Beyond November: Why Publishers Should Broaden Their Horizons

As the editor of a gaming site, I take notice of when we’re very quiet and when we’re very busy. If you follow a release schedule in any way – even if it’s just your yearly instalments of FIFA, Call of Duty, and Assassin’s Creed – then you’ll probably notice that the months leading up to December are very busy, with November having a ridiculous amount of releases.

That means, when the time comes round, people who haven’t been putting money away all year may find themselves missing out on some of the biggest games purely because they have to buy another. Sure, Ubisoft made it a bit easier this year by releasing a game that was broken until Christmas in the form of Assassin’s Creed Unity, and one which worked pretty much perfectly in Far Cry 4, but then there was GTA V’s remaster, Call of Duty, Halo, Dragon Age, LittleBigPlanet, and even Smash Bros. for Wii U owners.

To put it simply, that’s too many games towards the end of the year, and some of these – LittleBigPlanet with its deep creation mechanics and Dragon Age: Inquisition as a lengthy RPG in particular – might’ve benefited from a different release time. Summer would unrealistic, as the games were unfinished, but that would’ve been a much better time to release in; it’s simply illogical to think that people could get what they want out of these titles when they’re surrounded by fifty other releases.

I’ve barely touched LittleBigPlanet 3, but its predecessor’s January release meant that the last year’s titles had started to get stale, and the quiet schedule meant that I could really get on with it. I haven’t even entertained the thought of purchasing Dragon Age, despite it being something I want to play. Maybe I’ll just wait for summer, at least then it’ll be cheaper.

The reason publishers love November is due to those pre-Christmas sales: it means that there’s a lot more choice for presents, and variety is key, even if most of the people will generally be asking for GTA, CoD or FIFA if they haven’t purchased them already. A new product is more exciting than one that released in July or August, so that’s why we don’t see many AAA releases until just before Christmas.

Thankfully, indie games and smaller releases have made this much less of a problem; there’s a plethora of titles out there which, while not usually providing the same grip as a huge RPG such as Dragon Age, are still genuinely enjoyable experiences and manage to fill the time between bigger releases. Child of Light and Transistor were two of last year’s greats, releasing in the relatively quiet months of April and May, giving us something to fawn over.

That’s not to say that games don’t release in the earlier months of the year: in just a few weeks we’ll be seeing Dying Light and Evolve, followed by The Order: 1886 soon after. Aside from Sony, who always have a big release in their first quarter, it’s usually the big publishers pushing their “biggest and best” games out late in the year and release other titles, with less of a heritage, in the quieter months. It’s almost like any time other than November is a test bed for titles they’re less certain about.

And it’s not like a game needs to release around November to be high quality. Of my top three games of last generation, only one of these – Uncharted 2 – released in October, while the others – BioShock Infinite and Portal 2 – released in March and April respectively. It’s still not quite those perfect summer months, but it’s a start. Here you could point out that The Last of Us launched in June, but that was only to get it out of the way before the PS4 arrived later on in the year.

Ubisoft were so eager to capitalise on the biggest action/adventure franchise there is and release two Assassin’s Creed games on the same day, that they actually thought releasing a broken product would be a better option than delaying the game by a few months. A decision they possibly made in reaction the poor response to Watch Dogs’ delay from last November to May, but now a costly one which has somewhat tarnished the series’ reputation, meaning that – hopefully – they’ll think a bit more about how delays can be beneficial.

And they really can be; Far Cry 4 was a finished product by November, and to some extent so was The Crew by December (at least with that big day one patch in place), but if the latter had been releasing at the start of this year it would’ve had much more breathing room, and the former felt as though it came around very soon after announcement. But that’s for another article.

It’s almost like a hangover from other entertainment media: the Oscar-baiting movie to be precise. But more often than not, a late November release can hinder a game when it comes down to awards. When we did our staff Game of the Year vote, we voted at the start of December and could only include games that had been a) released in a timely fashion and b) been played by a good majority of the staff members – all of those award-seeking films release months before any ceremonies. And don’t forget that it takes roughly two hours to watch and form an opinion on a film. A game generally takes much longer.

It has become extremely apparent that the November release frame boils down to one factor: sales. Publishers obviously notice an increase in their games sales in the Christmas-spending period, and even if the people aren’t sticking around and playing those games, it shouldn’t matter. However, as we see more games like Destiny which change and evolve with expansions over time, and the prevalence of season passes for DLC, perhaps we could see games releasing earlier in the year, with key DLC packs towards the end of the year to push the game back into the limelight.

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8 Comments

  1. Money wins but digital delivery will continue to smooth things out, I hope. A crowded calendar can influence the release schedule and the industry is growing so they all have to fit somewhere. This is why things will always be okay and why we’ll continue to dictate when they release games. Obviously, if Christmas was cancelled then things would truly even out.

  2. I agree if devs/publishers want their games to sell it would make more sense for staggered releases, but a saturated Nov is great for the consumer in my opinion. The games launched last November will easily keep me occupied for a large chunk of 2015 and I can pick up each of them for £10-20 each instead of a ridiculous £40-50.

  3. Everybody’s fighting for the christmas sales though,so a staggered release is never going to work.

    But,if everyone were to buy one game at a time and concentrate on it until completion. There would be plenty of games to last throughout the year…

    • But then you have the problem of “my friends are playing the new CoD right now so I want that” or “oh wow, a 9/10, that looks great” which make you want to buy everything on day one.

  4. I’m not sure what you’re saying here Blair. It makes sense that a business would release its product when it can make the most amount of money from it.

    • Isn’t the point that for some games it might not be the time that they can make the most amount of money? Games like LittleBigPlanet, which is by no means a bad game, have to compete against the likes of Call of Duty which are more likely to sell more popularly I guess. Obviously they aren’t direct competitors but it can still hinder sales if people want both games but can only afford one at that time – that’s what I took from it at least.

      • Fair point, but surely these companies invest a lot of money in researching the best possible time to bring out their games. Would LittleBigPlanet really make as much money if it didn’t cash in on the christmas family market?

  5. Now I’m older and wiser, I don’t pre order games anymore, and unless its something truly special, I’ll wait until the price drops , then buy second hand. Why pay £55 for a game that’s £20 on PC ?

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