Let’s Talk About: What Does It Mean When A Game Goes Gold?

Capcom’s upcoming Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers, and Lizardcube’s Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, have both been announced as “going gold” this week, ahead of their upcoming releases in May and later this month respectively. While looking around the web, I’ve seen a few people asking an interesting question, “How can a game go gold, before it’s been released?”

I thought I’d talk about this because it was something that I too had to research once upon a time, and event today, I can sometimes get confused myself. Just last week in fact, I talked about Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash, stating that it went gold, and for some reason I connected that to it’s sales. In that article I said:

Peach Beach Splash went gold in February, weeks before it’s March 16th release date, and with Senran Kagura fans and anime-game fans in the west chomping at the bit to give this game a go, I can imagine pretty decent sales on this side of the pond too.

It’s mistakes like this the perpetuate the confusion of the consumer. However, let me redeem myself here, and explain to anyone who might be wondering what going gold actually means.

When we talk about games going gold, we are not necessarily referring to game that have sold above a particular threshold as monitored by an external body, such as in the music industry where over a certain number of sales will grant an album or single a gold, platinum, multi-platinum or diamond rating. While it is possible to find some places that will designate an award for a certain number of sales, these are often issued by the publisher, and can be based on many different standards from simple sales, to profit, to userbase. However, this is rarely counted, prior to the release of the game. It’s true some have based thier numbers on presales, but this is simply a case of counting your chocobos before they hatch.

Instead if you hear that a game has gone gold, prior to its release it’s instead drawing on another musical term. The Gold Master. In the music industry, a Gold Master is the final cut of a single or album, that has received signed approval from the musicians and producers, and is sent to distribution for printing and shipping. While the term seems to have existed since the 50s and 60s, in modern day a “Gold Master” may actually be made from real 24k gold. This is because the gold is more resistant to corrosion than the usual aluminium backing that is used on silver CDs, and thus is a better material on which to store a CD that needs to stand the test of time.

When a video game has gone through it’s final development cycle, it is formally submitted to the publisher for approval, where in it’s checked and playtested, to make sure it reached the standards that the publisher look for, and can be played without error on all platforms it will be releasing on. If it passes these checks, and is approved by the publisher, just like in the music industry, this version of the game is referred to as the Gold Master and is sent to distribution for printing and shipping.

In recent years, due to the advent of content patching via the internet, the standards for approval, have become more laxed. Where as in the past, bugs could have caused the release date to be pushed back last minute. Today, the main concern seems to be hitting the deadline, a virtue in it’s own right, but it can lead to unfinished games hitting the shelves, and requiring a day one patch.

The most recent example of this is probably Mass Effect: Andromeda, which had sever serious graphical glitches, throughout the entire game, which while looking much better, still has a long way to go.

Here’s just an example of a few from GameRanx.

Peace and High Scores!

  • Kyle Yager

    Ohhhhhh. Okay. That makes more sense.