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The Guns of Navarro: The Void of Summer

Alex wonders aloud why game companies still so often treat the spring and summer months like some kind of deadly forbidden zone.

I spend a lot of time staring at our release calendar. For my job, I mean. I don't just sit there staring in a fetishistic way; that would be super creepy. Rather, I use it a lot to try and figure out what games we have/need for upcoming review and Quick Look content. If you ever bother to look at this page as I do, you may have noticed that since April, the calendar's been a bit dry. In fact, for a long while there, last week's calendar only showed one new game: Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, an eShop download for the 3DS. By the time the week began, that calendar began to fill out a bit more, with such rousing titles as the (delayed) XBLA version of Monaco, a PS2 Classics re-release of Fatal Frame II, and the advergame Doritos Crash Course 2.

Though I sort of wish it weren't hitting, quite literally, THE DAY after E3 ends, I'm thrilled that a game as big as The Last of Us is coming out in a space where most big games fear to tread.

Yep, it's official: We are in the thick of the spring/summer doldrums.

It happens most every year. By the time the holiday season winds down, game releases begin to dry up. It used to be that we wouldn't see much of anything for the entire first half of the year, though in recent years the first quarter has at least been a steady home of big releases that either slipped out of the holiday schedule, or just floated into March to help pad out a publisher's fiscal report. This February/March was actually pretty heavy with quality game releases. But now that we've gone past the end of every publisher's fiscal year (which ends on March 31), the quality has begun to take a precipitous dip.

Things aren't as bad as they used to be by any stretch--the last couple of years have seen some pretty great games like Mortal Kombat, Portal 2, Diablo III, and Max Payne 3 hit during the late spring--but as I look through this year's current release calendar, all I see for weeks on end are one, maybe two noteworthy releases pocking each month's schedule. This week, we got the one-two punch of Metro: Last Light and Dust 514. Two weeks after that, the Insomniac-developed multiplayer shooter Fuse (which one gets the impression EA couldn't figure out a better release week for). The week after that, Capcom's futuristic adventure Remember Me is the biggest game of the week (see previous parenthetical, substitute Capcom for EA). Then, the week of E3, Animal Crossing: New Leaf hits, followed that Friday by The Last of Us. Eventually we'll see the likes of Game & Wario, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and Deadpool, but that's about it until the calendar picks up again in August.

So tends to be the way of the spring/summer release calendar. A few big games spread across months of time, like butter scraped across too much toast. This notion of back-loading game releases into the holiday season is practically as old as the industry itself. After all, video games began, at least from a marketing perspective, as an offshoot of the toy industry. It's irrefutable fact that people spend more money on toys and video games during the holiday season than they do any other time of the year. That's been true even during our most recent recession, and it's seemingly been the guiding ethos for publishers looking to find an ideal calendar spot for all their big games.

But just because sales invariably pick up heavily in the holiday months doesn't mean that there isn't value in those long, hot, slow summer months. Microsoft practically owned the digital game market when it introduced its Summer of Arcade push. Out of that promotion, hugely popular downloadable titles like Geometry Wars 2, Braid, Shadow Complex, Limbo, and Bastion have emerged. Now Microsoft even has competition from Sony, with its PSN Play program, which theoretically should inspire both companies to be pushing for higher quality summer content. Then again, considering what a drag most of Microsoft AND Sony's summer digital lineups were last year (a few outstanding games like Sound Shapes and Dust: An Elysian Tail notwithstanding), one can't help but wonder how much either company will be pushing their respective campaigns this year. Especially when you consider that both have new consoles to focus on peddling.

The Vita has some fun indie games popping up in the PSN store, but it's not like Sony is actively promoting this stuff much.

The conventional wisdom says that kids and older student types don't buy games during the spring and summer because they're outside, traveling with family, or in weeks like this one, hard at work on finals. That's all fairly accurate to a degree, provided you're still working under the notion that video games are primarily bought by, or for, kids/college students. I imagine that's still a very big chunk of the overall gaming demographic, but we're long past the point of adults buying console, handheld, and PC games being an aberration.

