Making video games is a long, difficult, and costly process, especially at the highest tier of big-budget, “AAA” development. As such, gaming enthusiasts have long been accustomed to having to wait significant periods of time for their favorite games to reach store shelves, to the point where delays have become something that you just kind of have to put up with.
There are many reasons for why games get delayed, but it primarily has to do with the fact that it is nearly impossible for developers to accurately gauge how long it will take to finish a game, especially in the early stages of development. However, even though unforseen obstacles get in the way and a sigficant number get hit with delays, most games take 2-5 years to complete.
Unfortunately, even half a decade isn’t enough sometimes. Here 15 games that were hit with delays so long, we’re still surprised they actually managed to come out at all!
15. Resident Evil 4: 1999-2005 (6 years)
The fourth installment in Capcom’s popular survival horror series went through, fittingly enough, four different variations over the course of its long development cycle. Originally teased in December 1999, Resident Evil 4 began life as a PlayStation 2 exclusive directed by Hideki Kamiya, who had previously overseen development on Resident Evil 2.
However, over the course of development, it was decided that the game Kamiya and his team were creating didn’t fit the style of Resident Evil and the decision was made to turn the project into a whole new game, which would become the original Devil May Cry. Shinji Mikami took over directing duties and after a few more scrapped versions (and a move to the Nintendo GameCube), Capcom finally landed on the action-packed, behind-the-shoulder gameplay that helped earn Resident Evil 4 rave reviews when it was finally released in January 2005.
14. Alan Wake: 2004-2010 (6 years)
Following the release of the first two Max Payne games, Remedy Entertainment decided to try something new and started working on a story-driven thriller in 2004. Alan Wake was announced the next year at E3, Remedy having partnered with Microsoft Game Studios in 2006 to release the game on Xbox 360 and Windows PC.
Much of Alan Wake’s protracted development can be blamed on a switch in genres partway through, as the game was first conceived as an open-world adventure before becoming the Twin Peaks-inspired, episodic action-adventure that finally shipped in 2010. For the most part, Alan Wake was worth the wait, even if its light-based shooting gameplay proved a bit repetitive, but plans for a full sequel were eventually scrapped and became the foundation for Remedy’s next title, the 2016 Xbox One exclusive Quantum Break.
13. Mafia II: 2004-2010 (6 years)
As a publisher, Take-Two has built a reputation of releasing quality software and a lot of this can be attributed to its willingness to delay games so that the teams working on them have the time needed to apply some extra polish. We’ve seen this again and again with games such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and L.A. Noire (the latter of which appears later on this list), but the downside of course is that waiting for anticipated games is not much fun.
Such is the case with Mafia II, which began development in 2004 but wasn’t released until six years later during the next console generation. Part of the reason the game took so long was the decision to transition from PlayStation 2 and Xbox to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, as 2K Czech had problems with Illusion Software, the developer of the game engine. In the end, whether Mafia II was worth the wait is a toss up, as the game’s engaging story was diminished by its boring, linear open world design.
12. Shenmue: 1993-1999 (6 years)
First released in Japan in 1999 for the Sega Dreamcast, Shenmue is an action-adventure title that is now regarded as one of the most innovative games in early 3-D development thanks to its (at the time) groundbreaking graphics and realism. Like most ambitious artistic endeavors, Shenmue was not conceived overnight and morphed into something quite different than originally envisioned over the course of its six year development.
Headed by Yu Suzuki, the team at Sega AM2 were originally tasked with creating an RPG set in the Virtua Fighter universe and development began in 1993 with plans to release the game on the Sega Saturn. As development wore on, Suzuki’s vision only grew more ambitious, as he conceived of Shenmue being a multi-part epic. By 1997, development had moved to the Dreamcast and the Virtua Fighter connection was dropped entirely. Upon release, Shenmue was met with critical acclaim but Suzuki’s vision had proven a costly investment for Sega; in fact, at $47 million, Shenmue was the most expensive video game ever made at the time.
Unfortunately, the Dreamcast’s low install base meant that Shenmue would have needed to be purchased twice by every owner of the console just to break even. Of course, that didn’t happen and Shenmue lost Sega a ton of money, though a sequel was still produced and released the following year because of how much had been invested in the project. Shenmue II also proved to be a commercial flop, yet plans for a third installment are still underway.
