The life and death of midnight game releases

The times they are a-changin’

It’s 2009, and I go to my first-ever midnight launch for a game. Infamous was the next big exclusive game for the PS3, and I was incredibly excited. I was in my final weeks of high school, in the middle of exam season in the UK. I took the game home, unwrapped it, and played all night until around 7 am. I had an exam the following day, but I didn’t care. I just had to play that game.

Fast forward to 2023, and I couldn’t tell you what exam I was supposed to be studying for. I couldn’t tell you whether I passed it or failed it, and it doesn’t matter. The memory of lining up for the midnight launch of Infamous and playing it all night will stay with me forever. The next few weeks, while I should have been studying for other exams, I was instead playing Infamous. That summer of playing Infamous is one of my fondest gaming memories.

Over the next few years, I went to midnight launches for nearly everything. Modern Warfare 2, the Nintendo 3DS, the PlayStation Vita, and countless other games. Despite moving countries several times over the years, I still have many of those physical games that I lined up for.

Each one of these releases is a memory on my shelf of games.

Cole from inFamous on a building
Image via PlayStation Blog

There was a time when a midnight launch for even a medium-sized video game was a given. I missed out on some of the biggest-ever launch events, like Halo 3, but the ones I did go to are seared in my brain.

I don’t know when exactly midnight launches stopped happening. If I remember correctly, the last one I attended was probably for Pokémon X & Y. Then I moved to Korea for a few years, and when I got back, it was like midnight launches had never existed at all.

What happened?

I’m sure the lack of midnight launches for games these days has something to do with the rise of digital games. Depending on the game and platform, digital sales can vastly outpace physical. The surprise is that even juggernaut titles like God of War: Ragnarok and Elden Ring aren’t getting big launches anymore. Digital or not, those games sell a crap ton of physical copies.

I feel like we’ve collectively lost something from that as a community. The electric atmosphere of the wait outside the local game store, the excitement of everyone around you being hyped for the same game. Without that, it feels like we’ve lost the social aspect of a big release.

It’s rare that anyone of any fandom can get that sort of collectivity feeling. Where you can be in a place surrounded by people who love the same thing as you. It’s a similar feeling to going to a concert or a live show. Outside of those walls, very few people care about or get the thing that you like. But within that arena, everyone is together, delighting in their passion.

As I write this, Dead Island 2 is currently installing on my PS5. I went out on launch day this morning to buy the game, and I’ll probably be playing it for much of the rest of the day. I’m excited for the game, it has been close to a decade in the making, after all. But I can’t help but reminisce over the years gone by when even a game like Dead Island 2 might have had an exciting midnight release.

I have still maintained the ritual of going out on release day, getting to the store as soon as it opens to buy the latest game. But it’s just not the same at all.

dead island 2 zombie on the beach
Image via Deep Silver

Help me, Nintendo, you’re my only hope

I may be in the minority of people who still buy every game physically and then in an even smaller minority who would have lined up for a midnight release, but I hope we see it again in the future. I’d love to experience the immense hype of the release of Tears of the Kingdom or Final Fantasy XVI this year.

I don’t think that’s going to happen, though. I think my only hope for another midnight launch would be for a console. The launch of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 was relatively muted due to COVID and stock issues. So perhaps midnight launches for consoles aren’t quite dead yet?

Since the next major console release will likely be the successor to the Nintendo Switch, maybe we will see a return of the midnight launch for that. After all, the Nintendo Switch is one of the best-selling consoles of all time. If we don’t get a midnight launch for Nintendo’s follow-up device, I think I’ll finally have to accept that the midnight launch is dead and buried.

About The Author
Matt Cook
Matt Cook is an experienced video game writer. When he isn't writing about games, he can be found playing everything from the NES to the PS5 and tinkering with retro consoles. He can be found on Twitter @360cookie.
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