By: Stephen Crane (Photo: Courtesy Flickr user kevin dooley)
It's no secret that Gaming releases have seasons. They can be sort of broken up into two main categories: the summer drought and the fall flood. Every year starting in mid September to about April we find all of the big releases coming out. Now is when we find Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Battlefield 3, Assassin's Creed: Revelations and so much more coming out that it feels like we neither have the time nor the money to play all of them. It's exactly that sort of thinking that hurts the gaming industry as a whole.
When developers are fighting for the same pocket money, it's hard to justify risks. One thing gamers constantly need to keep in mind is that developers need to make money. It's just a fact of life that any game developer, no matter how much they love the industry, need to get paid for their work. Unfortunately that also means the larger developers have to be careful taking risks. If they are going to pump 30 million dollars into a game they need to be positive it will sell. A AAA title often needs to sell millions of units in order to simply break even. If you propose a game you aren't certain can match that quota, you can bet it won't make it through a large developer's studio.
What we end up with instead is a series of sequels and generic shooters. There are very few games that actually look like they will be revolutionary.
Because of budget and time constraints, gamers are less likely to take risks. Sometimes an innovative, fascinating, beautiful game does make it out from a developer. Sometimes it's even given its fair share of publicity. Unfortunately, it's tough for a gamer to justify purchasing the game, even if it is well reviewed. New gameplay styles aren't necessarily for everyone. What one person may consider fun, another may consider excessively droll, so reviews aren't everything, right? Besides, for a hefty investment of $60+, it's easier to go with the game you're more familiar with and are more certain to enjoy.
Because we're afraid to purchase games that are risky we can often pass up some of the most interesting titles to grace video games. Look at the sales figures for Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, Beyond Good and Evil, Panzer Dragoon Orta, or even Psychonaughts. Each of these games are interesting, different, quirky, and take bold risks in the video game world. Each of these games launched during the holiday season, and each of these games are well known for being underrated and under sold.
Developers need to start embracing a similar release cycle like what we see with movies. Our summers are our big blockbusters filled with mindless action, violence and sequels while there's also a separate time for Oscar-winning, thought provoking, intelligent films. This cycle we see gives movie-goers enough time to really enjoy a series of films without feeling like time needs to be budgeted. It allows for game-changing films to exist happily with guilty pleasure films.
The data on the profitability of game releases outside the holiday rush is unfortunately murky. What is a cause and what is an effect? It's no secret that less games are purchased during the summer, but is that because developers refuse to publish good games during the drought and therefore no one wants to buy them? Is it because gamers are more active during the Summer and outside more, which leaves them less time for gaming? Unfortunately I can't answer that question because I don't have the statistics, however I do believe it should be something developers need to look into, especially for the more unconventional titles.
If there was better pacing to our releases, I feel gamers would be more willing to take the risk on venturous titles. Gamers would also have the time to enjoy as many of the titles they are excited for at launch before the prices drop. If titles like Beyond Good and Evil could have attracted the attention they deserved before becoming used game or bargain bin sales the publishers would have obviously earned more money and may have seen the worth and merit of adventurous games. These adventurous games would allow for a greater impact in gaming as developers feel more comfortable exploring newer themes and more interesting game mechanics that we just aren't seeing today.
As I see it this could be a win-win for both developers and gamers, however that's my take on what I see without too much hard data. I'm not a market analyst, and I am sure there are legitimate reasons for the bum rush to get your gift money, but the current system feels broken. It pains me every time an amazing, yet ambitious title is ignored. Fortunately, games can get second lives through cult followings much like what happened with Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, both of which are seeing re-releases for the PS3. If you haven't played either of those games yet, I urge you to try them out and see for yourself how amazing they are.