For our sake and yours
[Brett Makedonski is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, whose regular work can be found on 360Sync. Seeing how he's the conversational type, feel free to talk to him about videogames and sports on Twitter at @Donski3.]
Dear Videogame Publishers:
Tough times are upon us. We're at a crossroads of sorts. Decisions will need to be made, and regrettably, they probably won’t always be the correct ones.
Make no mistake, I'm not using "us" as a pronoun intended to be inclusive of you -- just the opposite, actually. "Us" refers to the consumers, the fans that are put in financial straits, and the time constraints during the concurrently anticipated and dreaded "holiday season" every single year.
Before we move too far along, let’s establish that everyone understands that the fourth quarter of the year is the best time to release (most) AAA video games. No one disputes that. During this time frame, the general public is in the mood to spend money, and salespeople are more than happy to usher unsure relatives toward the nearest familiar IP. It just makes sense for most of the biggest names in videogames to release at that time, but that doesn’t mean every game benefits from coming out during this three month stretch.
The real shame of the annually hectic release schedule isn't even that the AAA titles come in such rapid succession that 95% of players can't possibly get to every one that they want. No, these games will most likely get put on the back burner until early in the new year, when the player has the time and funds to properly tend to them. The travesty here is that there are fantastic mid-tier titles that will never get the attention they deserve, specifically because of the competition surrounding them.
I’ve been playing a lot of Rayman Origins lately. Honestly, it's probably my favorite platformer ever. I could go on for hours about its tight controls, intuitive actions, and phenomenal soundtrack. It was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, sitting in the high 80s on Metacritic (including a 9.0 from Destructoid). There's a solid chance that many gamers could have found it to be one of their most enjoyable console experiences last year.
If it weren't for a recent glowing recommendation from a friend and an outstanding Best Buy sale, Rayman Origins probably would have passed me by completely. It appears that I'm not alone. Despite the aforesaid critical response, its first month sales were extremely disappointing -- probably because it released within days of Skyrim and Modern Warfare 3. And by "probably," I mean "definitely."
If we backtrack a year, we can find another prime (yet slightly different) example. Whereas Rayman Origins was a new installment in an established franchise by mega-publisher Ubisoft, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was an ambitious new IP that gave us memorably endearing characters and drowned the screen in technicolor. Again, critics lavished praise upon the game, and again, the public simply did not buy it. Both of these titles were relegated to the bargain bin unduly quickly.
In case you haven't identified it yet, this is a problem. It's a problem that some of the finest creations in this interactive medium are being passed over without second thought simply because of the month that they're released in. It's a problem that would behoove you to fix, as I believe that increased sales are most likely in your best interest. It's a problem that we, the consumers, want to see rectified so that it's plausible to enjoy as many of these experiences as are feasibly possible.
To their credit, some publishers seem to be working their way out of this pattern or never really fell into it in the first place. For instance, Rockstar Games has almost made a tradition out of late spring releases, while Sony has put out each of the God of War console titles in March. To be fair, Rockstar and Sony would probably do quite well regardless of when they chose to release these games. However, it’s almost like they said. "Why risk it? Why take a chance of getting lost amongst the flurry of holiday titles?" It's not necessarily a bold strategy, but it's one that has yet to not pay off for these publishers.
Instead of steadfastly sticking to the traditional model, why not venture out and release some of these games during the summer? I know that you all have a squadron of business analysts and statisticians devoted to attempting to discern the most profitable date to release each title, but truth be told, we'll still spend money in quarter three. Look no further than the annual Steam Sale, a summer offering that captures the attention of the entire industry. There's a reason that Microsoft saves its most lucrative digital downloads for a five-week event during the same time.
The bottom line is that if you put out a quality product, we'll buy your games, even if it isn't the optimal time of the year. However, when you intertwine these with the most highly anticipated games, it becomes unpractical and unrealistic for the vast majority to be able to play them all. There's not enough time in our schedules or enough money in our wallets. When this conflict arises, well, you should already know which games are going to get the green light and which are going to get left behind.
I'd like to point out that another benefit of earlier release dates for these mid-tier titles is that they would be able to take full advantage of being prominently displayed on Black Friday sales -- you know, by far the single most profitable day for American businesses. The only things your target audience loves more than videogames are videogames at a discount.
I'm fully aware that I'm not the first, nor will I be the last, person to weigh in on this issue. In fact, your fans complain about it all the time. All I can do is hope that my words strike a particular chord with someone who has power over these sorts of matters. If nothing else, you owe it to your developers who painstakingly craft these gems that you're sending to die amidst the holiday madness. You owe it to the players that yearn for these celebrated experiences. And, assuming that you all operate as any successful business does, you owe it to yourself to capitalize on the sales potential of these games and to get them into the hands of as many people as possible.