Video games are major productions that receive millions and millions in advertising and marketing dollars each year. Some are announced and released within a year, but then again, some games take three years to be released from the time they were revealed.
More simply known as the reveal-to-launch period (RTL), it’s the metric that refers to the time between when a game is officially revealed to when it is released to gamers.
For example, Fallout 4 was announced at the end of May 2015, and then it was ultimately released during the beginning of November 2015. Fallout 4’s RTL was just under 5 months. On the other hand, No Man’s Sky was first announced on December 9, 2013, and is going to be released on August 9, 2016. That time period equals a 32 month RTL.
Some games need a longer RTL because they are new IPs, have complicated game elements, or just experience a delay. However, there are times when a game just shouldn’t be announced yet or should have been announced later. Tom Clancy’s The Division (32 month RTL) is a fine example of this, but perhaps the worst of them all will forever be The Last Guardian (88 month RTL).
RTL cycles are tricky because they can wear out a gamer’s interest and excitement for a game rather quickly. A perfect example of this has to be the first Watch Dogs (22 month RTL), which was revealed during E3 2012 and eventually released in May 2014.
It started out as a title many, many people were thrilled about, but it quickly acquired cynicism from gamers, partly because of visual issues some had, and because of the disappointment people felt when it was punted from Holiday 2013 into May 2014. Of course, the game went onto sell over 10 million units anyway, but it’s cynicism, frustration, and fatigue that the industry needs to start avoiding more.
Ubisoft seems to have learned their lesson about lengthy RTLs for games, as they revealed Watch Dogs 2 (5 month RTL) during the beginning of June and it will released during the middle of November this year. They’ve also seemed to have learned their lesson on new IP reveals as Steep was announced at E3 2016 and will launch this coming December (6 month RTL, barring any delays).
All of this is to say that companies seem to be learning from previously high and exhausting RTLs, which have generated a cloud of annoyance, cynicism, and discontent around how gamers feel about a game. Looking forward, I’ve provided a bit of a key for when a game can launch and what should be the absolute earliest time (12-16 month RTL) for when a game should be revealed:
Spring 2017 — The reveal time period has already passed us, but sometime during the early part of this year or at an event like PlayStation Experience (PSX) or The Game Awards (TGAs) would be the absolute latest times for an announcement.
Summer 2017 — These games are generally revealed prior to the 12-16 RTL mentioned above, as they come in the form of yearly sports games or even remasters. That said, some games are delayed into this period and if they’ve been revealed prior to April 2016 (with a August 2017 release), then they risk experiencing fatigue and apathy from fans.
Fall 2017 — The fall is usually packed with many games releases, and these usually have been announced either one or two E3’s prior to this time. In this scenario, if a game is introduced much before E3 2016, then the game can risk indifference on the part of gamers.
Winter 2017 — Winter in this world only goes through March and lots of games are released during the February and March months. Again, PSX or the TGAs serve as an appropriate time for a reveal, in addition to publishers executing a reveal on their own terms.
Spring 2018 — The reveal time period has already passed us, but some time during the early part of 2017 or at events like PSX and the TGAs would be the latest times for an announcement. Ideally, something during the early part of 2016 would fit nicely.
Summer 2018 — These games are generally revealed prior to the 12-16 RTL mentioned above, as they come in the form of yearly sports games or even a remaster. That said, some games are delayed into this period and if they’ve been revealed prior to April 2017 (with a August 2018 release), then they risk experiencing indifference from gamers.
Fall 2018 — The fall is usually packed with many games releases, and these usually have been announced either one or two E3’s prior to this time. In this scenario, if a game is introduced much before E3 2017, then the game can risk a lack of enthusiasm on the part of gamers.
Winter 2018 — Who really makes plans this far out? Serious question.
Spring 2019 … and Beyond — We don’t want to know yet.
Images courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment and Disney, respectively.