“Bummer,” that about sums up the communal groan twittered round the Internet last night when Take-Two let slip it was delaying BioShock 2 until 2010. I was busing back from London to Oxford battling a fickle Virgin Mobile USB wireless connection when the bad news blipped into my laptop’s RSS reader.
Or would that be good news? According to Take-Two CEO Ben Feder, the game’s being delayed because it simply wasn’t up to snuff for a 2009 release.
“The decision to shift a release date is never an easy one, especially with a product as highly anticipated as BioShock 2,” said Feder in a statement. “We felt that it was essential to invest the additional time to ensure that this title will deliver what its fans expect and deserve.”
Well thank goodness then. BioShock’s not a franchise you louse up lightly. Expectations are already extortionate. “As good” won’t cut it. Most players want what they always want–bigger, bolder, and splashier–while pedantic message board pseudo-sages are going to pick the plot apart like ants swarming a picnic lunch in hell. They may sound silly “tearing up” over the embarrassingly bad ending, but their sway’s no joke, at least virally speaking.
Take-Two was leveraging BioShock 2 as a fiscal fourth quarter top-five charter. Now the game’s off the table and the company’s upped its estimated fiscal third and fourth quarter losses. Tough tidings, perhaps worse than the delay alone suggests, given Citi analyst Brent Thill advice that investors wait to buy Take-Two shares because “there are more questions than answers.” Are there further shoes dangling from precarious laces, about to drop?
Another question. Did Take-Two view Activision Blizzard’s Modern Warfare 2 (also a shooter and expected in early November) as too much competition? An audience-splitter in an unusually competitive, frugality-driven holiday shopping season? Recall the first Modern Warfare game sold over 12 million copies on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 alone. BioShock 2 would certainly fare better swimming large in a smaller non-compete pond, release-window-wise.
That said, losing BioShock 2 from their 2009 lineup isn’t the end of the world for Take-Two. The game sold respectably on the Xbox 360 but was never boxing at Grand Theft Auto or Halo weight. That, and Take-Two still has its NHL and NBA games (the former’s not much, but the latter typically cracks a million units cross-platform). They’ve got the second Grand Theft Auto IV expansion for Xbox 360, “The Ballad of Gay Tony,” coming this fall. And last but not least, RPG-shooter Borderlands.
GTA IV’s a shoe-in (over seven million copies sold on the Xbox 360 to-date), but Borderlands is anyone’s guess. It’s by Gearbox, the guys behind the variably well/not-so-well-received Half-Life expansions and the Brothers in Arms games. Borderlands’ biggest hurdle? Name recognition. That usually correlates to marketing spend. To the point: Have you heard of Borderlands? I’m betting most of you haven’t. I’m guessing you won’t see it plastered on the side of a building in a tank top tonguing a lollipop. Which–assuming it turns out to be minimally decent–should make the gratis social networking factor’s impact (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) interesting to observe.