VGA is tomorrow and many people are expecting that the Diablo 3 release date will be announced. I'm positive, though, that it won't be announced even though it's a big event and three of Blizzard's founders will be attending (Michael Morhaime, Allen Adham, and Frank Pearce).
I might make jokes about that 02/23/12 potential release date too, but I honestly don't believe that even Blizzard knows when they'll be releasing the game. :) 02/23/12 could be a tentative date, but they probably have many other tentative dates planned as well.
If Blizzard doesn't even know when the release date will be, there's no way we'll ever be able to make an accurate prediction. If we knew when the announcement for the release date was and with great certainty, though, then we could probably make a reasonable estimation of the release date. Problem is, if they're not doing Digital Downloads for D3 this time, their typical lead time of two months could be shortened. Really, the only thing we can look at is why it's being delayed, what the bottleneck is, and estimate how long after the restriction is removed that they'll make the announcement.
For example, here's what I know:
Based on TOD's March-based information, it was going to be announced at Blizzcon 2011 and would have been released about 1 month before Christmas (November 24). (Including a January 17 backup date for technical or delivery issues.)
On September 22, Blizzard C-Levels rushed to Korea to deal with the fallout of the GRB approval process and their questioning about the gambling aspects of the RMAH.
On September 23, Blizzard immediately published their “Soon” Was Too Soon -- Diablo III to Arrive in Early 2012 announcement. Coincidence? :)
This meant that the surprise announcement would not be made on October 21st after all. Instead, they would have filled that announcement with another backup announcement.. it was either the Diablo 3 CE details or quite possibly the WOW Annual Pass, which they were probably saving up for much later. :)
Right after Blizzcon, even the Book of Cain was suddenly pushed back from it's November 15 release date to an undecided time. (Even though the Book of Cain was fully published, stocked, and ready to ship. Many users were completely baffled as to why it was pushed back.)
Things were pretty quiet in November, and news tidbits were sprinkling out at a very slow pace. Almost as if they were trying to postpone information on purpose.
Although on Nov 21, Rob Pardo tweeted "time to get serious and work hard on Diablo 3" possibly indicating that they were getting close to crunchtime knowing that the GRB's decision was about 1 week away.
On November 30 (or possibly even Nov 29), Blizzard finally received an update from the GRB that they were in deliberations and a decision would probably be made by January.
Suddenly, there was a huge explosion of Diablo information.
On November 30, Blizzard announced the official release date (Dec 13) for the Book of Cain following several date changes over the previous months.
On December 1 (the day after), the Global RMAH testing was announced. Blizzard also started releasing information on items and Artisans, new pages were suddenly published, and the "Day In a Life" series was expanded from 3 employees to 5 employees instead.
On December 5, Blizzard Korea also made an official update about the delays of the game and the status updates on rating approvals.
There has also been a new beta wave, and more news announcements, with even more news announcements coming over the next couple weeks. Important ones too, the ones preparing us for Diablo.
* UPDATE: As I was writing this, Blizzard just announced the "Battle.net Balance" system. This is probably the piece I've been predicting for a while now; initial steps for setting up PayPal accounts and transferring money into your new B.Net credit account. I'm not sure if this has the PayPal D3 integration part yet (I'll read it after finishing this post), but that will happen at least 1 month before the release.
* ANOTHER UPDATE (12/20/11):
New additions to the timeline.
On December 8, AUS Beta Key contest announced.
Contest started Dec 12, first invites went out Dec 18, and contest expires Dec 31.
On Fri Dec 16, Blizzard received notification from the Korean GRB that more information was needed. The hearing was schedule for Dec 21 for their answer, however it was cancelled and postponed until Blizzard could provide proper data. (They were given 7 days to reply.)
On Mon Dec 19, this news made front pages of Korean news sites.
On Mon Dec 19, a major wave of opt-in beta keys went out.
On Tue Dec 20, Blizzard announced the US-based beta key giveaway. The contest started on Dec 20, and expires Jan 23 2012. (More stalling.)
If the game gets delayed any further in January by the GRB, expect the game to be further pushed back to April, May or even June. Blizzard can easily change the "Early 2012" into a very loose definition. (And you might even start seeing some "clarifications" about it if everything is pushed back.) If the GRB comes through, and approves the game in January though, we'll hear something of a release date probably a few days before their quarterly meeting.
And it will be a crazy rush too when it happens. The announcement "should" be made on a non-typical unusual day since they won't want to wait any longer to make the announcement (I'm saying "should" because I'm assuming they're in a rush, but they probably are not.) They might also be saving up other announcements to make around the same time.
So that's pretty much it. Even Blizzard doesn't even know the release date at the moment, and they won't know until they receive a confirmation from the Korean Government. Right now, the game is in excellent shape, and they're just keeping themselves busy with balancing, tuning, and Runes. The same things that they have been discussing for months and months and no one thought it was peculiar. Using player balancing as an excuse is also very bad; Blizzard has been tuning and balancing classes in WoW for 7 years now. That would NEVER hold back a game release and it's something that will always be an ongoing activity. (I suspect it's actually a metagame to keep things changing, keep players interested in the game, and keep them trying the new OP'd classes. Hence, the new talent trees and level creep fixes.) :)
Unfortunately, the game has been pushed back so much that we all missed out on a great surprise announcement at Blizzcon, and we could have been playing the full Diablo 3 for a couple weeks by now.
The beta was only intended to be about a couple months long as well.. that's why it's so short. Are things starting to come into focus now? :)