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A Very Messy Christmas | Why The Holiday Rush Is Bad For Business

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Features
Tags:
Battlefield 3, Christmas, Holiday Rush, Modern Warfare 3, Silly season

A Very Messy Christmas | Why The Holiday Rush Is Bad For Business

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

No, I'm not talking about all the jolly adverts, advent calendars (really) and festive goods starting to appear on supermarket shelves. Rather, I'm referring to the absolutely ridiculous slew of games that are scheduled over the next couple of months and hitting shelves even as you read this paragraph. The holiday season crunch is a tradition that's right up there with turkeys and tinsel, but the status quo doesn't benefit everyone. Far from it: the insane level of competition and rivalry is toxic and damaging to our industry, like a razor blade in poisoned trick or treat candy.

So bear with me, dear reader, as I explain why... and how staggering releases throughout the year could fix a system that isn't quite working properly.

Finite Resources

A Very Messy Christmas | Why The Holiday Rush Is Bad For Business

Sure, demand for videogames goes up at the end of the year. Everyone needs Christmas presents. But the same can't really be said of our bank balances, with are pushed and strained at the best of times. We can't afford to buy them all despite any vouchers or money we get from doting relatives, meaning that launching a title over this period essentially makes publishers gamble on gamers choosing their product over everyone else's. With dozens of games releasing every month, only the biggest franchises can realistically hope to get a piece of the action; the pie may be bigger, but there are still roughly the same number of slices to serve up.

We're not the only people with finite resources. To get their games noticed, publishers need to spend increasingly obscene amounts of money on advertising, publicity, promotions and hype. Money that could be spent on developing new IPs or taking risks with innovative ideas. On buying new studios or giving indie developers a chance. Or, you know, just put in the bank in order to stop them complaining about lost revenue from used games.

Off The Radar

A Very Messy Christmas | Why The Holiday Rush Is Bad For Business

Christmas is all about the big boys... but what about the little guy? Games from smaller studios or indie/boutique developers struggle to break through the hype at this time of year, many of which just fall off the radar completely. Releasing in the summer, however, would grant them a greater degree of exposure - as well as sating our demand for new games over the slow period. Niche titles just don't get a look in, but would be a much more attractive proposition earlier in the year when we crave something new to play. Serious Sam 3: BFE, The  Grinder, The Cursed Crusade, Hard Reset and other games ought to set their sights on the long slow summer, not the bitterly cold winter.

Price Crashes

A Very Messy Christmas | Why The Holiday Rush Is Bad For Business

This bit actually benefits us, I readily admit. To illustrate what I'm about to say, I'd invite you to take a look at Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine that hit the shelves a month ago... and has already approached the £15 price level. A third of the price - for a game that has only been out for scant weeks.

See, the competition doesn't just extend to publishers and developers; it also affects retailers who need to constantly jostle for the most attractive prices. Unless the game is a massive exclusive or a major series sequel, most online sellers are willing to slash its RRP to bits in order to shift it. Sure, companies like THQ might sell more copies over the holiday season, but for significantly less money apiece! Do the math. Summer releases often hold their value for much longer due to the decreased competition and lack of newer games to sell at higher prices. To compare: Alice: Madness Returns has only just hit the sub-£20 price bracket on consoles.

The Used Games Season

A Very Messy Christmas | Why The Holiday Rush Is Bad For Business

Summertime tends to be the part of the year when used games come into their own. After all, what are we supposed to do? When nothing's coming out, it's the perfect time to look back at the games we couldn't afford last Christmas and pick some of them up at rock bottom prices. Many of which could have just been held back or scheduled at full price, with a greater degree of polish and content to boot.

So here's a idea, executives and publishers. If you provided us with exciting new releases throughout the year, we might not need to rely on used product to get our fix. Give the online passes a rest (for oh so many reasons) and just give us new games instead!

Jaded Journalists

A Very Messy Christmas | Why The Holiday Rush Is Bad For Business

Here's a fun fact: the vast majority of games critics who are actually paid for their work (as opposed to relying on perks and swag) don't receive compensation for the time they actually spend playing the game. Rather, they just receive a stipend for the review itself. With so many games releasing over such a short period, it can be very tempting for journalists to rush through each title as quickly as possible - not as much bank as they can, but just to keep their heads above the truly insane workload. This can potentially lead to reviews that completely miss out on subtle gameplay features, or don't take some of the more complex and oblique aspects of the experience into account. We've managed to avoid this at Dealspwn, but it always has a knock-on effect. For example, I've had to put our Xbox Live Indie Game Of The Week column on temporary hiatus in order to deal with the insane volume of holiday coverage... which I hate immensely. Someone - usually the smaller devs who desperately need the exposure - always loses out.

What's more, you can have too much of a good thing. Playing too many different games frequently causes us to lose our enthusiasm; seeing them as soulless product and merchandise rather than a form of artistic expression. If you want your games to be appreciated for what they are, don't release them so close together!

