Depending on which part of the world you reside in, World of Warplanes was originally scheduled to officially launch on September 25th or September 26th of this year. This was announced in a press statement released barely over 30 days ago. With less than a week to go before launch, the company has now announced a new set of launch dates - November 12th and 13th of this year. Launch delays are nothing new in the game industry by any stretch of the imagination. Getting a delay announcement so close to the expected launch date, however, is virtually unheard of.
There had to be a number of factors that influenced the decision to delay World of Warplanes this late in the development cycle. As someone that was at BioWare and ArenaNet during the launches of Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 respectively, I can clearly imagine some of the conversations that took place before this decision was met. If I had to bet on the most likely scenario, I’d say that the moment the launch date was announced, someone (or a group of someones) did everything they could to convince the higher-ups that the game wasn’t going to be ready. The powers that be took it under advisement and waited until almost the final hour to see if the team could pull off a miracle before making the decision to push the launch date.
I was with BioWare long enough to see SWTOR delayed a couple of times. Each time, there was a company meeting in which we were told why and what it meant for the project as a whole. These meetings always took place at least two to three months before the expected date. For the life of me, I honestly can’t imagine announcing the delay of a game days before it was supposed to launch. It’s not just the delay that struck me as odd though – it’s the time they’ve pushed the launch to.
As I mentioned earlier, World of Warplanes is now set to launch on November 12th and 13th. Unfortunately, there are two other nearby dates that should ring a bell with anyone that pays attention to the game industry in general – November 15th and November 22nd. They may not mean much to Wargaming.net (the creators of World of Tanks and World of Warplanes), but to the rest of the world, they’re the launch dates of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. PS – you can bet your bottom dollar neither of those companies will be announcing a delay.
Attempting to release a PC title just a few days before the launch of the PS4 and barely a week earlier than the launch of the Xbox One seems like complete folly. It’s not because I think players won’t be interested in World of Warplanes in general, but they’re not going to care about it that month and that’s a problem. World of Warplanes is a title that desperately depends on one thing to make matches available for those that want to hop in – other players. A large pool of available players is going to be crucial to the game’s success in the first week of release and that’s where I think Wargaming.net is going to find themselves in a bind.
Despite it being a worthwhile total, World of Warplanes already has a dangerously low player base on the U.S. open beta server cluster every day. So much so that finding players to compete in the highest tiers of the game are virtually impossible. I’ve only gotten into a Tier 9 match once and that was after waiting 20 minutes for a match of only 2 on 2. I’ve never had a Tier X match pop. The first couple of tiers have lower wait times, but they still exist. For this game to be successful Wargaming.net is going to need enough players on the server to pop low tier matches instantly and higher tier matches in seconds, not minutes. This needs to happen on launch day, not a month down the road. Trying to convince that player base to use anything beyond the new game console they just purchased is going to be a tough sell. In fact, I think it’s a lost cause for the entire month of November.
The MechWarrior Online team took a lot of flak last week for releasing MWO far before it was ready to launch. How far before it was ready? See in our review here. Perhaps the World of Warplanes development team saw how the MechWarrior Online launch went last week and realized that they can’t afford to deliver anything less than a stellar experience if they hope to get the players they need. If that’s the case, I would applaud Wargaming.net for having the courage to make that decision, but due to the timing, I just can’t.
By pushing the launch to over a month from now, I’ll be interested to see how Wargaming.net keeps their fans involved and excited about the new launch. There’s no question the hardcore crowd will follow them to the ends of the earth and will always be ready for launch. I’m more concerned about the casual observer that the company needs in order to grow their population by significant levels. Personally, I’m not sure they can. It was a dangerous gamble to delay the launch so late in the marketing cycle, especially when they’re pushing it to coincide with the launches of the PS4 and Xbox One. I hope the gamble pays off for them because I’ve enjoyed the game overall so far, but I’ll be surprised if it does.