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Casualties of War November 6, 2007

Posted by Mike in Articles, Console, Games.
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You don’t see genero-low-budget-studio-flick released in the same week as Pirates of the Caribbean, do you? Sometimes the videogames industry could learn from Hollywood.

We’re well into the silly season now. In the last four months of the year, a whole slew of the most anticipated videogames crash into retail, one after another after another – sometimes even two (or three) in the same week. It’s collective madness, with one reason behind it: the marketing men, based on a combination of research and belief, are confident that games sell more in this period than at any other time of the year. And for the biggies – the likes of Super Mario Galaxy, Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 – they’re absolutely right.

But in order for some to succeed, some must fail, as there’s only a certain amount of consumer cash to go round. Here we get to experience the sillier side of the silly season in action, where non-franchise games are released into shark-infested waters; where just-above-average titles come out on the same day as magazines’ proclaimed “Game of the Year”. Are the marketing bods blind to their games’ flaws? Or do they simply put so much emphasis on their reading of the sales figures of successful titles in Q4, that they see a release in that period as being essential, while ignoring the fact that many games die a painful death at retail as a result?

Surely it’s the case that certain games would sell far more units in a traditionally “fallow” period for software: the summer, for example. Let’s take a classic case of silly release dates. Poster Child A has to be Timeshift, published by Vivendi. This is a game that was given an extra year’s development time to bring it up to scratch, and it’s had some fairly good review scores – nothing compared to the big boys, but it’s clearly a solid title. Yet, presumably for the reasons above, it’s been released smack in the middle of silly season. Is a consumer really going to buy this game above the likes of Halo 3, The Orange Box, Pro Evo 2008, FIFA 08, Metroid Prime 3 or Phantom Hourglass? I don’t think so, and the charts say the same. This week, Timeshift went in at a lowly number 24. It may stick around for a short while after discounting takes place, but by releasing the game in this busy period Vivendi has screwed its chances. Good job, boys.

Poster Child B is Sega Rally. This is an interesting case, a relaunched franchise with the potential to do well. The game had some pretty stellar reviews in the press, and good word-of-mouth. Yet Sega decided to commit retail suicide by releasing the game in the same week as… and this is really tragically funny… Halo 3 and FIFA 08. Yes, you read that correctly – the 360’s biggest game, and EA’s biggest European franchise. Whoever was responsible for that genius piece of scheduling should never be allowed out on work experience again. The result, predictably, was that the title struggled at retail and didn’t reach its sales potential.

The message that should be rammed home to publishers who want to commit retail hari-kari is that high chart placings lead to more casual sales. Consider the layouts of both specialist retailers such as GAME and supermarkets, where high placing titles are in prominent positions, with less well performing offerings relegated to dusty shelves or not sold at all. A title such as Timeshift would stick around far longer in retail if released in the summer than it will when well down in the charts even after its first week in Q4. Is that not obvious?

Let’s not mince words here: releasing a non-franchise, niche or average title between September and December is bloody stupid. There are plenty of weeks of the year when the software market is pretty dead, and this isn’t due to consumers not wanting to buy games: it’s just because no games worth buying are being released. Publishers should release their non-blockbusters then. Otherwise they’ll soon be scratching their heads while looking at their financial results, wondering what went wrong.

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Comments»

1. Chris - November 6, 2007

Sega Rally’s a definite shame, as I personally think that’s tied with PGR4 for best racer this year.

Jev seems to quite like TimeShift, too. I just can’t understand why people don’t realise the problem with releasing all their best games at this time. I think the simple fact that people have too much to save for is part of the reason Hawk has bombed this year (not even top 40 this week).

2. Mark - November 6, 2007

TimeShift only went on the shelves at the end of the week. I don’t think Vivendi plans to sell as many units as COD4 or Halo, they just want to establish what they hope wiill be the first game in the marketplace. Stats show that being 10th or 20th Christmas time is better than being 4th or 5th in Feburary. I really liked TimeShift. I thought that the combat itself was better done in TimeShift than it was in COD4 or Halo. The story is worse but the actual feel of the gameplay was cooler and more innovative. her’s to hoping its the first in a franchise….

3. Mike - November 6, 2007

The trouble is, Mark, that as they’re 24 in week one, they’re going to be absolutely nowhere in a couple of weeks’ time. Fourth or fifth in February – with the product on shelves everywhere and therefore in the public eye – is infinitely preferable as far as I’m concerned. At 24 they’ve sold bugger-all units.

4. Ben - November 6, 2007

I think the main casulties sales-wise will be Kane and Lynch and unfortunately Galaxy as well but I hope I’m wrong.

5. Chris - November 6, 2007

I’m with you on Kane & Lynch. I’d be amazed if Galaxy bombed. Surely not?

6. Mike - November 6, 2007

Yeah, K&L is in danger. But Galaxy? I’d be surprised.

7. Jevan - November 6, 2007

God damn it Mike. I was all set to write this exact same article later today. 😉

Naturally I agree completely though. It’s a far worse situation in the games industry than it is with any other form of entertainment, no doubt due to marketing departments failing to recognise the buying habits of an ever widening audience. Just think of how much more incredible this year would have been if we had games like Sega Rally and Timeshift peppering the schedules across the whole year? It’s frankly retarded for so many publishers to target the Christmas period regardless of what competition they’ll be facing.

8. Ben - November 6, 2007

Look at Metroid Prime, it didn’t do particulary well for the Wii’s first big game in God knows how long. Perhaps what I said came out wrong, I’m not saying it’ll die or do extremely badly, just that it wont be a gigantic seller.

9. Mark - November 6, 2007

Like I said, give it a week on TimeShift. I know that it hit the shelves on Firday or Saturday, so being 24 when the week ends on a Saturday isn’t so bad….

Next week will be more telling, I think…


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