You may have noticed that humans aren’t the most patient people. They’ll risk injury and thousands of dollars in damage to get home one car length earlier than they would have otherwise. So it should come as no surprise whatsoever that people don’t like waiting for games.
If you spend much time on gaming forums or social media, you’ve probably seen someone complain about the delayed release of a game, an expansion, or new miniatures for a hobby miniatures game. Recently, you’ve probably also seen an increase in complaints about delays regarding crowdfunded games on platforms like Kickstarter. Today, I’m going to write about some of the reasons delays occur in the industry of traditional games (card games, board games, hobby miniatures games, and role-playing games).
I can’t back this up with mountains of data, but I believe that issues of quality are the #1 cause of game delays. By the time a company gets the proof copies of their game, it’s nearly time to release the game to the public. If there’s anything wrong with the colors, the components, the rulebook, the packaging, or any number of other variables, the company is faced with a difficult choice – release a product that’s lower quality than desired or delay the product’s release.
For hobby gaming miniatures or miniatures intended for inclusion in a board game, those delays could be quite severe. If a miniature intended for hard plastic production goes all the way back to the sculpting phase, it could cost two years or more. If it’s “only” a smaller change to make the miniature easier to produce or reduce warping or something, that can still mean a delay of several months. That degree of impact makes it easy to understand why some miniatures are released even if their scale is slightly wrong or if the individual parts don’t fit together quite as perfectly as we’d like. If the final product still looks great and the problems aren’t insurmountable, the company might stick to their desired release date rather than attempt to resculpt something a slightly different size or re-engineer the components for easier assembly.
Even a card game or role-playing game could face production issues that incur a hit of several months to the desired release date, and we haven’t even mentioned non-production quality control situations yet. If a piece of art isn’t up to snuff or a card design turns out to be confusing, the game company must make the tough decision to delay the product or make sacrifices in terms of quality.
Changes are an interesting source of delays because many change-induced delays occur before a product is announced. This means many of these delays are transparent to the game’s customers, but changes are another really common cause that games are released later than originally intended. In some cases, a game will be redesigned half a dozen times or more, each iteration chewing through development and playtesting time that should be moving the game toward its final form rather than meandering through different ideas that don’t stick around. I’ve seen games go back to the drawing board half a dozen times or more and have even seen solid game designs put on hold for years or even indefinitely. And substantial changes in art direction or graphic design have the same kind of impact as game development changes.
Course change delays are most visible to you as gamers when we’re talking about expansion material rather than new products. If the plan for the next expansion suddenly changes, especially late in the project’s life cycle, those changes can cause delays to the expansion’s release schedule.
It’s also worth noting that changing course does not always relate to the product itself. If game developers or artists or editors or graphic designers are moved into different projects, the new member of the team may lead to delays. Sometimes, they’ll make changes that directly cause delays, but most times the shake-up in personnel will simply incur delays as the team adjusts to its new composition and as new members get up to speed.
Breaking New Ground
The last big origin of delays I want to mention is breaking new ground. If a company has never used a particular manufacturer before, any estimates of how long production will take and how long those aforementioned quality corrections will take could be significantly off the mark. This risk is increased several times over when a company enters a whole new segment of the market such as making their first board game that uses a licensed intellectual property or their first pre-painted miniatures line.
That already increased risk is then magnified tenfold for a company that is attempting to produce a game for the very first time. Every Kickstarter campaign must include a “Risks and Challenges” section as part of the base template for releasing a Kickstarter project. For first-time game makers, that section should be sure to note there’s a HUGE risk of missing their estimated release date. They don’t yet know how any changes will impact their schedule. They don’t yet know how quality concerns will delay production. This is why you’ll often see a new company’s subsequent Kickstarter projects use more conservative delivery dates than their initial offering.
In conclusion, I think the key when dealing with game delays is patience. I realize that’s a whole lot easier said than done, but you can rest assured that game makers out there are even more excited about getting their awesome new game ideas into your hands than you are to receive them. Any delays are just as frustrating to them as they are to you.