The build-up is huge. The expectations high. Everything runs at fever pitch. That's right, game launches are big (and stressful) affairs. For consumers, it's a waiting game.
Sure, we've seen the steady trickle of new screenshots, new trailers, playable convention demos and downloadable demos over the previous months — or often, much longer — but that's only half the story.
It's not only a waiting game for us, it's also a waiting game for the folks who toil away on a title. They've got so much more invested. While the consumer's aim is to buy a solid game, the aim of developers is two-fold: produce a solid title and then sell it. After all that time spent working on a game and then releasing it "into the wild" must be a nerve-racking, thrilling and maybe even somewhat bittersweet. It's out of the developer's protective cocoon and must fend for itself.
As we close into another holiday season chock-a-block with eagerly anticipated game releases, we asked some of the industry's most noteworthy game developers what they did during their game launches. More specifically, we wanted to know what game devs the day before their games are released, the day of and the day after — for previous titles, current titles from seasoned vets and, yes, even upcoming titles from devs just cutting their teeth.
We were curious to know if any have superstitions or rituals or whatever. In short, what's on the other side of the fence. The replies, which follow below, don't simply shed light on the industry at large, but also on the individual developers themselves.
Dylan Cuthbert (PixelJunk Racers, PixelJunk Monsters, PixelJunk Eden)
"The only 'ritual' I have is taking a long deep relaxing bath when I need to solve a game play problem, or when I need some inspiration. I just sit back and stare at the tiled wall (tiles are important for the process), and chase the patterns with my eyes whilst thinking hard about whatever the problem is. Usually I come up with pretty good solutions and ideas that way, things just fall into place.
I'm not superstitious, I'm Aquarius, the star sign of logic. (see what I did there!) :-) "
Todd Howard (Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls franchise)
"I've had a 'release day' ritual forever, which is I go to the store and watch someone buy the game. There's a real sense of pride and closure when you actually see your game on the shelf. Like it's "out in the wild" and there's nothing you can do about it anymore. Now that the question's been asked, I find myself looking back and it's kind of fun to track how those release days went, from Terminator: Future Shock, where I think I waited several hours until someone bought a copy at EB, to Daggerfall, and Redguard, both of which only had a person or two come in to buy it while I hid in the corner. With Morrowind, there were several people lined up, and probably double that with Oblivion. Oblivion was to the point people would recognize me and ask me to sign stuff, which really makes you feel extra proud.
Fallout 3 was an entirely different experience, since we did a midnight opening at Best Buy here in Rockville and hundreds of people showed up to buy the game, at midnight! I was pretty stunned. The extra highlight with Fallout's release was that my brother is a writer at Disney/Pixar and he wrote the Tinker Bell movie which came out the same day as Fallout 3, October 28th. A really amazing coincidence that they came out the same day, so I went back to Best Buy again to watch people buy both things — Fallout 3 and Tinker Bell, which sounds odd, and hard to explain, but pretty amazing for me."
Keiichi Yano (Lips, Elite Beat Agents, Gitaroo Man)
"I usually have a tonkatsu (deep-fried breaded pork cutlet) lunch or dinner. The word ‘katsu' means to win in Japanese. So sometimes in Japan when you want to gain some extra luck, people will have tonkatsu."
David Jaffe (God of War, Twisted Metal)
"The Day Before: I tend to be lucky enough to find myself in PR whirlwinds the day before our games come out. Lots of on camera, internet, and phone interviews during the 2 weeks before and the 2 weeks after your game hits. So you're really just out there trying to get people aware that your title is about to hit. Late at night I will scour message boards to try and get a sense of general excitement for our game. By the time the game is a day away, you tend to know how the critics are going to respond as you've seen most of the print reviews or had PR tell you the score you will be getting. But the waiting on the net publication reviews is killer and often times they hit the day before the game hits. So you're sitting there refreshing the big and the small gaming sites until your review comes up...and then you kind of try to judge from the headline (before you click on the actual story) if it's a good review or not...and then you just go: screw it and click it and hope for the best. So far, we've been real fortunate with scores. So that's the day before.
The Day Of: Kind of a let down. Unlike movies, there is no big premier and you can't drive around town to see if the theaters are packed with people who love your stuff. You visit some game stores to get a sense if the title is moving. I used to have my ex-wife call EB and ask about games I had worked on (i.e. Did you guys get Twisted Metal: Black in? You did? Is it selling, do you need to hold a copy for me or are there plenty? Is it supposed to be good?)...and then you hit refresh ALL DAY LONG on some of the key message boards like NEOGAF and EVIL AVATAR to see the player reviews come in. It really becomes an obsession that takes about 2-4 days to wear off because it tends to take that long for a real consensus to build over how good/average/bad your game is. I wish there was a big TA-DAH moment for the game day launch. The closest we have is when we are lucky enough for Sony to deem our game worthy of a Metreon launch party in San Fran...then at least there is a sense of a big party.
Day After: More PR and screwing around at the office...long lunches, leaving a bit early. Because you can't really jump right into work mode this soon and need a few weeks (at least) to get back on the horse. We've been lucky enough to be able to take time off after all the games we've made so the day after is prepping for what I'll be doing on those vacation days.