And even if you are thinking solely about the kids, okay, then why not make the spring and summer months the designated home for all major handheld games? Kids who travel will eventually become bored of whatever they've traveled to see, and will look for time to spend with their 3DS and/or Vita. Given that the Vita is now well over a year old, I am legitimately flabbergasted that Sony hasn't made a bigger push to put more noteworthy Vita games out during the next several months. Right now, the only major title I'm aware of coming up for the Vita any time soon is Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault (though thankfully, there are some good downloadable indie titles popping up here and there as well). Sony might be dedicating more resources to PS4 development and promotion right now, but if there's any notion still floating around in the heads of Sony's executives that the Vita might still be salvageable in the US market, then why not focus toward getting big Vita games into the hands of players when they would theoretically have the most free time? Assuming, of course, there are any big Vita games currently forthcoming...

Nintendo doesn't even have that next-gen console excuse. If anything, the 3DS is what's keeping Nintendo in decent working order these days. There are no shortage of big, upcoming 3DS games, but few of them have release dates prior to this August. In fact, only Animal Crossing and the 3DS remake of Donkey Kong Country Returns are hitting store shelves prior to the end of the summer. Mario Golf: World Tour could potentially still be squeezed in there, but even still, that's not exactly a banger of a lineup for an entire four-month period. I was legitimately shocked when, during Friday's Nintendo Direct, Iwata had nothing of note new to offer for the 3DS' summer lineup. I figured if they were having an event focused on summer releases, then maybe there would be more, like, you know, actual summer releases.

A game like Pokemon X/Y will sell to its intended audience no matter what time of year you put it out. So why not put it out at a time when the competition is light to begin with?

Nothing is going to change this year's release trajectory. With so many eyes squarely focused on this holiday season--one of the exquisitely rare "new consoles" breed--this summer's release schedule is largely expendable, peppered with last hurrahs for the current slate of hardware, and leftover, less eminently marketable games publishers clearly hope will benefit from minimal competition. By the time we do get to the end of August, dozens of huge games will start converging on the ever-narrowing weeks between then and November, all vying for a limited number of dollars. The bottleneck will result in some big games doing extremely well, and a lot of other games being called "disappointments" in their publishers' future financial conference calls. I assure you, it's going to be an absolute bloodbath.

It doesn't always have to be that way. There are 52 weeks every year when publishers could theoretically be releasing new games. Instead of building every major development cycle toward a narrow window of supposedly ideal retail conditions, spacing out our releases over the entirety of the year could help relieve some of the tension of the big holiday push. And if you're so worried about games coming out in the summer and dying at retail in the fall, then why not time some big, meaty DLC to release around that holiday season, both as a bonus for people who already bought, and an enticement for those who haven't yet? It's not like we haven't figured out any number of ways to extend a game's lifespan in recent years. Pretending that people will only buy games so long as they hit store shelves around the holidays feels like an archaic way of thinking, one long overdue to at least be experimented with and tweaked, if not overhauled altogether.

--A

Alex Navarro on Google+
104 Comments
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Posted by Seppli

Before Battlefield has become *the COD competitor*, it has always been a late Spring/early Summer release, and it's always done quite well.

There's definitely precedent for big games succeeding with a Summer release date. I think it's ideal circumstances for new IPs and niche franchises to get more attention than they would otherwise - given sufficient marketing.

That's another upside. Marketing is bound to be less costly, and the message is less likely to be drowned out by competing products. We'll see how Remember Me and Last of Us will do. I'm fairly certain that at least Last of Us will be a great success.

Posted by Dan_CiTi

Oh yeah what happened to Summer of Arcade? is that not happening this year or is that at E3?

Posted by MajorMitch

When I was a kid and/or college student and had summers off, that's when I did the vast majority of my gaming for the year. Since nothing came out in the summer, it was always used as "catch-up time" for everything I couldn't keep up with during the school year. It always baffled me (and still does) why more games targeted towards kids or other people with that kind of time off in the summer don't come out in the summer. Even as an adult I still use summers as catch-up time, just because everything came out so packed together during the Fall that I still haven't gotten to it all. Kind of ridiculous.

Posted by Mendelson9

@dan_citi said:

Oh yeah what happened to Summer of Arcade? is that not happening this year or is that at E3?

