Saturday, September 30, 2006

Release Dates

I have no professional experience in marketing, so I don't have historical statistics to look at concerning the viability of projecting release dates. But it seems a safe bet to say pushing a public release date back is a big no-no. And it's a common enough problem that release dates mean very little to me these days.

Whether or not game publishers were in the habit of marketing internal estimations back in this industry's infancy (I consider these its toddler years), I can't remember. But now I'm jaded, as a game consumer. Now, my inclination is to disbelieve any date until the box is on the shelf. Due to the habits of some, the whole industry has lost credibility with me in this regard.

The consequences of that skepticism?
  • I'm less inclined to preorder games. That money could be lying fruitless is the retailer's till for so long.
  • I'm less inclined to pay attention to the game's marketing as a whole. A dog will salivate over a piece of meat held in front of it for a good length of time. But if you act like you're going to give it the meat, then take it away, offer it, then take it away...then the dog loses interest. People are no different.
  • I'm less inclined to trust the publisher. I know that the publisher knows complications arise and that release projections are uncertain. Offering someone information knowing it may be false is a sure way to lose rapport and undermine your own marketing potential. More importantly, it's unethical.

So why do publishers do it? We're talking about major publishers here, so it's not just oblivious idealism of the inexperienced.

Is it negative marketing? There is such a marketing tactic as intentionally bothering customers. It's usually for reinforcing recognition of a brand name of a common and innocuous product (it's also unethical). Perhaps it's intended to encourage word-of-mouth advertisement, when people are telling their friends how disappointed they are that a game's date got pushed back (again), with the assumption that the publisher will gain more customers than it will lose.

Or perhaps publishers release uncertain dates because their marketing strategy is heavily dependent on a pre-release calendar. Perhaps it's a gamble in which the publisher believes that if it begins its marketing ramp so many weeks before release and that date holds, then the extra impact would be well worth the risk of the date slipping and those negative consequences listed above. This strategy seems to assume that consumers are more likely to purchase a product after it has been withheld from them (and anticipation has been allowed to build) than if the product is already available for purchase. Without having figures to convince me that assumption is justified, it seems that the publisher would lose as many potential customers from the frustration of releasing that anticipation too late.

So I have three questions about publicly advertising internal release estimations:
  • Why do publishers do it?
  • Do the advantages outweigh the negative consequences mentioned above?
  • How do the consequences compare between supposedly solid estimations and ones the publisher underlines as tentative and only "our best guess"?


  1. When you're a small company you can be more flexible about the schedule, but it still makes sense to push a release. I think using internet marketing you can do this in more subtle "phasing" instead of a concentrated campaign of expensive saturation marketing.

  2. It definitely makes sense to push a release internally, but advertising that projection to potential customers seems to risk more than it offers. And, as I've said, each failure to meet those dates hurts the entire industry, not just one publisher.


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