11. Galleon: 1997-2004 (7 years)
An action-adventure game overseen by Tomb Raider creator Toby Gard, Galleon cycled through a number of different iterations and publishers before finally landing on the original Xbox in 2004. Galleon suffered from having the goalpost shifted throughout development, as game design had evolved considerably since the late 90s when the game was initially conceived as a PlayStation release.
Porting the game from PlayStation to Dreamcast, then GameCube, and finally Xbox caused all sorts of technical issues and though the finished product was decent for a game that had suffered such a protracted creation, Galleon ultimately didn’t make much of impact and is now largely forgotten.
10. L.A. Noire: 2004-2011 (7 years)
Team Bondi’s 1940s-era detective game may not have been the most engaging open world game when it released in 2011, but L.A. Noire was certainly a technical marvel the likes of which the industry had yet seen. As it turns out, it was the ambitious technology behind L.A. Noire that caused it to be so heavily delayed, as the cinema-quality motion capture and extensive voice acting – combined with creating a huge open-world environment – was time consuming to develop and also costly.
With a budget in the range of $50 million, L.A. Noire was one of the most expensive video game productions at the time and fortunately for publisher Rockstar Games, the game was a sales success with over five million copies sold. However, allegations of poor working conditions at Team Bondi emerged in the months following L.A. Noire’s release, prompting Rockstar to cut ties with the studio. Unable to sign a deal with a new publisher, the studio was forced to close its doors in October 2011.
9. Starcraft II: 2003-2010 (7 years)
Though its development was indeed a long one at seven years, fans of Blizzard’s original Starcraft had to wait a dozen years for a sequel, as work on Starcraft II didn’t actually start until 2003. It’s understandable why getting Starcraft II out the door took Blizzard so long, as crafting a sequel to one of the greatest real-time strategy games ever made is no easy feat. From a fan perspective, there was good reason to be wary about a new Starcraft given how troubled Blizzard’s production was.
A year after the game was first announced at the 2007 Blizzard Worldwide Invitational, Blizzard revealed that development on Starcraft II was only about a third of the way done (bear in mind that the game was five years into development at this point) and that the initial release would be missing single player campaigns for two of the franchise’s factions, Zerg and Protoss (these were eventually released in expansion packs).
Starcraft II continued to be hit with setbacks from there, missing its beta window in 2009 but fortunately for everyone involved, the game had a relatively smooth launch in July 2010, where it was met with mostly positive reviews from both critics and the fans who had been waiting a dozen years to get their hands on it.
8. Spore: 2000-2008 (8 years)
The brainchild of SimCity creator Will Wright, Spore’s protracted development can be attributed almost exclusively to Wright’s ambition, as his plan was to create a game in which players could control the development of a species from microscopic organism to advanced, spacefaring civilization. Work began on Spore in 2000, but development hit several snags along the way, mainly involving gameplay as the team went through several iterations before landing on the five stage structure seen in the finish product.
Spore was finally released in 2008 and while its customization options and general structure were well-received, the game’s repetitive gameplay was widely criticized. Looking back, it was probably unreasonable to expect a god simulator that spent nearly a decade in development was going to live up to the hype but considering some thought Spore was just vaporware at one point, we’re just happy it eventually made it to the finish line.
7. Darkfall Online: 2001-2009 (8 years)
A massively multiplayer online role-playing game set in a fantasy world, Darkfall Online was announced in 2001 in the wake of early successful massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as Everquest and Phantasy Star Online. It took a full five years for the game to hit the non-playable demo stage and the beta didn’t drop until August 2008, seven years after the game was first announced. Of course, MMORPGs take considerably longer to develop than your average game and in a perfect world, Darkfall would have been able to recoup its development costs and then some through an active monthly subscriber base.
Unfortunately, the game garnered only average reviews and though the 2012 expansion Unholy Wars made noticeable improvements, the official servers were shutdown that same year, with developer Aventurine licensing the game out to two different player-led studios, which currently operate two competing versions of Darkfall – Rise of Agon and New Dawn. In short, it’s all very confusing and kind of a mess.
6. Too Human: 1999-2008 (9 years)
Too Human had one of the longest and strangest roads to release in gaming history. First announced in 1999, the title was originally in development for the PlayStation before developer Silicon Knights signed an exclusivity deal with Nintendo the following year and switched gears by making Too Human a GameCube game. The studio would go on to have its greatest success on Nintendo’s console with releases such as Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, but Too Human languished in development and never made it to the platform.