Summer of Arcade usually starts at the end of July, Microsoft probably won't talk about those games until the beginning of the month or at E3.

Posted by GERALTITUDE

All too true Alex, all too true.

*queue sad, beautiful flute*

And yet, perhaps a change is in the wind...

Edited by WarlockEngineerMoreDakka
Edited by chilipeppersman

@kerikxi: agreed, it was a great article alex. Im going to be doing the same as you when it comes to your buying of games and delving into next gen, and I only have so much time/money to spend on luxuries such as video games. I always now get 1-2 games at the store and play them till im done, and trade them in, im not one for keeping them around like many people do so they can have a "collection". I understand this, but I guess it helps IMO to play the hell out of a game the first time you play it, and then get some $ for it towards what ever else you want. Its worked well for me so far :)

Edited by General_Boredom

I'm cool with the summer drought because now I have time to play all those games I bought day one last holiday season.

Edited by bybeach

@general_boredom said:

I'm cool with the summer drought because now I have time to play all those games I bought day one last holiday season.

I will start off with this, and include titles I haven't gotten to for several years. Singularity just filled in for me, and after Metro-Last Light I am back to Dishonored. There is also finishing up the dlc for Borderlands 2, and Rochard, Lego Lord of the Rings, Resistance 3, The MGS HD pact and the Halo HD pack. I would also like to replay Max Payne 3, though that could wait till next summer. Also for the steam sale I am thinking of several including Black OPS 2..COD has pissed me off so much I will only buy it on sale. I will maybe even try to get back into XCOM. Soooo, the summer hiatus doesn't mean too much for me anyways, I am a slow gamer and have other things to do. But admittedly, I am working around an industry phenomenon as Alex points out, and not my own scheduling

Edited by skelington_

I categorically spend more time outside in the summer, enjoying the weather, than I do in stuffy rooms playing video games. I usually start buying--if at all, these days--around early autumn, when a) I have more disposable income because I'm not taking holidays, day-tripping or spending money on various activities and social occasions, and b) am more inclined to curl up indoors when I feel the nights starting to draw in. It's a pretty open and shut case from my perspective. I might pick up something here and there to dip in and out of on a rainy day, but I'm less likely to 'invest' £30-40 in a title during the warmer months.

Edited by ZmillA

we complain (notice I didn't say complain) every year and nothing REALLY changes.

So I refreshed myself on the definition of complain. And it turns out that complain would be the correct term to use.

Sometimes I see games press (even makers/pubs) saying so and so group is complaining about something related to games. They say it as though the complainers are the ones in the wrong. "Oh they're just complaining, whatever"

I say YES, that's exactly right! We are expressing our dissatisfaction with the some state of affairs. And our dissatisfaction is something game makers and others should be taking note of and addressing, if possible.

WE are the consumers. They spend their waking hours serving US.

Edited by DJJoeJoe

Grandma doesn't buy thousands of copies of your game for their grandchildren during the summer... she does that during the winter holiday season... that's literally the entire reason for why most games with larger budgets exist during that time.

Plenty of games 'break the mold' and release during THIS time though... like GTA and a few others, more than none for sure. I just finished playing Metro Last Light, that's a great game. I find that I'm more antsy for games during this time because guess what else happens right now... massive future projections of 'what is coming for games' like big release trailer stuffs on off years and on generational turns it's new consoles that get announced now, so my gaming fever is almost unquenchable right now and even though I've prolly played more games at a faster rate in the last few months I feel like almost none exist right now, or that there's definitely 'not enough'. Though one glance at a site that tracks my gaming hours and you'd see I've played plenty of freakin' video games lately, both in amount and variety and I don't even play console games anymore and never play handheld games, and don't jump into every existing indie title either.

So lots of games exist, yes more of those middle ground ones exist with larger marketing pushes during the winter but it's hardly an issue anymore and we'll see the complete death of retail in gaming before we see some sort of massive shift in release schedules.

Posted by Cybexx

This is something I've thought about every year. Unless your the biggest of the big or believe your game will only appeal to the Black Friday impulse-buy crowd, why put your game out in Fall? There is more money getting thrown around during that season but more and more that money seems to be going towards a few games.

