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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 RudeCubes

I just wish everybody stopped loading all their games into November.

Posted by McTangle

Indie Game Christmas?

Posted by Krakn3Dfx

I have entirely too many games in my backlog, so a new game break in the spring and summer is kind of great for me. Definitely want to get my sweaty paws on Last Of Us ASAP tho.

Edited by Scroll

May has been a pretty good month for releasing games in prior years but I suspect the move to next gen has effected that to a degree. I would have really appreciated GTAV being released right about now, it's the perfect game to play over an entire month.

Oh and I guess I fall into the student demographic in that I'm saving most of my spare funds for next gen stuff anyway, clearly I'm part of the problem.

On the subject of 3DS stuff, they should get around to announcing a new Advance wars.

Posted by mbdoeden

Although I have no hard numbers or facts to point to this, but I think it's also a consumer problem. Everyone spends their money on material objects after summer, not during.

Edited by TheManWithNoPlan

I have no idea why publishers feel the need to put every damn game out within the same three months of each other. There's almost nothing coming out right now. Though I am somewhat thankful, since I can catch up on my backlog.

Posted by aspaceinvader

Problem is games companies don't see the summer months as money makers, people would rather spend their cash on a good holiday than a game. They see the winter months as where the big bucks are, with Christmas etc being the money season. I don't think it will ever change.

Edited by ReverendHunt

An image I uploaded made it into an article.

Holly shit.

Posted by Alex

@mbdoeden: The numbers most certainly point to the notion that people spend the most money during the holiday season, but there's probably a viable question to be raised about whether that's actually strictly because of the holiday season, or because that just happens to be where we're shoving so many of the games people want to play.

Posted by DeF

No mention of Pikmin or New Super Luigi U?

Posted by Alex

@def: Super Luigi is DLC, and doesn't release as a stand-alone product until August. Pikmin is an August game. I mentioned that August is when releases pick up again.

Edited by DirkGently

@alex:The solution is to just lag 1 year behind on games, then you can spread out the November/Xmas rush across the full 52 weeks and play games that have been properly patched and that will have important story based DLC included in GOTY editions.

Edited by fishmicmuffin

@scroll said:

On the subject of 3DS stuff, they should get around to announcing a new Advance wars.

Yes please. I really hope they make another.

Posted by qawsed

I could really go for a Syndicate or a Bulletstorm right about now.

Posted by Trilogy

I have so many games on my pile of shame that I need to get to before I can legitimately join your cause, Alex. I've certainly felt this way in the past, however. So many games are released in a clump that I don't have the time/money to play them all at once. Hence the backlog and hence the dry season.

Posted by joshthebear

Man, reading through that really puts the drought in context. The Last of Us cannot get here soon enough.

Posted by MURDERSMASH

Hey Alex...this is kind of off-topic, but since I saw you mention the game in the article: Did you ever get around to playing Dust: An Elysian Tail? I would be really interested in hearing your opinion of it.

Edited by BSw

I have wondered about this for quite a while as well. Aren't there any sales figures of publishers that have exerienced with large (triple A or slightly below that) games during for instance the draught from April to June? Or even the summer. Many people aren't away for the entire summer, and I know I will spend a little time behind my Xbox during my holiday. I can imagine you would like to keep your Triple A games for the really high season, but it feels like slightly cheaper yet still great games could do pretty well during this period of year because of the virtually non-existant competition.

Edited by OllyOxenFree

THE FORBIDDEN ZOOOOOONEEEE

Posted by Pop

That's a pretty good idea to release handheld games in summer.

Posted by Parsnip

Does Microsoft even have Summer of Arcade this year? I don't think I've heard anything about it, aren't the games usually known at this time of the year already?

Either way, sounds like this summer is backlog time for me, again.

Especially since I have this weird feeling about The Last of Us maybe not being good. I really really hope it's good but something just bugs me about it and I can't shake the feeling.

Posted by Bakumatsu

Hey Alex you forgot Grid 2 hits May 28th.

Edited by SomberOwl

They should treat games like movies and release all the huge stuff in the summer months.

Posted by Hangnail

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? Not exactly a very good example, but I remember seeing 'Grand Theft Auto IV' popping up in a recent sales chart (the specific region eludes me) somewhere, and I know that the game was a massive commercial success rightaway, but surely the folks at Rockstar are benefiting lucratively from these late sales as well?

