International release dates for games are stupid

Here's John Walker on the absurdity of staggered international release dates for games that everyone has already pre-downloaded.

The reason it happens, as best as we’ve ever been able to ascertain, is because of retail. Games have traditionally always been released on a Tuesday in the US, and a Friday in the UK. Before there was an internet concreting over the seas, a US postcard sent boasting about it would arrive in the UK after it had finally been released. Now, however, we see it appearing on our chums’ “now playing” info in Steam, while staring at our own purchased and completely unplayable copy. Except it’s not unplayable, of course, because if it’s out in the US, it’s accessible to the whole world in a pirated form.

It's completely insane. An industry, built on marketing entitlements to the young, is trying to micromanage access to stuff that they've already paid for in a world where The Pirate Bay's top 100 is just a click away.


  1. Stupid sure, but don’t region-coded DVDs still exist? These boneheads just don’t get it or are afraid of a problem that is a non issue (there will always be some level of piracy at the fringes, the question is do they want to contribute to that by being consumer unfriendly?)

    And they’re not consumer friendly in any sense, nor do they care.  In a world where there is world wide availability of games through a global “App Store” you’d think these clowns would get a clue.

  2. It will be interesting to see how much longer Team Retail retains the clout to control the launch dates in this way…

    I don’t know exactly what the online/instore proportion is; but one suspects that there is a ratio below which the game goes from “Publisher bows to retailer, fearing loss of shelf space” to “Retailer takes what they can get, fearing irrelevance”.

    It probably won’t be an all-at-once thing, since different studios have different ratios of PC-retail, PC-download, console-retail, and console-download. In particular, since present-gen consoles can’t do large downloaded games, any publisher with a major AAA console presence is still retailer dependent, and will probably cowtow to them even on PC titles. PCs can, and increasingly do, move units directly over the internet,  so publishers with greater chunks of their sales on the PC side will probably be first.

  3. same applies to idiotic geographical staggering of music downloads.

    it’s like these a**-clowns aren’t even interested in my money.

  4. Ditto movies – The most stupid to date (IMO)  would be The Muppets – November release in the US – BIG Wintervale promotion, toys in the shops, ads on TV, tie-ins galore – And then a wait until mid February for release in the UK and much of Europe.

    How much money was lost in pirate copies, or even waning interest by moving the release date to where there was no competition?

  5. Being a software developer, I can say this is probably not the (main? only?) reason.  This staggered release model lets you get a percentage of the population to test the release without affecting the whole world (but a much larger number of people than if you had just QA exercising it). 

    Also, and more critically so: on games that play against a server (Diablo 3, World of Warcraft, etc). this also lets you ramp up traffic in a more or less controlled way to see if your algorithms can even sustain the load without crashing.

    If worst comes to be, they can suspend or delay the release to the rest of the world.

    1. There’s also the occasional “Frantic completion/correction of localization” issue, to spice things up.

      1.  I don’t think people would be as bothered if the delay was while it was translated, but here in the UK, where we know no one will bother localising US imports (it should be called Dishonoured dagnamit!) it’s kind of annoying.

    2. Diablo 3 and World of Warcraft both released without staggering. Not to say they were smooth releases, but that they are absolutely terrible examples of server-based games with traffic ramping.

      I have bought a number of games with staggered releases on Steam and I can say that without exception that they did not EVER see a patch that fixed launch issues before their already-scheduled release to the International market. Any goodwill that might have been garnered by the International market only suffering through a buggy game for 3 days instead of 13 days is completely swamped by the illwill built up by having to wait through 10 days of review sites trumpeting it as Game of the Year and discussing in-depth every event and storyline contained in it.

  6. I’m a technical architect that has designed and built some rather large online gaming systems (as in the back end web services, not the web sites, etc… the stuff that actually connects with the game clients for updates or real-time game play), such EA Sports online services, Need For Speed World Online, etc.  I’ve also worked for over a year on the upcoming Mechwarrior Online and Sins of a Dark Age, and I can tell you that the online components of these games means that you need local points of presence for your online systems.

