Why isn’t a video game’s release date really its release date anymore?

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Call me old-fashioned if you must, but back in my day a “release date”, also known as “day one”, was the day a game went on sale for the general public to buy and play for the first time. Do you want to buy and play it sooner, even if money is not an issue? Sorry, you can’t: it’s not out yet! That’s what the word “unpublished” literally means. In recent years, however, this simple and seemingly incontrovertible concept has morphed into something else—what a company’s marketing department wants it to mean. For the right price, we can now buy and play certain games that publishers tell us (with a face of circumstance, no less) that they won’t have their “day one” for several days. This cynical play on release dates, which have long been what we look forward to as our first chance to play a long-awaited game, is manipulative and, in some cases, downright misleading.

To be clear, I don’t have much of a problem with the practice of releasing an edition of a game at a higher price before making a cheaper standalone version available. I’m not thrilled with the idea of ​​tapping into players’ enthusiasm for being first to play, but there are good reasons to do it that way: it keeps servers from being overloaded because everyone is flooding them at once, and developers can detect and fix problems before most people start playing. That can help games launch smoothly for everyone.

My complaint is that the companies aren’t honest about it and instead keep giving us conflicting information about when a game has been released and when it hasn’t. It’s nothing new: fake release dates have been an increasingly common practice for almost a decade, and most major publishers have resorted to this technique at some point, including EA, Microsoft, Sony, and Ubisoft. For example, as of today, EA claims that FIFA 23 didn’t go on sale until September 29… unless you’ve “pre-ordered” the $150 Ultimate Edition, in which case you have full access to all of its content three days before. Something similar happened with Madden NFL 23, which according to EA did not come out until August 19, but if you paid the All-Madden Edition of 100 euros you could start playing on August 16 on the day… minus three before its launch?

“False release dates have been an increasingly common practice for almost a decade.”

I would say that if I pay money and immediately receive a game that I can play, that makes the “reserve” meaningless. You are simply buying a game that is for sale to virtually everyone. These are examples of an attempt to use marketing language to trick you into thinking you’re getting something of value by paying a higher price. However, this form of “early access” (not to be confused with using Steam) is only “early” relative to what the publisher has officially set as the release date. But if the listed release date isn’t the actual release date by any reasonable definition, then the above date isn’t “early” at all; is the actual release date. The later date is simply the time when people can buy that same game already released without including additional things that they don’t want to pay for. It is, in effect, the day a game is marked down to €70 after previously being released as part of a €100 bundle.

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Using terms like “Day 1” raises similar issues, made even more murky ethically when release dates are manipulated. The “first day play on Game Pass” promise is clearly an incentive for people to sign up for Xbox’s excellent service, and the only reasonable interpretation of that promise is that you’ll be able to play that game on the first day it’s available. for the public. However, in some notable cases, that is not what we receive for our subscription fee. For example, the official release date of Forza Horizon 5 was November 9, 2021, which is when it appeared on Game Pass, but the Premium edition was available to everyone from November 5 for 100 euros. Similarly, Back 4 Blood was available “day one on Game Pass”, on October 12, 2021, but for anyone enthusiastic enough to pay €90, the real day 1 was actually October 7. You could have paid $85 for the MLB: The Show 22 MVP Edition and played on April 1, 2022, or you could have waited four more days for “Day One in Game Pass” to launch on April 5.

The argument behind the companies is that this version of a game (the standard edition which does not include any DLC or other bonuses) has never been released before on its own and thus this is the first day of that edition. specific. I think most people will agree that while this subtle logic might satisfy a judge in a false advertising lawsuit, it’s pretty obnoxious and blatantly untrue for anyone who just wants to play a game they’re really excited about. soon as possible.

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And what’s worse, things are getting more and more confusing. When is the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 release date set? If you go to the Activision website, it will tell you that it came out on October 28. But that doesn’t square with the fact that anyone who’s “pre-ordered” can download and play the entire single-player campaign from October 20; it’s the multiplayer mode that will be released on the 28th. It can be plausibly argued that Modern Warfare 2 wasn’t fully released until multiplayer arrived, but not that its release wasn’t clearly underway from the previous week.

Admittedly, I find this ruse especially irritating because part of my job is keeping a list of upcoming games and their release dates for review coverage. But if it’s confusing to me, I’m sure fans like you are too. But more than that, it’s the insulting audacity involved. It is on the same level as telling you that the sky is not blue and the water is not wet.