‘Zelda’ Delay Not a Problem for Nintendo

‘Zelda’ Delay Not Problem Nintendo

Since the start of the pandemic, release-date delays for theatrical films have often proved problematic for studios. But in video games, delays aren’t just a regular and expected occurrence, they’re also increasingly a sign of publishers committing to quality assurance and minimizing excessive periods of overtime.

The delay Nintendo announced last week for its untitled “Breath of the Wild” sequel in its long-running “The Legend of Zelda” franchise is no different.

“Breath of the Wild” launched alongside the Nintendo Switch console in March 2017 and remains one of its biggest hits, with more than 25 million units sold. A sequel has long been anticipated, so it’s understandable why the news that it has been delayed to 2023 was disappointing enough for fans to result in the game trending on Twitter shortly after. Nintendo stock also sagged 6% after soaring much of the year to date.

But the delay news is far from surprising. “Zelda” is a precious brand for Nintendo, especially so after the sales and accolades for “Breath of the Wild.” The chances that Nintendo wouldn’t give the game as much development time as needed were slim.

Likewise, the Switch hit its five-year anniversary last month. While the console has always sold well, especially when the pandemic first hit, hardware sales in the last holiday quarter were down 7.8% year over year despite Nintendo releasing a new OLED model for the Switch in October.

In contrast to that, software sales continued a years-long streak of year-over-year increases, climbing 12.6% from Q4 2020. If the pandemic bump for hardware sales is largely over, then ensuring continued success for individual game sales will be more important than ever.

The open-world genre of games remains as popular as ever but is also a major contributor to game delays given the time it takes to develop large, free-roaming maps of quests that grant player agency and allow gamers to manage the reins of whatever journey they’ve bought into.

“Breath of the Wild” in particular was open-world and by far the biggest “Zelda” game in franchise history in terms of overall playtime, per website HowLongToBeat, which aggregates user-submitted data for game run-throughs across multiple playstyles. “Zelda” players who sought to complete all of the game’s extra content alongside its mandatory story took just under 100 hours to do so on average.

As such, games of this caliber are often delayed, and it’s usually the big three console manufacturers that can afford to give these games as much time as they need.

Look at Sony Interactive Entertainment’s “Horizon Forbidden West” versus Techland’s “Dying Light 2 Stay Human,” for example. Both games released in February and are sequels to popular open-world games, but the difference in quality was immediately apparent.

Just ahead of release day, “Horizon” director Mathijs De Jonge at developer Guerrilla Games (part of PlayStation Studios) acknowledged that the industry term for overtime, “crunch,” is a not a normal part of the studio’s climate and that the game could have met a 2021 release window if that weren’t the case. “We are very aware of the disadvantages of crunching, so we take this into account in our planning a lot,” said De Jonge to a Dutch publication.

When your studio and its projects have the financial backing of an entity like Sony, deciding not to fall back on overtime to get a game out sooner is very reasonable. At Techland, it was a different story. After opting to self-publish its sequel to “Dying Light” after the 2015 game was published by Warner Bros. Games, the Polish studio saw its game marred by many bugs on release day.

The general pricing of new AAA games increasing from $60 to $70 is one factor that will grant publishers more flexibility in trying to avoid forcing studios to enter crunch mode going forward, a necessary move given the increasing popularity of game subscriptions like Xbox Game Pass that allow gamers to access hundreds of games after paying a monthly fee.

Gamers may not be the most patient crowd, but if a game delay is happening under the Nintendo, Sony or Xbox umbrellas, chances are it’s the best option possible for the quality of game and the quality of life of developers.