In response to Jim Sterling's awesome editorial on the death of middle-class games, he wondered why middling developers decide to release their products during the same crunch weeks as larger-named games. My two cents involve the season that makes the world go round for the entertainment industry: Christmastime.
The Holiday release schedule has always been a standby for many major contenders of the gaming industry, because it's right around then that the industry sees people spending money on games that usually are spending it elsewhere. Gifting games has obviously contributed an enormous amount of revenue for the industry, and I'm sure there's still that mindset of the parents or relatives of a kid browsing through a mall, seeing a video game display, and thinking "Didn't Jimmy get an Xbox machine last year?" before heading in and purchasing Lee Carvello's Putting Challenge
But that type of situation only existed earlier in gaming's heyday, when Toys R Us was the place where most of us got games from relatives. Back then, the clerks they asked were selling everything in the aisles next to the toys as well, and couldn't really care less what granny bought her son. These days? Clerks are trained by experience to ask a single question, and give one answer based on what is said.
That question is: What console does little Jimmy have? The context-sensitive "help" the clerk now gives is:
Xbox: Halo, Call of Duty
PS3: Final Fantasy, Call of Duty
Wii: Mario, Zelda
The "why" question granny immediately asks after this response is easily represented with a dollar sign. Millions of people have already bought and ejaculated over these titles, and it's easier to say that than to say "Darksiders, while not up to the visual standards of the day, works admirably incorporating various gameplay mechanics from a lot of top-tier games that have sold well in the past" or "Yakuza's no Grand Theft Auto, but it explores very real sociopolitical themes that still exist in modern-day Japan, while still featuring an underlying storyline that incorporates valued human traits like loyalty, integrity, and compassion." And anything on the Wii is automatically doomed from the start unless it features Mario, because he's mainstream. Sure, the No More Heroes series expertly combined dark and satirical humor while portraying the main character as a moral-deprived pervert on the surface, but underneath he's simply a result of our "sex and violence sells" mentality, and eventually learns how unsatisfying those mentalities turn out to be.
The only way middle-class games are sold is to actual gamers, who research their purchases and know ahead of time (or have in the back of their minds) to specifically ask if these games are on the shelf.
Cliffy B made reference to how game releases are becoming like the Hollywood summer blockbuster releases, where small-time movies don't do as well as the larger films, but what he failed to mention was that many indie and middling movies tend to have the sense not to compete with the big names in their opening weekends. Game publishers have somehow neglected to learn this, releasing their tiny indie games the same week, month, or HOLIDAY SEASON as the bigger names of Zelda, Halo, and Call of Duty.
They neglect to remember that gamers are living on budgets, and when large titles come out, they'll spend their money where they have the highest chance of a return on their investment. They don't realize that gamers don't wait for christmas to buy their next game, they buy their next game WHEN THEY BEAT THE ONE THEY HAVE. It could be the driest of dry seasons, but when I finish Yakuza 4 to my satisfaction, I'm heading to my local game store and seeing what they have, and the more times there's nothing new in the mid-range to excite me, I'm going to take that one step closer to buying Call of Duty, and that's the last goddamn game series I want to buy from.