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.
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
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.
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
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!
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!
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.