Hope that helps-really not that exciting. Reality is, the MOST exciting parts about making games to me are having the ideas, being there the day the idea actually comes to life and is fun, and watching people- usually in focus groups- play the game and respond to those ideas with big smiles. The rest happens so out of your realm of experience that it's not really happening to you or the team and so everything is second and third hand experiences you hear about from the net, from PR folks, stuff like that. And man, the excitement is even cut down by about 50% when you are talking a digital distributed game where you can't even go to a store to see your baby on the shelf. Cause then it's like you do all this work and there's not even tangible evidence of it! Ah well! Still the best job around! :) "
Masaya Matsuura (PaRappa the Rapper, Vib-Ribbon, UmJammer Lammy)
"Hrm. When the project's done, I don't really do anything special. But, I guess that's not a very interesting answer."
American McGee (American McGee's Grimm, American McGee's Alice)
"Oddly, we don't have any rituals surrounding the release of Grimm episodes — outside of the long checklists that go with ensuring that the thing is ready to be launched. We've sent so many 'Final' builds to GameTap that the thrill of it has kinda gone out.
On the week/day of a release I do make sure to post about the episode on my blog. And then after a release we're all curious to hear what the reviewers have to say.
Doing the episodic thing definitely makes it all feel different. We have a tremendous amount of 'ritual' — process, schedules, priorities, and routines to ensure we're finishing content on time. But for the actual release, day of, and after... we're still too focused on the 'making' to really pay much attention."
Cliff Bleszinski (Gears of War 2, Gears of War)
"Just catching up on sleep after all the PR...
Well, I'll be in LA at Citywalk for the [Gears of War 2] midnight launch event and then in meetings the following day...
Sure, I get nervous. Nothing is ever a slam dunk. Regarding blogs and boards — I read as much of it as I can."
Ben Judd (Bionic Commando: Rearmed, the upcoming Bionic Commando)
"The day before the BC launch:
Is invariably filled with lots of E-mails and phone calls. Checking with each of our sales branches to make sure everything is going according to plan. For the PC version [of the upcoming Bionic Commando], checking torrent sites to see if any pirates (Yee-argh me hardies!) have already done their inevitable damage. Online checking to see how big the buzz is. And of course blogging on our community site to say thanks to the fans for supporting the game. As far as rituals go, I will probably wear my lucky magadama charm and pray that fate is on my side. To be honest, there are some games that don't get the love that they deserve and there are some games that seem to ride the hype wave straight to success even though they are crap. (If I had a dollar for every time I've seen reviewers and gamers fall into a "honeymoon" period where they absolutely think the game is pure gold, only to look back on it a month later and realize it aint all that...)
The day of the BC launch:
Without a doubt I will be online waiting to pwn some newbs! The older I get, the slower I get. And this is probably the one day where I will actually be able to do some serious damage (Van Damage?) thanks to being familiar with the game and the multiplayer maps.
During the night I will no doubt go to my local izakaya (Japanese bars where you go their to eat and drink) to grab some chicken shishkebabs, fries, and all the over-priced Japanese draft beer I can drink. Warm sake is nice in winter too so I'll probably throw that in the mix. I would love to wear the bionic arm to a bar and act like a fool but since it costs as much as a some cars, I think the company would frown on that.
The day after the BC launch:
Since you don't really get the sales data in on the very first day, I won't know whether to celebrate good times (Come on!) or to cry in a corner by myself but the one thing I will know for sure... I need a vacation and dammit, I'm taking one. I need to find a place where I can get into trouble! Any suggestions?"
Media Molecule (LittleBigPlanet)
Paul Holden (Programmer): "Surely the day before the release we're frantically putting patches together to edit out offensive song lyrics?"
Martin Lynagh (Producer): "Sacrificing testers."
Mags Hardwick (Company Accountant): "We ate an awful lot of jelly beans."
Anton Kirczenow (Senior Programmer): "I spent most of the day playing 'the daddy game' with my kids, then going round the shops and them pointing out "the daddy game" is in the shops now so everyone can play it!"
Alex Evans (Technical Director): "I mainly stared at the big led sign on the wall that says how many people were playing online..."
James Fairbairn (Server Programmer): "Day before: Fix servers, champagne; Day of: Fix servers, wrap party; Day after, to date: Fix servers"
Kenny Young (Audio Designer): "Not to forget that on the day of [UK] launch we took Sackboy out to Guildford's finest purveyors of interactive entertainment to show him just how popular he is (see attached photo of Mark, Kareem and Sackboys). Then we took him to the pub. Best not say what happened after he'd had a few – my wounds are still weeping."
Daniel Leaver (Level Designer): "What i did (and for many days after launch), was sit in the pod, refreshing the story mode to see how many concurrent users were playing the story mode levels! The most I saw was 1300 in Get a grip!"
Rex Crowle (???): "I have a large framed picture of a owl on my desk, I like to stare into the black void of its giant eyes until it weirds me out and I get back to work."
Michelle (Assistant Producer): "Day before I prepare for the excitement of the day of release; Day of release we all go to game and celebrate with Sackboy dolls and drinks in the pub. Then chill out and move on with the next chunk of work — my head gets back into the schedule!"
Siobhan (Exec. Producer): "I like to mark special moments with some champagne and acknowledgment of whatever it is that we have achieved. I then held my breath, allowed a small brood of butterflies to nest in my tummy and & then watched the start of a whole new LBP chapter begin. It's been pretty nonstop for the team since then ;)"