Talking Point: The Overcrowded Holiday Release Schedule

Time for a congestion charge?

There’s a popular analogy that likens the act of waiting for buses to other everyday occurrences in life: around this time every year we’re all inevitably subjected to the same situation as we were last year, and the year before that, and so on. Picture the scene: you’ve endured summer months of crippling boredom, either prodding half-heartedly at the games you think you really ought to finish or scouring your local games emporium for the faintest whiff of anything even remotely decent to play.

Meanwhile the nights slowly draw in, a chill creeps ever closer and supermarkets begins to surreptitiously sneak advent calendars onto their shelves. As if by magic, you find yourself bombarded with more games than you could possibly know what to do with. Unless you’re in the lucky position of being a self-made millionaire it’s highly unlikely that you possess either the time or the money to feasibly be able to play everything that catches your eye, and the irony cruelly hits you like a ton of bricks.

The tail end of the year — most notably November, although October and December are usually no slouches either — has always presented gamers with an over-abundance of games to play. 2011 is no different, with almost every major publisher battling it out during the same eight to ten-week period as they release their biggest hits in the hope that they’ll reap the rewards of the lucrative Christmas market. In fact not long ago, on the 18th of November, ten different high-profile games were released across all formats. In Europe alone, Wii and 3DS owners alone were able to pick up two highly anticipated first-party blockbuster titles, Super Mario 3D Land and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword — two must-play games, we think you’ll agree — along with Warner Bros.’ Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 and EA’s Need For Speed: The Run. Now, if you wanted to pick up each title in the UK at retail, you’d be looking at throwing down around £155 on the counter. And that’s if you were only to buy one version of each game. Should you decide that you want the Wii and 3DS versions of Need For Speed and Lego Harry Potter — because you just couldn’t live without street racing and magic building blocks while commuting to work or sitting on the toilet — then you can expect to add around an extra £70 to that. That’s £255 on just one day’s worth of releases.

A mere week after the above deluge of software, Kirby’s Adventure Wii, Tales of the Abyss, Sonic Generations and Rayman Origins all dropped on the same day, with Super Pokémon Rumble and Mario Kart 7 following — again — a mere week after those titles. With Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Cave Story 3D (in Europe) and numerous other games also peppered throughout the space of two months, it’s an incredibly expensive time to be a gamer, even if you just limit yourself to playing games on Nintendo’s consoles.

Unless you’re in the lucky position of being a self-made millionaire it’s highly unlikely that you possess either the time or the money to feasibly be able to play everything that catches your eye.

But what are the reasons behind this everything or nothing approach to releasing games? Well, Christmas factors into this to some degree, as the public generally spend the most around the festive season, buying gifts or treating themselves: but why exactly do publishers deem it necessary to keep us waiting for most of the year — giving us something worthwhile every now and then, if we’re lucky — only to crush us underneath a mountain of games in the last three months? It’s not like nobody buys games for the rest of the year, surely?

Perhaps this Christmas congestion is a throwback of a bygone era when gaming wasn’t as socially accepted a pastime as it is today. A time when it was widely assumed that gaming was mostly the hobby of children, so a great deal more titles were possibly released closer to Christmas because all those kids with their Nintendo and Sega consoles were relying on their parents to purchase these games as Christmas presents.

Nowadays, of course, the user base for games is almost unrecognisably different and the average age has leaped upwards, potentially, by around twenty years. Yet publishers still group a significant number of their releases at the tail end of the year, and truth be told many may be finding it tiresome. Choice is great, but not if it’s at the expense of being bored for nine months of the year. As long as publishers release games, gamers will buy them regardless of what month of the year it is.

In fact, wouldn’t it be so much better if releases were staggered more evenly throughout the year? Not only would it give us more of a chance to experience everything we were interested in playing, but it would put less of a strain on our wallets as well. If the plethora of games we mentioned a few paragraphs ago were spread out across 12 months as opposed to three weeks, we wouldn’t have to pick and choose what we bought because we’d have both the time and the money to purchase and play these titles as they came out.

Of course gamers can pick up titles gradually over time, but spreading the schedule would also be beneficial to the publishers. How many games did you buy on 18th November? One? Two? You almost certainly didn’t buy ten, which must mean that the sales figures of some of those games will have been affected by the close proximity of so many competing titles. Nintendo gamers, for example, wouldn’t be torn between Super Mario 3D Land or Skyward Sword at the same time: they’d be able to pick them both up as fresh, exciting day-one purchases. Another benefit for publishers would be that gamers would potentially buy more games throughout the year, aided by greater media exposure, meaning a far greater likelihood of them buying these titles at their full retail price, as opposed to picking them up at a discount — or worse still for the publisher, second-hand — further down the line.

What do you think? Is the current scheduling ill-advised and damaging for publishers, or do you enjoy the enormous influx of games over the Holiday period? Let us know in the comments below.