Alex is totally right about summer handheld games. I always bought Gameboy games while on trips as a kid. I think Animal Crossing is poised to do some great sales numbers.

In recent years it seems like May hasn't been as dead as it is this year. I was hypothesizing that it was because everybody thought Rockstar was aiming for a May release for GTAV but by the time that was announced to not be the case nobody could re-target their development schedules for this month.

It has given me a lot of time to get through my Backlog though. I finally managed to get around to playing through the rest of Skyward Sword for example.

Edited by umbaglo

Two weeks after that, the Insomniac-developed multiplayer shooter Fuse (which one gets the impression EA couldn't figure out a better release week for). The week after that, Capcom's futuristic adventure Remember Me is the biggest game of the week (see previous parenthetical, substitute Capcom for EA).

It seems odd to preface the article with "Why do companies treat Summer as some kind of plague?", and then make a comment like this.

What would be a "better release week"? Back in the middle of Winter with everything else? And aren't you just saying that you wanted more major releases during this time period? If anything, this seems like the perfect time for either of those games, because they don't need to stand out against anything, because everyone else is ignoring the holiday months.

Posted by l3illyl3ob

@warlockengineermoredakka: Considering the GB crew never gave Dragon Knight Saga a chance despite all reports pointing to it being a far better game than the original Divinity 2, I think any Divinity game from now on will be a very hard sell on them.

Posted by shockingalberto

Seems like one possible reason Pokemon isn't coming out in July instead of October might be that it's not done in July but would be done by October.

Edited by tourgen

I don't mind it really. Work is usually busy this time of year, the sun is out, people are doing weddings, cook outs, fishing trips. Winter and fall are great times to avoid the cold and do some serious gaming.

Edited by DG991

Pleasing stakeholders takes precedence over whats best for consumers or what would normally make sense.

Edited by HurricaneIvan29

Good article. It is quite a shame that so many publishers almost exclusively want to rely on the holidays to push their sales. The void that most publishers leave open could very well be taken advantage of quite well if done in the right manner.

Alas we hit one or two games during the holidays, then wait for the seasons to die out. Then is when we strike the marked down prices and used shelves! Hey, I'm not complaining. Used-sales-summer. Mark-down-sales-summer! Bargaining is great

Edited by MEATBALL

Nintendo's June/July/August lineup is pretty decent in PAL regions, Animal Crossing, Super Luigi U, Game & Wario, Mario & Luigi Dream Team and The Wonderful 101. A bunch of games (and one seemingly hefty slice of DLC) published and/or developed by one company? Not bad. I don't see anyone else with that sort of lineup over those months. Nintendo's summer lineup Direct really did just end, though.

Nintendo have been pretty consistently releasing games this year, something it seems few have noticed, I guess it's easily overshadowed by the void of releases specifically for the WiiU.

All in all I'm pretty happy with the coming months with Remember Me (which I'm not expecting anything amazing from, but I'm hoping I'll at least find interesting), The Last of Us and Nintendo's aforementioned line-up. I'm sure as the months go on digital releases will also fill out that void as well as various pieces of DLC - Borderlands 2's D&D-inspired DLC will hit, as will the second helping of Dishonored's story-based DLC.

Perhaps it's not a strong lineup if you're writing about games, but for my purposes I'm pretty happy with it. Any respite my wallet receives will also be welcome.

Posted by Peacemaker

I'm glad The Last of Us is coming out when it is. I remember there was a decent stretch were Rockstar had a game coming out every May. I played a ton of Red Dead when it came out. I still have a pretty big backlog of games on my steam library they I'll probably still never get to. I also still haven't played BioShock Infinite which I'll get during the next Steam sale.

Posted by iragequit

Call of November is too powerful. We cannot stop it!

Edited by ArbitraryWater

Summer is my backlog time, so a lack of new releases isn't a hindrance. For some inexplicable, baffling reason I've been playing through Baldur's Gate again, despite a handful of other RPGs that I've never actually finished sitting on my hard drive.

Posted by Noogy

Thanks for the Dust:AET shoutout, Alex ;)

Edited by Brake

This year I don't mind the summer drought. I've missed out on so many big releases this year due to lack of funds, that summer will be a good time to catch up.

