Sony has announced that both The Last of Us 2 and Iron Man VR have been delayed indefinitely due to Covid-19 but, with AAA games such as Ghost of Tsushuma and Cyberpunk 2077 due to release in the coming months, it's uncertain whether these games will still hit their release dates.
It already seemed like a pretty dry few months ahead in terms of gaming, as the likes of Marvel's Avengers and Cyberpunk 2077 were pushed out of their original April and May release windows into September. However, that was before the pandemic, which now threatens to add further delay the biggest game releases of the year.
It's concerning, especially given that the PS5 and Xbox Series X are due to release in late 2020, and while the consoles seem on track to hit their release windows, whether their launch titles will be is another matter entirely – there's just too much unpredictability.
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At the time of writing, we know that Death Stranding for PC, Iron Man VR and The Last of Us 2 have been delayed by Covid-10. While the latter two have been delayed indefinitely, Death Stranding for PC has been delayed for six weeks due to the temporary closure of Kojima Productions.
But while, we've seen a handful of AAA games delayed, the likes of Gears Tactics and Minecraft Dungeons, due to release in the coming weeks, seem to be on schedule.
It's hard to differentiate which games will be most affected at this time. While most developers are working from home, those working on AAA games will likely struggle with larger assets and a separated working team- likely causing delays due to development issues.
But, it's also possible that the likes of The Last of Us 2's delay has been caused by potential shipping issues rather than anything else.
The likes of Gears Tactics and Minecraft Dungeons are available on Xbox Game Pass from day one, meaning that the majority of players will likely still be able to access these games via Microsoft's game subscription service.
Meanwhile, Sony doesn't have a subscription service as popular as Game Pass and will likely rely on a great deal of physical sales when it comes to titles such as The Last of Us – especially with deluxe editions available.
The Last of Us 2 is pretty much finished, with Naughty Dog taking this time to iron out final bugs, meaning the game was delayed due to logistical issues. It's likely these surround the shipping of the game, as Square Enix faced similar problems around the release of Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
At the time the delay was announced, a Naughty Dog statement said that the developer couldn't launch the game to its satisfaction and that it wanted to ensure that all players could enjoy the Last of Us 2 "around the same time" – suggesting shipping could likely play a part.
However, industry analyst Michael Pachter thinks these delays may be a result of something else outside of the pandemic.
"I’m really not sure what Sony is thinking," Pachter told TechRadar. "Last of Us makes sense to delay, since it’s set in a post-pandemic world, and the developer posted that the game is finished, so it’s being delayed for a specific reason. Iron Man might have something to do with the Marvel contract, so it’s not clear to me that the pandemic had anything to do with that, either."
Pachter believes that the pandemic may have altered Sony's original plans for this year, with the company holding back its biggest offerings for the PS5 launch – and that we may see Ghost of Tsushima delayed too.
"I think they planned to 'unveil' the PS5 at GDC and have game announcements during E3, but those plans clearly went awry," Pachter told us. "I still think the console is on track for fall, and my guess is that The Last of Us 2 and Iron Man VR will be launch titles. If Ghosts of Tsushima can be finished by then, it’s probably a launch title as well."
While it seems possible that any AAA games due for release in the coming months could be delayed, there's been no word on whether we will also see next-gen games delayed too.
In a statement to TechRadar, Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios, said:
"We know that gaming connects people during times of social distancing, and we are committed to delivering the highest quality Xbox Game Studios games for our global community of players.
"At the same time, the health and safety of our XGS development teams is our top priority. Each studio is facing unique challenges and constraints depending on its particular location, and many of our external development partners around the world are similarly affected. We are supporting our studio leaders to make the right decisions for their teams and their individual games during this challenging time.”
Meanwhile, Ubisoft has stated that it's prepared to tweak its release calendar should disaster strike.
"We are not seeing significant impact to our own timelines, but we are in touch with all our partners and if there’s a need to adjust in order to do what’s best for them and for our players, we will do so," Guillemot explained.
The truth is, the unpredictability of Covid-19 means that we're not quite sure what effects this pandemic will have – or how long it will last. It's probably best to assume that all games due for release in the coming months may suffer from delays. While CD Projekt Red has committed to no further delays for Cyberpunk 2077, the state of the world is constantly shifting. Let's just hope things have settled down by September.
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