As someone who likes playing games sooner rather than later, delays are a double-edged sword. I know that a game being delayed means it’s going to be better when it eventually releases, but, being a bit childish, I want to play it now. I don’t believe those feelings on the part of consumers matter, though. Sure, every statement about a game being delayed will come with a line from whatever developer saying, “we love you, the fans, and appreciate your patience,” but in reality, your patience isn’t worth jack.
What’s much more valuable, and tangibly so, are stock prices, which have now joined the growing group of reasons why so many games are being delayed. Naturally, stocks aren’t the main reason — we’re in a very shaky recovery from a yearlong pandemic that has fundamentally changed workplaces, after all — but it’s hard to ignore the effect that a game’s delay, or even worse, poor release, can have on a company’s overall value.
Let’s go back to Wednesday, September 15, for a moment. It was a genuinely slow news day, save for rumors that Battlefield 2042 was going to be delayed (which it eventually was) from VentureBeat’s Jeff Grubb. Those rumors alone (and the apparent weight that Grubb’s word carries) set off a slide in EA’s stocks. On September 14, EA’s day ended with its stock being worth $145 a share, but by 10 a.m. ET the following morning, they had dropped to $136. It doesn’t seem like a massive loss, just $9, but if you had thousands upon thousands of shares, you just lost a lot of money.
That $9 slide was caused simply by rumors that Battlefield 2042 was going to be delayed. Naturally, speculating on the stock market is a nearly impossible thing to do, but trends are easier to spot. Bad news for Battlefield 2042 meant stock prices would go down, so imagine for a moment what would happen if the game was released and didn’t run well, which brings to mind a certain blockbuster that came out last year.
An update from the Battlefield team pic.twitter.com/K53VNM2tTz
— Battlefield (@Battlefield) September 15, 2021
Cyberpunk 2077‘s disastrous launch didn’t just show what happens when developers aren’t given enough time to meet impossible goals. It was the first time we could see a company get hurt financially by a game’s reception.
By the end of 2020, Cyberpunk 2077 sold 13.7 million copies (around 8 million of which were pre-orders), contributing in large part to the over half-a-billion dollars of sales revenue CD Projekt Red claimed that year. However, the company needed those sales, which were then shrunk as Sony and Microsoft allowed customers to refund the game without issue, to offset its massive decline in stock value.
Leading up to Cyberpunk 2077‘s release, as reviews telling tales of the game’s bugs, glitches, and lack of stability began to circulate around the internet, CD Projekt Red’s stocks fell a massive 29%. Even after its launch, the company’s value continued to decline by another 7.8%. Compared to where it was this time last year, CD Projekt Red’s stock value is currently down by nearly 50%, even after releasing its best-selling game ever.
That made Cyberpunk 2077 and CD Projekt Red a cautionary tale for every publicly traded company with a finger in game development. It showed that even a game that was a financial success, selling millions of copies and generating millions in profits, could financially damage a company. The only way to avoid that damage is simple: Make sure that when your game releases, it’s damn good.
At this point, it’s impossible to not think about Cyberpunk 2077 when games are delayed. Recent examples include Battlefield 2042‘s short delay, Halo Infinite‘s multiple delays, and Dying Light 2‘s delay to 2022 (developer Techland has signaled that it may be going public). If any of these games were to release in a state that doesn’t live up to consumer expectations or, even worse, are comparable to Cyberpunk 2077 in their quality, stock prices could easily slide.
For a game like Halo Infinite, it’s easy to see how that could happen. The game’s release date has been cemented not only by developer 343 Industries, but also by the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer. Halo Infinite has even been featured in advertising for Windows 11; it’s more than a game now, it’s a Microsoft brand.
While concerns over a game’s effect on stock prices may be influencing game delays, for average consumers, this is just about the best thing that could happen. That’s not to say executives at game development companies care if a game is good — they care about how much profit it generates. But if a chunk of that profit is then eaten by stock losses, well that’s just cash left on the table. That leaves executives in the same boat as the rest of us. Now, they have a very good reason to want games that do more than just sell well — they have to be good, too.