyway, and the result was a broken mess that PlayStation removed from its shop because developer CD Projekt issued refunds since the game was so broken. None of this is to say that the only reason Cyberpunk was bad was because of 2020 — a game that broken has deep systemic issues from the start of development — but it is a great example of how a modern game can fail when it follows modern development standards.
Now take that kind of production cycle and apply it to any other studio in 2020. If video games are that hard to make in general, when you add a worldwide pandemic on top of that, it’s pretty surprising that they’re still coming out at all. This is why it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone when games are being delayed in 2021. Hogwarts Legacy is the first major release to be delayed, and I strongly suspect it will not be the last. Developers essentially lost an entire year of normal development time for their games, and 2021 is going to be a mulligan year that gives them their time back.
We’re still going to have games this year, don’t worry. However, let’s cut the devs a little slack when the inevitable delays start. They didn’t want to delay it. They just want to make you the video game possible.