    The sane strategy is usually to pick your first rollout location (North America or UK or Asia, etc), and you focus on that.

    Typically, once you deploy your primary market, you watch it like a hawk and deal with any issues you may come up against.  You also typically make it something local, preferably in the same time zone as the developers.  Despite your best efforts at large scale and realistic load testing, some stuff just sneaks up on you that you never thought of or didn’t see in your testing.

    There are a ton of technical and business issues of developing and rolling out a “sharded” gaming platform, most of which come down to network latency; do you have totally separate worlds with independent registration and game pools, or do you have global registration and geo-presence mechanisms to ensure quality of play by forcing local server use, etc.

    And part of the problem can also be licensing.  You’d be absolutely AMAZED at how complex the licensing is for some games.  For Need For Speed, for instance, various cars were licensed based on where the game was being sold, it wasn’t just a global license.

    Never mind global fault tolerance, maintenance procedures and timings, backups, accounting reporting, etc., etc.

    Needless to say, I could spend an entire day discussing the details that actually go into rolling out an online game, and why it’s an order of magnitude harder to do it on a global scale, especially with the ever increasing online aspects.

      1.  It totally depends on the online game… they’re not all the same.

        The rollout and development complexity is directly related to the online feature set that it has, the type of game it actually is and how the online component is utilized, and the budget of the game.

        For instance, the EA Sports system connected to every EA Sports title that was online, reporting game achievements, etc., back to this system.  It can deal with a much higher latency when it comes to the game client because it’s more of a reporting transaction.  This is why we designed it as a single, large-scale (8 or so node Oracle Cluster and big/fast 250k IO SAN) single install for the entire globe.

        Not at all an option for other games where we proxy the game play between individual game clients, or maintain real-time game state in our servers.

        And then there’s the development budget.  It’s usually cheaper to have the same team work serially on the same rollout than multiple teams working in parallel.  Basically the rollout team would finish with NA, then move on to the UK.

        And then there’s the fact that a ton of so-called “online game companies” know fuck all about online gaming.

      2.  (try SpotFlux, it allowed me to unlock XCOM, then I stayed up until 4am playing it, so maybe don’t do that)

      1.  Nothing brave about it… it’s the real world.  I’ve sat in the meeting rooms with Producers, VPs, Marketers, etc., and worked out the project plans of what had to be done by when, and the feasibility of the features, and the cost (in time and money) to do what they wanted to be done.  And then spent years working those plans.  And that was for multiple games that just about everyone has heard of.

        It’s one big compromise, usually, as not a single game team I’ve been on has unlimited resources; cash or developers.

        In most of the games I’ve worked on, international deployment depends on cash influx from the “local” release to fund the expansion, for both marketing and live operations/infrastructure.

  7. The thought of “leaving money on the table” is the root of all these kinds of problems.  If marketing teams just released things simply, like a “Louis CK” model, everyone would be happier.  Except the Board Room, where some MBA would have a chart showing millions of dollars in “missed opportunities”. 

  8. I’d imagine brick and mortar retailers see download sales as no better than piracy in the same way as game publishers view used game sales.

    If you want my money, be ready to take it in the form I’m willing to give it, in exchange for the form of your content I want to use, or don’t bitch when I pirate.

  9. Tell me about it. I’ve had a Borderlands 2 preorder for several months. I had it preloaded two days before it went live. I played it on launch night for a few hours. And then I basically haven’t touched it, because I’m waiting for a friend of mine in Japan who has to wait a few more weeks for it to launch there.

    I could be playing it, because there’s no technical reason holding me back. But what is holding me back is wanting to wait so that us four friends who preordered a 4-pack together can explore the game together… and not the three of us being bored of going through the storyline yet again and basically dragging our friend in Japan along.

    So, yeah, screw you, staggered release schedules for same-language digital downloads. (Japan’s delay might be localization-related, but as far as I know, he’ll be getting it in English, not Japanese.)

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