Wednesday, December 5, 2012

So Many Games, Never Enough Money

It's early December and I’m sure that by now everyone has a wish list made out for the holidays and I bet there are at least two or three games on there. I know I have a handful of titles I want. The unfortunate part is almost all of them are at least $50 because they've been released in the past two months. Halo 4, Assassins Creed 3, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 have all been released in the past eight weeks. And that's only a portion of the holiday releases! It’s fair to say that unless you are an avid/hardcore gamer, most people will buy one or two games this holiday season. And since half of the recently released games have at least 20+ hours of content with multiplayer components that also require a time investment, I think it’s fair to say we’re getting a little flooded with video games. Unfortunately this habit has been going on for a while, with five or more games being released in a short time frame during the holiday season and almost nothing coming after. I think it’s time for a change that developers and publishers alike need to push for, before the market is so saturated that good games get passed over because they are competing with five or six blockbuster titles for attention.

Two of the biggest reasons for the holiday extravaganza of video games are Christmas shopping and conventions. One of the easiest things for families to do is to walk into a local GameStop and get a new game or two for their kid. All of the sudden, their shopping is halfway done with one trip to the game peddler. Now said parents can get some green Army men or a box set of Batman the Animated Series Season 1 and their kid will have one happy Christmas morning. Not only that, but because of all the holiday deals it gets even more opportunistic for anyone to start trading in old games or saving up for holiday deals; buy 2 get 1 free or buy this new game and only 8 dollars for an Xbox Live Subscription, that sort of thing. All the deals from Amazon to Walmart capitalize on the holiday season and the multitude of new games coming out. Developers and publishers know this and plan accordingly, realizing that they will get the maximum amount of immediate sales when they release in the fall. Not only that, but they get to spend the 6-8 months before that hyping it up, showing off game demos at conventions like E3. The amount of excitement that was garnered from the ship combat game demo for Assassins Creed 3 was ridiculous, and then in the following months we get multiple trailers, poster art, and gameplay videos. And all of that builds up to the fall release. If Assassins Creed released in May or June, Ubisoft wouldn't have as much momentum and excitement or nearly as many potential sales. Not all companies follow this idea though.

Some companies buck the usual process, with games like Mass Effect 3 released in March, and Bioshock Infinite planned to be released in February March.  However there is generally a period of summer doldrums where not many games at all are released. Whether or not it’s because of the close proximity to E3, I think that developers and publishers are missing out on a window of opportunity where there is much less competition to deal with. Lately Sony and Microsoft has take the summer slump and used the time to show off indie releases or smaller digital titles, but a $15 digital title is completely different from a full $60 release. While it seems as simple as 343 deciding to release Halo 5 in May instead of November, I’m sure there are plenty of other factors behind the scenes that help decide a release date. I feel that some of the bigger factors are completion dates and advertisement. Many triple-A games have huge ad campaigns running as far back as 5 or 6 months before the release. Bungie released regular video documentaries as Halo 3 was being made, and did the same for Halo: Reach. Those videos helped build hype for the game all the way until its release. And maybe that kind of ad campaign isn't as effective if there’s a new year that breaks it up or something along those lines. Honestly I don’t really know, and I’m sure most that aren't in the game industry are in the same position: mostly speculating based on evidence and theory. But maybe a solution is as simple as asking why. Posting on developer forums or being vocal about wondering why developers and publishers do what they do. It may seem slightly redundant to say “Speak louder! Ask questions!” but I think it could work. Gearbox has a Community Day where the entire company spends the day answering questions, and it is great to be able to sit in a room with the CEO of Gearbox Software and pick his brain. While a lot of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of developers, it isn’t solely up to them.

We as consumers are the ones that end up spending hundreds of dollars new games every year. And in that, parts of the developer’s actions are in reaction to us: to how and when we buy games. Personally, I always splurge a little for the holidays like anyone else, but after that I start searching for the best bargain, trading in older games and such for new titles that I want to play. Maybe that too is part of the reason we have been locked into this fall release schedule for big-name releases like Halo and Assassins Creed. They build up hype, and release quite a few of games in the fall and a lot of people buy them, effectively spending upwards of $200 on 3 new games in 2 months. That also affects the rest of the year. When I know I’m going to spend more money later, my mindset for the rest of the year is “I’ll save up for Christmas.” While there have been many good games that have been released earlier in the year, it always seems that the holiday game releases have a little extra advertising push to them, or more coverage across a bunch of different websites and stores. I’m not sure what else we can do to change this stigma of holiday releases, but I am worried that more games will compete for this 2-3 month release window and I won’t be able to enjoy games that look really interesting. If I buy Halo 4 and Playstation Allstars: Battle Royale, I miss out on games like Dishonored and COD: Black Ops 2. And it feels bad to talk to your friends who bought the other games and you can’t share in the experience of playing the same game.

Either way most of us will still buy a lot of games throughout the year, but if we keep having to spend all of our money in 2 months for 3 or 4 new games, there will be a breaking point where more and more people narrow down their choices to only 1 or 2 games, and it's sad that they can’t enjoy all the fun games that are released. If there is anything we can do to change it, it’s showing developers and producers that we love our games but would also like a more even release schedule. I think that in the end we would all benefit from being able to enjoy more games throughout the year, allowing us to not cherry-pick the best titles.
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