Edited by Hangnail

@reverendhunt: Please, clean up that mess you made on the floor. [Hands over mop.]

Edited by beard_of_zeus

I have entirely too many games in my backlog, so a new game break in the spring and summer is kind of great for me. Definitely want to get my sweaty paws on Last Of Us ASAP tho.

Agreed on both counts. Plus I'm kinda busy with dumb adult stuff like having to go to weddings every other weekend, and trying to find a new place to live before my lease runs out.

It is kinda messed up how light the Vita schedule is looking. The only other game I can think of besides that Ratchet & Clank port that Alex mentioned is the Muramasa remake coming out in June, which I'll count, because no one played the Wii version, I'm sure, which is a shame because it's a pretty awesome game.

Posted by GunsAreDrawn

Don't games usually get released at E3 because the most important people in the review business will be too busy to play it? It practically gives the game company a few review-free days without saying they want to have an embargo on it.

Posted by Metric_Outlaw

I've had a fair amount to play this summer compared to past summers. Blood dragon was good but short and Zeno Clash 2 was also pretty fun. DK Returns comes out this week and then Animal Crossing will eat up a bunch of summer. This summer has been great about putting out just enough for my schedule that I am not too bored and not too buried in new releases.

Posted by SuperJoe

For me summertime means loading up during the Steam Sale. And perhaps publishers/developers tend to go on vacation themselves after the fiscal year ends.

Edited by Baal_Sagoth

I haven't actually had this problem for several years now because I either went all the way down the rabbit hole with specific games (almost three years of practically non-stop Bad Company 2), had something interesting still lined up or wanted to replay some personal favorites.

But this year my gaming catalogue actually kinda dried up. I mean, it's all good since I just play around with some more Torchlight 2 builds, which never seems to bore me, and Dust: An Elysian Tale for PC should liven things up shortly but it does really seem silly. I just know many year-end gems will be demoted to GOTY edition/ Steam sale/ budget status simply because I won't spend hundreds of bucks on games I couldn't possibly play all at once. Oh well.

Online
Posted by kerse

Yeah its kinda why I always slip into a WoW relapse during the summer, there's nothing else to play. That or I play the shit outta one or two games I've had for a while, been playing Dragon's Dogma for like 2 weeks.

Edited by fiberpay

The Void of Summer is ok by me. Living in a state that has a snowy winter makes your summers pretty full. Honestly I will probably only buy 1 game if any over the summer months. My play money now goes into vacations, getting the boat out, getting the summer car out, going camping, riding atv's, ect...

Posted by billyhoush

I dunno. Gave my wallet time to breathe before I have to buy a 3DS and New Leaf, then Last of Us, Saints Row 4, and Beyond: Two Souls. That's plenty this summer until GTA V hits.

Edited by Soapy86

It's dumb that it exists, but I personally have never really been bothered by the summer game drought. I use that time to catch up on my backlog and play and enjoy older games. I'm currently in the midst of playing through the Dawn of War series.

Posted by President_Barackbar

Great article Alex. I've always wondered whether the summer drought was a self-fulfilling prophecy or not. and it seems like that is indeed the case.

Edited by RetroVirus

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.

Edited by BlackLagoon

The problem with PSN titles is that unless there's a big publisher involved with a target date, they're frequently just pushed out ASAP after they pass QA. So they have a firm release date for less than a week before launch.

And if the developer isn't PR savvy enough to get the date out there, releases tend to get revealed either on the PlayStation Blogcast (Thursday afternoon), The Drop blog post (Sunday afternoon), or just dumped out there with the Store Update blog post itself on Tuesdays (see Atelier Totori Plus, which apparently was the victim of Tecmo Koei Japan spending weeks to approve the press release).

Posted by Mezmero

Summer is not so bad for me. I'll probably playing MGS HD, Blood Dragon, Injustice, and maybe Metro: Last Light if my rental comes through. Only purchase I might consider is Deadpool but I'll need to see reviews before I commit to that. I'll be on vacation soon away from my games so expect very little of that to get done.