Summertime Blues

A Very Messy Christmas | Why The Holiday Rush Is Bad For Business

But here's the rub. We don't just stop playing games just because the sun is beating down and the birds are merrily singing in the trees. Believe it or not, gamers want to play games all year. Spacing them out would give us the breathing room we need to enjoy a varied gaming diet rather than gorging ourselves stupid from mid-September onwards, while being able to appreciate the smaller titles for the innovative experiences that they are. Christmas will always be time for the biggest releases to mix it up in a bid for our hard-earned moolah, and that's fine, but everyone else needs to remember that there are more than four months in the year. And we'd love to spend our money through all of them.

Add a comment4 comments
Late  Nov. 1, 2011 at 15:47

There's no denying there's a lot more titles around November than the rest of the year, but I'm not convinced it's bad for the industry.

Finite Resources
In the first ten months (ish) we had two top titles (Portal 2 and Deus Ex HR) in my opinion.
In the final two months we get Arkham, Rage, Battlefield, MW3, Skyrim, Saints3. (Not interested in Rage or Skyrim, personally - but I know both are/were highly anticipated titles.) It's bloody bankrupting me!
But... if they were spread out across the full year I'd buy the above. With them mainly clumped together in November, though, I find I buy the above games plus a handful of others I'm not really as interested in, to fill the quiet periods. Some of those are 2nd hand, some new. The industry's perhaps benefiting from the current set up, then, in that regard.

Off The Radar
Agreed on this part - the "smaller" guys should avoid putting their wares out at this time of year. We're all broke, and we're all putting serious numbers of hours in on the AAA titles - unfortunately you guys don't get much of a look in even with those who are fanatical about supporting the smaller companies, indies, etc. and stand virtually no chance of sales with the average Joe.

Price Crashes
Pfft. Selective memory, there, Jon. There's been big and rapid price crashes on a massive slew of games this past year or two, and I don't think timing has much to do with it. Brink is a fine example. Portal and Deus Ex also dropped rapidly (as did Duke Nukem, but for quite different reasons).

The Used Games Season
Not sure of the argument there. The used game market is unlikely to be much affected by the timing of game releases in any way that hasn't been covered already (mainly in the finite resources argument). There's pretty much two types of gamers - those who hoard their games, and those who trade them. The used game market's unlikely to change if a handful of games get different release dates.
And of course the whole argument rests on the theory that the used games market is harmful to the industry, and I'm far from convinced by that. Lots of new sales are partly dependent on the knowledge that the punter can get half him money back by selling the game on, later. If the used games market weren't there new games may well suffer massively.

Summertime Blues
(Yeah, I'm outta sequence now, but roll with it.)
As you say, we're gamers. We want to play games. So we'll find new stuff to play (new to us, or newly released) at any time of the year. Again I don't think the busy pre-xmas glut of games has any effect on that. If I want a new game to play there's no shortage of options, be they new titles, price-crashed recent titles, old games, second hand games, or downloads. Most gamers regularly tap all of those sources, and all in all probably end up spending the same amount and playing the same amount as they would if the big titles were more evenly spaced throughout the year.

Jaded Journalists
Now we're at the crux of the matter, aren't we! You're a bit busy. (Compare to me, supposed to be working hard but instead fannying around on the internet writing overly long replies to blogs! :D )
Stop complaining about your workload and go review some xblig titles! :P
(Hopefully you know I'm joking, there - the internet doesn't always make tongue in cheek clear, though ;) )

JonLester  Nov. 1, 2011 at 16:03

@Late: excellent points all, and this is the sort of comment we dream about getting when we write articles like this. As much as anything, though, I'm trying to explore the broader financial implications for retailers, developers and publishers as opposed to just us consumers (which is usually my focus).

The used games argument was also more of a dig at the fact that, with little other than used titles to buy in the summer, it seems a tad hypocritical that AAA is hell-bent on demonising preowned games without actually giving us other options.

Speaking of hypocritical, I should probably go and do an XBLIG roundup rather than commenting. Damn. Hoist by my own petard.

Last edited by JonLester, Nov. 1, 2011 at 16:11
stevenjameshyde  Nov. 1, 2011 at 16:16

It's the knock-on implications that worry me most. If gamers can only afford to buy a handful of the Christmas rush of games on release, a good few of them will probably buy the multiplayer-focused games to avoid being left behind - SP-only games can wait for a price drop. Ergo, every game will have multiplayer

frankiequinlivan  Nov. 2, 2011 at 14:58

It's is very stupid what the companies are doing to there games. If something struggles to sell as its been released during the Xmas rush it will probably get binned. I've had to look at the list of games coming out and see what I can afford and also have time to play. I decided on f1 2011, battlefield and modern warfare. I going to have to wait until after Xmas when things get quiet before I try forza 4, batman, assassins creed and rage. Also by this point i could probably get a cheap second hand copy or find them in a sale which also won't benefit anybody and it may still get cancelled. I was really bored during June and July and could have done with a couple of these then.

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