Despite Delays, Fall 2009 Is Still Over-Saturated
In a recent op-ed at IGN entitled Gaming's Unhappy Holidays, they lament the tidal wave of recent announcements from virtually all major publishers that a number of 2009 titles will be delayed until the first quarter of 2010. Indeed the announcements did come in a torrential flood of dismissals, delays, and re-scheduling, leaving more than one major publisher with virtually nothing but mini-games before the end of the year.
But does this really suggest the doom and gloom for the industry, the "grenade just waiting to roll back at your feet" they discussed? Could it actually possibly simply be good business strategy? Entertainment history is, of course, littered with examples of why this very strategy likely should have been employed when it was not. Does anyone remember that movie that was up against Titanic? It got awards too. Nope, didn't think so. How about Star Trek: Nemesis? Love it or hate it, for the Trek fans out there, while it may well have been on its way to a box office flop compared to usual Trek numbers without any help from the competition, its dismally low numbers would likely not have been quite so bleak had they simply waited to release it at a time when it wouldn't be competing against both Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings simultaneously. In the entertainment business timing is everything, perception is reality, and too much competition is an unpleasant meeting with the corporate VP.
With all the bemoaning about what game got pushed back to when it's easy to overlook a few obvious details. The first being that most of these games weren't showing up on any reasonable retailer's release schedule. They were sketchily referenced from PR data. Most people did not expect many of these titles to be released by the end of 2009. If you did, you have been following the rumor mill just a bit too closely, even if the pretty flash animation on the web site did say "Coming Fall 2009." The second detail is the fact that this Fall release schedule is stuffed beyond imagination even without those titles. While the end of year cycle was pretty well loaded last year, this year is just unfathomable. A combination of delays from the spring/summer release cycle and projects pulled together and redesigned after publisher mergers have culminated in a massive release of games.
While trying to pull together the GV calender through the end of the year, handling the usual research, scheduling, determining what goes where, internal emails have included quotes such as "How on Earth do these publishers think they're going to sell any of these games if they're all selling them all at once? They'll get sales, but no great numbers on any of them because they'll be selling ALL of them!" It seems, without even hearing that quote (until now) they've noticed the same problem and are reacting accordingly. Sure, with that great Rupert Murdoch budget at IGN, covering a hundred games in thirty days may seem like a light workload. For the remaining independent outlets like GV, the amount of coverage in the next 3 months will be positively punishing. We're even designing a down-sized review format, something that goes against the grain of the code-of-honor here, just to handle some of the overflow. For the consumer, even in the best of times, let alone during a weak economy, the pile of competing options will be simply vexing.
For those wondering, the 2009 outlook so far consists of this sampling of titles in no particular order:
- Cursed Mountan (Wii)
- Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Wii)
- All Aspect Warfare
- New Super Mario Bros. (Wii)
- Raven Squad: Hidden Dagger
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Section 8
- Halo 3: ODST (X360)
- Dragon Age: Origins
- Dirt 2
- Alpha Protocol
- Tekken 6
- Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
- Mini Ninjas
- Modern Warfare 2
- Uncharted 2 (PS3)
- Assassins Creed II
- Bad Company 2
This is by no means a comprehensive list, these are just the titles that have been showing up on our potential coverage lists. There are even more than that floating out there. Sure a few of these could still be delayed, or the announcement may be sitting in my spam box, but does that sound like a weak release year to you? Do you honestly believe you will buy all of them available for your platforms and still actually need more before January?
Surely, anyone with a pending game that takes a look at that list, even if your own game is of equal caliber would find it to be quite wise to put it off a few months and polish out some bugs. Lets face it, those bugs would have ended up in the 2009-rushed release had they not postponed it. It lets their games shine without the daunting competition here, and makes for a far less bleak 2010, so long as we can ignore the unspoken rule that there's only four months a year you're allowed to release new games. On the other hand, with all the competition piling up for early 2010, they may run into a similar problem. For 2009, though, thinning out the crowd is likely to make each game show its best as it comes out, while still not giving gamers any cause for want of stuff to blow up. Who thinks we'll be back here next year de-constructing where the industry went wrong and why we have no new releases for Holiday 2010?