Silicon Knights pivoted yet again when they signed an exclusivity deal with Microsoft, with the plan this time to turn Too Human into a trilogy. After nearly a decade of development hell, the game was finally released in 2008 to middling reviews and sales figures. Trilogy plans were quickly scrapped and Silicon Knights ended up declaring bankruptcy in 2014 after losing a protracted court case with Epic Games, with a federal judge ordering the developer to destroy all copies of Too Human.
5. Team Fortress 2: 1998-2007 (9 years)
Valve has built something of a reputation for frequently delaying its games – if Half-Life 3 ever actually comes out, it will likely have endured the longest development in video game history – and its most heavily delayed title that actually made it to release is beloved class-based shooter Team Fortress 2. As many know, the original Team Fortress began life as a popular Quake mod, with Valve eventually hiring its creators to come work for them. A sequel was announced in 1998 but a protracted development cycle led to a much different game than originally promised.
While the initial pitch for Team Fortress 2 involved a more realistic aesthetic and gameplay, the team changed gears completely and adopted a colorful, hyper-stylized cartoon look – an important detail that Valve kept fans in the dark about for nearly half a decade while the team quietly worked away on the game. Fortunately, when Team Fortress 2 was finally released as part of the Orange Box compilation in 2007, it quickly became one of the most popular online shooters in the world and is still going strong over a decade later.
4. The Last Guardian: 2007-2016 (9 years)
Team Ico had a tough act to follow after releasing the critically-acclaimed Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 2 in 2005, but no one thought we’d have to wait over a decade to play the team’s next game. Development began on The Last Guardian in 2007, with plans to release it as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. Team Ico officially announced the game at E3 2009, impressing attendees with a cinematic that depicted an action-platformer following the bond between a young boy and his gigantic animal companion.
Hardware issues prompted the team to transition development to the PlayStation 4 in 2012 and it would take another four years for the game to actually release. The game’s frequent delays became something of an industry joke, with some theorizing that The Last Guardian had become vaporware given Sony’s relative silence on the project post-2011. Surprising many, the game was reintroduced at E3 2015 and released the following year to mostly positive reviews, with the general consensus being that Team Ico had crafted another beautiful, artistic experience held back by some technical and gameplay issues.
3. Prey: 1995-2006 (11 years)
Not to be confused with the 2016 shooter of the same name, the original Prey was first conceived of all the way back in 1995 by 3D Realms as a flagship title for their in-house engine. Following the departure of project lead Tom Hall the following year, a new team took over development duties and over the next half-decade, Prey had a number of false starts until the whole project was rebooted in 2001 under Human Head Studios.
Five years later, Prey – now a first-person shooter revolving around teleportation mechanics – was released on PC and Xbox 360 to positive reviews and commercial success. However, sequel plans ended up being aborted after Bethesda Softworks acquired the rights in 2009, leading to an entirely rebooted game with no connection to the previous Prey being released in 2017.
2. Diablo III: 2001-2012 (11 years)
Although it wasn’t officially announced until 2008, development on Diablo III actually started way back in 2001, just a year after the release of Diablo II. While Blizzard has stayed relatively quiet on why it took over a decade to get Diablo III out the door, Josh Mosqueira, who took over as game director sometime after the game’s 2012 release, offers an explanation in the book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, “The specter of Diablo II loomed large over the team,” said Mosequeira. “The pressure of trying to live up to the legacy of this incredible game weighed heavily on the team and impacted so many of the decisions.”
Diablo III’s problems only continued following its release, from the game being practically unplayable in its first month due to widespread network errors to game balance issues caused by the controversial Auction House. To their credit, Blizzard was able to turn things around and finally turned Diablo III into a worthy successor to the legendary Diablo II after the release of the first expansion, Reaper of Souls, in 2014.
1. Duke Nukem Forever: 1996-2011 (15 years)
Unsurprisingly, the (not actually real) award for most delayed game of all time goes to Duke Nukem Forever, the sequel to 1996’s Duke Nukem 3D that took a whopping 15 years to see through to completion. Originally announced in 1997, development duties were handled by 3D Realms for the next decade until the studio was downsized and the Duke Nukem Forever team all lost their jobs.
A year later, the game ended up with 2K Games, who chose Borderlands developer Gearbox Software to put the finishing touches on the game and finally get it out the door. In 2011, Duke Nukem Forever finally released and was widely considered a colossal failure; an outdated, ugly, and not particularly entertaining game that should have been axed somewhere along the way during its absurd 15 year development.