Please, Economic Crisis, Put An End To The Christmas Rush

As a part-time gamer, Christmas must be brilliant, because not only do you get some time off work to play games, but you’ll probably receive games for Christmas as well. Double score.

But if you’re a serious gamer? Christmas is AWFUL. There are too many quality games on offer over too short a timeframe, meaning titles that may otherwise have been given a serious look are lost amidst the Gears of Wars and the World At Wars of the world.

At least, that’s the current state of affairs. But as an economic crisis looms once the holiday spending season draws to a close, could it be coming to an end?

Consider the holiday “failures” for 2008. And by “failure”, I mean a game released by a major publisher, and that enjoyed the backing of a major publisher’s marketing campaign, that failed to live up to critical and/or commercial expectations. Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour undersold. Nearly everything EA put out – but especially Dead Space, Need for Speed and Mirror’s Edge – tanked. Sony’s big holiday titles, LittleBigPlanet and Resistance 2, have also been disappointing, albeit for different reasons (nobody is buying LBP, while Resistance 2 was just plain old disappointing).

Those aren’t the normal, run-of-the-mill, 7/10 games that are normally swept away by the Christmas tide. That’s the combined holiday lineup of Electronic Arts and Sony Computer Entertainment.

You can bet alarm bells are ringing at SCE, just like they’re ringing at EA. Thing is, at a time where people are tightening their belts, what did they expect?

When people are concerned about money, they’re not going to buy 4-6 games over a three-month period. They’re going to buy 1-2. And faced with a situation like that, why buy Resistance 2 when you can buy a Call of Duty game? Why buy Rock Band 2 when Rock Band 1 was doing just fine?

It boils down to priorities. A finite amount of money over a finite period of time.

As you read this, EA executives are looking at the Mirror’s Edge sales figures right now and wondering whether launching a bold new first-person IP the week after Gears of War 2 was such a good idea.

Now consider this: when did Grand Theft Auto IV, the biggest game of the year, launch? It launched in April. Practically had the month to itself. When did Metal Gear Solid 4, the PS3’s most important game for the year hit stores? June. Again, it had the month to itself.

It’s a simple idea. You launch a hyped game into an empty release schedule and you’re guaranteed bonus sales, because you’re not just attracting the FANS, you’re attracting those who are simply mildly interested, and just have nothing else to play that month.

Rockstar and Konami knew this. And Capcom – who are about to launch two of the biggest games in years in Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil 5 – know it too. Both of those games are to be released in February/March 2009. February! March! February isn’t Christmas, it’s just February. But you can bet that both games will fly off the shelf, because aside from looking mighty promising, who the fuck else is releasing AAA titles in February?

Exactly. Nobody.

In these times of layoffs and downwardly-revised profit forecasts, publishers can’t afford to take risks. A bombed big-budget game can mean more than the death of a franchise; it can mean the death of a publisher.

So what’s the easiest way to eliminate said risk? It’s not in cutting back on innovation. Poor sales of Need for Speed and Pro Evolution Soccer this year have shown even the most bankable of franchises will test the punters’ patience if you keep on releasing the same crap every year.

No, the easiest way to eliminate risk, and increase sales, and decrease our holiday gamer’s fatigue, is to stop crowding the final third of the year with your games, and start planning for a more even-handed release schedule.