Christmas is coming, and you know what that means: peace, love, goodwill, and shopping malls that look like a gladiator arena during a lion feed.
For most of us, the holiday rush is a time of great expenditure, and frantic social network deal swapping via Facebook and Twitter. We spend money, time, and cash to buy gifts for our loved ones, but the exhaustion pays off when we settle into the peaceful, festive part of the celebration. But for the men and women who work in the games business, the entirety of the holiday season can be a time of tremendous stress. It’s crunch time, it’s do-or-die. The game that’s been two years in development is on the shelves, and it’s gotta sell, or else.
Unfortunately, 2011’s holiday season is an excellent example of having too many good things at one table. With the retail launch of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D Land, Battlefield 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Skyrim, Mario Kart 7 and plenty of other games, this is the busiest Christmas release schedule we’ve seen in years. That’s great news for consumers, but it’s bad news for the folks whose jobs depend on a decent retail showing in the Christmas months. Here’s why:
Game retail is becoming more competitive — Retail releases have to compete year-round with the ever-growing digital market. This means that more publishers are holding off on putting games on the shelf before late fall, in hopes of grabbing people who are preparing to dump their savings into Christmas shopping.
For a little while, it seemed as if big-name games were subscribing to a more sensible and spaced-out release schedule. But with the holidays being the one time of year when buyers will almost assuredly choose retail games over digital downloads (nothing can replace a boxed game as a gift), every publisher is doing what it can to make sure they’re “in.” As a result:
Great games get overlooked — As the Highlanders like to say, “There can be only one.” While it’s certainly true that more than one game can make astronomical amounts of money during the holiday rush, there’s also no doubt that a bunch of high-scoring but minimally-advertised games are going to be overlooked in favor of the games that are marched in with a parade of commercials and merchandise. Six months from now, a few of us will play those games and wonder why we haven’t heard about any sequels or other projects from the studio that created them. In other words:
Too much ends up riding on one season — 2011’s industry news has been punctuated with stories about studio closures and layoffs. Once the Christmas season recedes, we’re going to be reading more bad news. If a game can’t perform during the holiday, the consequences even for today’s business leaders are layoffs and closures. In some cases, a game can make a very decent showing during the holidays, but if the copies sold fall short of the necessary millions that are needed to recoup development costs and advertising, devs get the axe anyway.
Younger kids typically only get one or two games as a present — It would be nice if, on Christmas morning, a young game lover got to unwrap a box filled with the holiday’s greatest games, but no parent is awesome enough to make that happen. Okay, okay, we’ll be fair. It’s simply not possible for the average parent to buy that many games for kids, and a responsible parent probably shouldn’t buy all those games, either. Kids need to balance gameplay with schoolwork and other activities, and parents need to balance their budgets. That’s why a kid typically only one, two, or three games for the holiday–or a console with one game.
Spending money is stretched thin — No matter your age or religion, one thing about the festive season rings true: you’ll be broke by the time it’s all over. You can’t buy a truckload of games for your friends and family, nor can you buy buy ’em all for yourself. Another sad reason why an overcrowded holiday games market is an unfortunate occurrence.