Talking Point: The Perils and Positives of a Packed Release Schedule
Posted by Mike Mason
Room for no more
We're all more than a little familiar with video game droughts by now. Until a few years ago, it was tradition to suffer a lack of software in the summer, surviving only on the ever-faithful backlog and the revitalising elixir provided by E3 info dumps. It's common in the months following a console launch too: we're sure you remember the painful times following 3DS's arrival, and more recently the bare release schedule for Wii U will have dampened more than a few peoples' enthusiasm for their new hardware.
This week, the latter system's struggles come to an end. Beginning with the launch of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Wii U's line-up begins to liven up over the coming weeks, and future months look to hold one or two titles to keep momentum going until E3. 3DS, meanwhile, is a handheld possessed, a far fling away from those harsh times in 2011.
But there's an opposite scenario that can strike just as much fear into a gamer's heart as a drought: a flood. Likely thanks to the combination of the upcoming spring holidays and the presumption that consumers have now just about recovered from 2012's Holiday season, the end of March is so packed full of new releases – more than most could reasonably play – that it's going to be difficult for the average gamer to keep up, whether it's due to financial or time constraints.
In Europe, we know of 14 games, across retail and digital download, that will be released for Nintendo systems from 22nd March to 29th March. Several of them are high profile: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on 3DS and Wii U, LEGO City Undercover, Need for Speed: Most Wanted U and Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. Games that arrived in North America months ago such as Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked are also touching down in this period, as are big 3DS eShop titles like HarmoKnight and Code of Princess. And we've not even counted the almighty Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr Dream.
North America has some of the pressure lifted due to earlier releases on a few titles, but with the addition of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity, the total still rises to 12 games in those same weeks, not including Virtual Console titles. Both of these regional totals also include licensed titles like The Croods on 3DS / Wii U and The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct on Wii U; these games might not have as big a profile as ones mentioned earlier, but they'll still find an audience and so have an impact on their schedule-mates. Remember, also, that we're still not taking into account titles on non-Nintendo platforms, such as Gears of War: Judgment, BioShock Infinite and Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel, which are arriving within that fortnight as well. Mercy, mercy, please have mercy.
Though we're obviously grateful for new games, to go from a massive games drought to an explosion of content is utterly ridiculous – particularly in Europe, which hasn't had the likes of Fire Emblem: Awakening to keep it busy yet. That leads into another problem: in the weeks following this, Toki Tori 2, Dr Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training: Can You Stay Focused?, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Injustice: Gods Among Us and LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins are due to join the fray in Europe. As if anybody's disheveled, shrieking wallet is going to have healed up by then – it's a scheduling nightmare that rivals, probably surpasses, the madness usually seen around the Holiday season.
Some of these games should have been spaced out into other release windows: it's futile to expect that they can all enjoy success simultaneously. People only have limited funds, and so will have to make careful choices. Throwing out so many games at once is sure to leave behind some very sore losers as the bigger efforts cannibalise the sales of the less anticipated or known – and the results of today's bad planning could lead to diminished support tomorrow. Where were these games — games that could have helped Wii U to avoid a few of its bad headlines a little earlier in its launch window, games that would have sold with nothing else new on the shelves — a few weeks ago?
Of course, there are positives to all this; it's better to have fresh things ready for purchase rather than nothing, after all, and there's a reasonable chance that a few of these releases will prove to be evergreen titles that continue to sell after the launch period. This is the start of a 2013 line-up that should do wonders for both of Nintendo's consoles. Wii U is suffering the same way that 3DS did two years ago – there are even identical brand confusion and pricing concerns – and it needs games to drum up sales to take advantage of that head start before Microsoft and Sony's next consoles come into play. 3DS, on the other hand, is an active case study that shows that Nintendo is more than capable of recovering from a stunted launch. With a handful of essential titles it turned its fortunes around, and a bursting release schedule like this will only help it to blossom further into an unbeatable handheld.
It's all about public perception, too. A splash of new software, particularly after a barren couple of months, will invigorate each system, get people talking about them again, set the media machine whirring once more. It inspires confidence in the consumer and could convince some that, at least in this moment, support is strong enough to warrant a purchase that might not have been viable the last time they wandered into a shop. Wii U needs all the big flurries of activity it can get to solidify itself as a genuine contender in the eyes of the public. A few more weeks like this, before the outpouring of Nintendo's first party content, could definitely help it on its way.
We're happy, really – in the grand scheme of things, having too much entertainment on our plate isn't exactly high on the list of problems; some might not even see it as such an issue in the first place. With such a variety of games, it's quite likely that one or two of the titles will pique your interest. But, inevitably, there will be games here that don't do as well as they deserve to, and that's a massive shame. There's nothing that excites us quite like seeing tons of new games in the shops – but could we space them out just a little more next time, for the sake of all our pockets and spare time?