The Thinning Video Game Fall Of 2009

It was a buzz topic last night at a still-embargoed event for an upcoming holiday 2009 game: Something's wrong with this fall. At least for hardcore gamers. (Or maybe something's finally right?)

The delay to BioShock 2 was what was getting reporters and developers talking yesterday.

This fall, stocked as it is with some very exciting games for hardcore gamers, is lacking something most gaming falls have had: an absurd abundance of big games.

Downgrade this fall's line-up to maybe just a notable abundance.

Last holiday season ran from Lego Batman to Prince of Persia, with Fallout 3, Fable 2 and Far Cry 2 in between. It had a new Call of Duty, a new Gears of War, a new Resistance and curiosities like a new Banjo Kazooie and Spore. It had the standard stock of racing, sports and music games and the added bounty of the Dead Space and Mirror's Edge experiments. Nintendo failed to offer anything deeper than Animal Crossing, but on other platforms than the Wii, Crysis, Brothers in Arms, LittleBigPlanet and Tomb Raider games got their chance to shine. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Left 4 Dead were hits.

And this was all in a year, 2008, that already gave the world a new Mario Kart, a new Grand Theft Auto, a new Smash Brothers, a new Metal Gear Solid and Wii Fit.

Maybe the fall of 2009 never had a chance to outshine that.

There will be another round of sports, racing and music games this holiday season. And then, for gamers looking for something to sink their controllers into, there are likely the big titles: Halo 3: ODST, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Assassin's Creed 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Borderlands, Uncharted 2 and Brutal Legend. Those are, as best can be determined from the way major publishers have been structuring their press events that Kotaku has attended, the flagship games for Microsoft, Activision, Ubisoft, Nintendo, Take 2, Sony and EA.

Games are falling out of these final few months of the year. Singularity was pushed back. BioShock 2 got bumped. Army of Two: The 40th Day could be the next to go, if it ever did have a shot at 2009. Marked for a winter release it's been absent from EA's 20-plus title holiday showcase in New York last week and isn't slated to be shown at the publisher's big Comicon event next week. (An EA rep, sticking to winter as the last announced release, told Kotaku today that the game will be at Gamescom in Germany next month. UPDATE: There will be a Comicon panel for Army of Two, it's jut not one of the dozen or so titles EA has offered the press hands-on time with, for whatever that's worth.).

There won't be a lack of games to play in late 2009 — not with Dragon Age, The Saboteur, The Ballad of Gay Tony, Splinter Cell, MAG, Ratchet & Clank, Left 4 Dead 2 and the August-slated Batman: Arkham Asylum showing up. The portables have some excitement with Scribblenauts and Zelda for DS and a new PSP hitting in October.

But the buzz that was at last night's event — which was for Borderlands — was that this just doesn't seem to be as well-stuffed a holiday season for hardcore gamers. Perhaps that's a benefit, as a crowded marketplace gets a little less crowded. Companies such as Capcom switch their prime release window to the early part of the calendar year, in that publisher's case, pushing major Resident Evil and Street Fighter sequels early in 2009, and promoting the untested Dark Void and the latest Hail-Mary-for-the-hardcore on the Wii, a second Resident Evil light gun shooter, for the fall.

Perhaps another culprit for the lessening of options for serious gamers this fall is a result of what's showing up press events: More general-interest games. More games for kids and girls and moms and grandpas. Beyond just sports, racing and music titles, EA, for example is pushing its successful Littles Pet Shop brand, some Spore expansions and more spin-offs of The Sims. Activision and MTV Games are splintering their brands and throwing all the more of them into the season: Rock Band 2 of fall 2008 begets fall 2009's Lego Rock Band and Beatles Rock Band; Guitar Hero: World Tour of late '08 spawns Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero and DJ Hero. Tony Hawk is back as a peripheral-based game.

Maybe the publishers are just less in it for just the hardcore than they used to be. Nintendo leads the trend, outbalancing Mario and Zelda with Style Savvy DS for girls, a new Pokemon: Mystery Dungeon for kids and Wii Fit Plus for, no pun intended, a bigger audience than they might ever reach with any games targeted for the hardcore gamer. Take Two has a game based on the circus. Sega's got a Sonic kart-racer. And money will be made.

The holiday rush was often too much for the kind of gamers who want to experience the big brand blockbusters from the big-name studios. Not enough money. Not enough time. So maybe this slight calming, this change from a mouthful of cotton candy to a mouthful of Gummi Bears is slightly healthier.

It doesn't look like a slow season to everyone, after all. In a note to investors regarding the BioShock 2 delay, financial analyst Michael Pachter referred to this holiday season as "among the most crowded ever." And it could also be a dangerous one for game publishers, with Take Two chairman Strauss Zelnick attributing part of the reason for delaying BioShock 2 to a shrinking of initial orders for new games from retail and a smaller number of games being kept in stock by the gaming shops.

There's reason to celebrate or to be concerned here. You could do both. This fall, the gaming holiday season won't be what it used to be.

(For those who think 2010 won't be able to keep up, check this post to see the traffic-jam-in-the-making. To say nothing of this.)