Edited by avidwriter

Seems developers are very very scared of change and taking chances. Hence all the sequels and very similar games. Sucks. I guess they think if they release their game in May it won't sell, which is very very stupid.

Posted by zFUBARz

Summer of Arcade really was a great initiative when it started, some of my favourite games of the generation came out of that. Shame it's sort of lost it's way.

Edited by KDR_11k

I believe I've seen stats saying something like the Christmas period sees 2x as many sales (total) and 5x as many game releases. IOW it's probably suicide for anything except the absolute biggest games to release then and I wouldn't be surprised if some of that sales increase is just a reaction to the large number of releases.

On the other hand the summer seems to be the retail discount time.

Posted by 0xDEADBEEF

If I didn't just click on the release list link in this article I wouldn't have noticed that Dust: an Elysian Tail would be hitting Steam on Friday. I just discovered earlier tonight that Metal Gear Rising was coming to PC as well. This is fucking incredible.

Edited by Jimbo

I get that there's a lot more money up for grabs at that time of year, but the competition for it is also much stronger. It's also a time of year where a lot of the money is coming in from 'non-gamers', who will typically spend it on whatever their TV tells them to.

Obviously CoD, Assassin's Creed, FIFA etc. (known brands with huge ad campaigns) benefit from releasing towards the holidays, but does releasing in that crush do a game like Vanquish any favours?

You'd think these quieter times of year would be the ideal time for great 'gamers' games' which don't have the luxury of a big brand or a huge ad budget. OK they wouldn't sell to the holiday crowd because they're outside playing hopscotch and kissing daisies or whatever the fuck, but they'd have the undivided attention of the games media and people who buy and follow games all year round.

Edited by hughesie27

Alex wants game publishers...which are dieing year on year. To release games in non-ideal retail periods whilst also then creating "meaty dlc" to launch Christmas. Taking away from time they would be spending on otherwise creating new games?

Righhhhhhht. A utopian idea if ever there was one in his mind. A game publishers suicide in the real world. Especially when we are about to enter a new console cycle.

Posted by probablytuna

I'd imagine more games will be released during April - July period next year when developers are pushing their last PS3/360 games to focus on next generation stuff.

Edited by dropabombonit

I agree with most of the pints you make in the article Alex. The only reason I could see publishers not wanting to put games out after E3 is that show will be focused on next gen games that people going back to play current gen games will be wishing that the game looked way better and they had next gen systems now

Posted by Wacomole

I'm going to be totally and unashamedly selfish here, but personally I'm fine with the situation as it stands.

I can't say that I recall any time in recent memory I've had an occasion where I've been itching to play a game and had literally nothing to play. The games that I buy don't tend to stop being fun to play a few weeks after buying them and, because I don't sell my games, I have a fair few old games to fall back on between major releases.

Also, due to a (thankfully) healthy work schedule and active PlayStation Plus and Steam accounts, I (like I think many here) quite literally now have more games in my collection than I have the time to play.

Posted by Scottish_Sin
Edited by cooljammer00

I'm also of the confused mind that didn't get why video game companies didn't release games in the summer when I would have been home all day and had time to play games.

Posted by SatelliteOfLove

The wierd part is SMT4, unless we as a site are showing off foreign releases.

Posted by Ganthet2814

Great Article Alex. It would be nice if they spread the games around more through the year. It might actually some games that get passed over to the big games (Halo, COD, GOW) to shine.

Posted by GaspoweR

This was just a Faceless Void reference in the title, right? The DotA bug has bitten Alex too! Also, as of now, Dark Souls and Dota 2 are my summer games, so I'll be getting a lot out of those.

That's just a coincidence...Unless Alex is really into DotA (which I doubt to be the case)

Edited by ma_rc_01

@gaspower said:

@retrovirus said:

This was just a Faceless Void reference in the title, right? The DotA bug has bitten Alex too! Also, as of now, Dark Souls and Dota 2 are my summer games, so I'll be getting a lot out of those.

That's just a coincidence...Unless Alex is really into DotA (which I doubt to be the case)

Void existed as a word before Dota, it was either that or glut.