Edited by bgdiner

As a university student, I wouldn't purchase games during the spring, nor in the summer. I can really only buy a few games a year, and though it's wrong, I've been imbued with the mindset that the best games come during the holiday season. Granted, there are exceptions, but the holiday season to me means a break from work and some time to play. As Alex mentioned, spring means finals, and summer means travel. Unfortunate as it may be, the holiday season is really the right time to release.

Edited by BlackLagoon

It is kinda messed up how light the Vita schedule is looking. The only other game I can think of besides that Ratchet & Clank port that Alex mentioned is the Muramasa remake coming out in June, which I'll count, because no one played the Wii version, I'm sure, which is a shame because it's a pretty awesome game.

Well, there's always my monthly upcoming Vita games blog post. Right now, the Vita's summer retail lineup looks like, Muramasa, LEGO Legends of Chima, ports of Epic Mickey 2 and Jak & Daxter Trilogy, MotoGP13 (in Europe), and maybe Invizimals: The Alliance and Sly Cooper Trilogy. Firm release dates a lacking on most of these though.

Edited by kerikxi

Great article Alex. You hit the nail square on the head.

With me personally, the holiday release flood becomes especially critical on the financial end. I can only afford a full price new game maybe every 2-3 months under normal conditions. The vast majority of my game purchases are as cheap as I can manage, Steam sales and bundles and the like. During the winter months, as a working adult, I'm having to square away a little bit of cash for gift giving, never mind buying myself anything fancy. From September to December I might, MIGHT, end up with 2 or 3 of the hottest latest titles, against my better judgement. You can bet I won't be in any console launch lineups this year either.

It's a little tired to go back to "in this economy", but it holds true for a lot of people. Not just Americans, we aren't doing so hot here in Canada either. I'm sure it's the same in a large part of the world right now. Many are just barely able to scrape together a living, and luxuries are the hardest thing to justify next to rent, food, lights, heat, etc. To try and justify a month's rent worth of new videogame console is completely out of the question for me, and will be for a long time.

Odds are, if game releases were spread out in a sane manner, I'd be more inclined to pick up a new game at full price. The way things are right now, it will probably be a good year+ before I play most of this holiday's big releases, and probably closer to two before I take a plunge into next gen. I'm very curious to see how this generation will play out, with everybody's pocketbooks pinched that much harder.

Edited by l3illyl3ob

One game coming out in the next few weeks that is sure to be overlooked by most major publications is Wargame: Airland Battle. Last year's Wargame: European Escalation was secretly one of the best RTSes released in a very long time, it was fantastic. And the sequel looks to be better in almost every way. It has no major publisher, no big marketing push, and is being released in the slow season, but it's able to stand toe to toe with the Starcrafts and Company of Heroes of the world in terms of being a brilliant competitive RTS.

There's always a hidden gem or two released in these slow months, I just wonder how many we miss because we just aren't paying enough attention.

Edited by eccentrix

I've always wondered why this is since hearing about it in Nintendo magazines when I was younger. Kids aren't at school in the summer, so that's when you want to sell them things. I've never had a shortage of things to do, though, so I've never actually noticed fewer big releases.

Posted by Darson

Hell, I just think it'll be better if the year's releases were spread out more.

Edited by Vuud

It kinda stinks that I had two solid weeks of vacation for gaming and the only major release was Last Light. Maybe game publishers should invent a summer holiday like the Corona people did with Cinco de Mayo.

Edited by Lausebub

Alex, don't forget Mario & Luigi 4, which is coming out in July in Europe and hitting NA in August.

Also: Pokémon usually does come out in the summer/late summer, but this time they're having it released worldwide at the same time and in addition to that Monster Hunter 4 is coming out this summer in Japan and that is a big release for Nintendo as well and they want to spread out the titles to keep the momentum going. It's just speculation from my part, but I think I might be on to something.

Personally, I kind of like these weeks. I finally have some time to catch up to games in my backlog, which will probably never stop growing and the summer is there to enjoy it. At least in my country, the winters aren't as sunny as the summers. So I'd rather spend the my time outside and pull out a handheld to play a long RPG in between.

Posted by npa189

Animal crossing is the only game I need for quite some time, I'll grab the last of us because I'm a avid PS3 owner, but the summer break gives my wallet a much needed rest and I can also grind out the enormous backlog I've built up, Grid 2 will be a great time sink as well so I'm not really dreading the summer drought this year, and hopefully I'll actually get some vacation time, to do outdoorsy things too.

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