"You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan at all," says Ki-taek to his son in the film Parasite. That truism has been around for a long time prior to the film. Every plan falters in the face of reality, because you never know what's going to happen.
Marvel's Avengers from Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics is running headfirst into that statement. Today, the developer announced that the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S versions of the game would be delayed into 2021, and the planned Hawkeye character release would be moved out of October.
"Marvel's Avengers' launch was not without turbulence, and we recognize that a number of issues detracted from your enjoyment of the game," noted Crystal Dynamics studio head Scot Amos in today's update. "Moving forward, we intend to have a fixed, predictable patching cycle to ensure all new content meets both our and your high standards and has time for extensive internal testing."
Avengers has problems, many of which I detailed at launch. While it had a solid single-player campaign, the online multiplayer component of the game was simply not ready for release. It's a mess, and it's going to take a long time to fix. As an example, it took Ubisoft a year to fix the smaller issues with The Division 2, many of which were taken care of by the release of the Warlords of New York expansion. No Man's Sky has been a multi-year road to its current state, where it's now beloved by fans. It's hard to think Avengers will be able to clean up everything in a few months.
As players have complained about the issues with Avengers, including the lack of endgame content, the common refrain has been, "There's a roadmap!" The existence of a rough calendar of future releases was used as a shield and a cudgel, to minimize feelings about the current state of Avengers. This isn't unique to Avengers though; I've seen the same result in regards to Anthem, Fallout 76, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Star Citizen, and more. It's as if the roadmap makes everything better.
Game development is hard and the roadmap is just a plan. For certain games, you can be sure that a studio will stick to their steady content plan: Final Fantasy 14 is well-known for being very consistent with their content patch schedule. Naoki Yoshida's team may falter a few weeks here and there, but by and large, they release on schedule.
But the roadmap alone doesn't mean anything; it's a plan, a hope, a prayer. Delivering on a roadmap requires the commitment of the developer. It requires the resources of the publisher and current sales numbers in order to make those resources a reality. Ubisoft has built a reputation on being committed to its games; even if they launch with issues, you can expect to see updates, tweaks, and overhauls years down the line for many of their titles. I haven't thought about The Crew 2 since its release in 2018, but Ubisoft is still adding cars and events to the game as of this week.
Even good fortunes can see a roadmap vastly changed. Fortnite's original primary mode was what became known as Save the World, but with the success of Battle Royale, I doubt many players even know that Save the World exists. Among Us developer InnerSloth was originally working on a sequel, but the recent success of the game has seen them instead focusing on adding features planned for the sequel to the original game.
That's rare, though. Electronic Arts does not seem to see its games in the same way, and it's more likely to walk away from an underperforming title. Will Anthem ever truly relaunch? Who knows? Activision Blizzard just announced that Starcraft 2 is entering support mode in terms of further content releases, and Heroes of the Storm is a dead man walking. Crystal Dynamics is under Square Enix, so it could go either way. Will Avengers get all the fixes it needs, like Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn, or will it see planned DLC cancelled, like Final Fantasy 15?
A roadmap is only as good as the game's current fortunes. Marvel's Avengers was the number one game on September's NPD charts and the Marvel license is a lucrative one, so it probably behooves Square Enix to continue to support it. And the ability to add new heroes allows Crystal Dynamics the chance to draw players back into the game: if everything in terms of mechanics and content is fixed in time for the release of Black Panther, Captain Marvel, or Spider-Man, there's a high likelihood that players will return.
I hope that Marvel's Avengers can pull off the return. I know there are folks that really enjoy the game, and I see the nuggets of great fun in there as well. And the ability to right the ship and deliver an excellent experience after a disastrous launch is the stuff great stories are made of.
Developers of ongoing service titles do need to offer roadmaps, because players need to know what might be coming down the pipeline. But a roadmap isn't a contract, it's a handshake. That next update could happen as planned, or the developer could run into a severe speedbump, vastly changing the direction they need to pivot to. Hell, one of their own updates could break something, forcing them to fix that before working on anything new. We don't know what will happen.
So as it stands, the future of Marvel's Avengers is in limbo. Crystal Dynamics is promising a lot in their update: a ping system, multiplayer for Mega Hives, matchmaking improvements, and the new characters. And I don't think it's lying to players, anymore than it was when it promised Hawkeye this month. But plans change and reality is a cruel mistress. Sometimes the best plan is no plan at all; just a commitment to rectify the problems no matter how long it takes.
Hopefully Square Enix has that kind of commitment.