Posted by Aviar

That's why now is the perfect time to be joining Brad in some DOTA 2 gameplay. I'm hopefully going to have some free time this week to jump back into that.

Posted by GreekTrojan

@jimbo said:

I get that there's a lot more money up for grabs at that time of year, but the competition for it is also much stronger. It's also a time of year where a lot of the money is coming in from 'non-gamers', who will typically spend it on whatever their TV tells them to.

Obviously CoD, Assassin's Creed, FIFA etc. (known brands with huge ad campaigns) benefit from releasing towards the holidays, but does releasing in that crush do a game like Vanquish any favours?

You'd think these quieter times of year would be the ideal time for great 'gamers' games' which don't have the luxury of a big brand or a huge ad budget. OK they wouldn't sell to the holiday crowd because they're outside playing hopscotch and kissing daisies or whatever the fuck, but they'd have the undivided attention of the games media and people who buy and follow games all year round.

These are my thoughts as well. A lot of mid tier games/new IPs which may not be able to slug it out with GTAV could have a lot more realistic budgets, letting the enthusiast press sell the game. Thats why Summer of Arcade was so successful and to a large degree the indy movement as a whole. The dearth of summer content gave those games a chance to fill the void by a media that desperately needed content.

Posted by soupbones

I'm happy for the break in new releases... gives me more time to play through the avalanche of games I bought already.

It's true - game companies need to spread the love a little bit throughout the year. November thru March is absolutely ridiculous with big game releases.

My playlist this summer will be Animal Crossing, Dodonpachi Sai, Walking Dead, Super Mario U (and maybe Luigi U), Guacamelee, and finally finishing Persona 4 Golden.

Edited by ThatOneDudeNick

Gives me time to finish up all my incomplete games before the craziness of the fall. Especially at the end of a generation. I have a lot to go back over for pretty much the last time. Then I'll go apeshit on the Steam summer sales and acquire more games I didn't care enough about to purchase before. The first half of summer is never bad. Catching up and then riding the hype of everything I see at E3. August is when I start to feel the urge for new stuff. Right now I'm banging out everything on my hard drive that I never finished.

The lack of new potential Quick Looks is disturbing. It would be cool to get the guys together to do video features on the best games of the generation. Pull out some favorites and go over your memories of the game. I'd watch the shit out of that. Everyone will be in reminiscing mode.

Edited by gregoryc

Game publishers want money. We, as players of their games, could possibly influence their release dates, but I highly doubt we could ever see a full calendar year with evenly spaced releases of "AAA" titles. I enjoy the perspective that Alex brings, and the idea of big DLC releases in the holiday season is enticing - I just believe these publishers do what (they think) is in their best interests. Which is to release games from September through November.

Edited by Rox360

@hangnail said:

Somewhat off-topic: Why do publishers still clutch onto the belief that a game will be considered a "success" only if it manages to sell by the assload within the first few weeks of release? Do later sales mean NOTHING to them?

Yes, in fact. It doesn't matter if a game continues to sell well over the course of a year, the majority of a mainstream game's total sales usually happen in the first month. I don't remember any exact numbers, but I've seen many examples where some 90% of the profit from a specific title came from the first couple of weeks, followed by a flatline at maybe 1% of total sales per following week. A really good sale or popularity spike might bump another week up from the grave, but that spike will probably amount to something like 5-10% of total sales, so it's still insignificant compared to the initial launch. That's why companies often feel secure in deeming something a success or failure about a week after the game came out.

Posted by subyman

I think its a combination of the end of this generation of consoles and the normal summer drought. Its been extra dull this year, but at least we will get a bit of excitement tomorrow.

Posted by DeXterminator

I, for one, have found a way to beat this spring/summer "dulldrum". DEFIANCE (the game) is actually AMAZING. Some might compare it to Borderlands. It is so much more though. If anyone out there likes a good LOOT/SHOOTER driven MMO, I suggest that you give Defiance a "SHOT"!

Posted by divergence
Posted by Haruko

I for one agree with the questioning of the logistics of not releasing games during this season, but you know what I need this time to get caught up both from a time investment standpoint and monetarily.

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