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- 2014 Bam Game Awards (BGAs)
- Why Do Summers Suck?
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Video games are a beautiful hobby. They can take us to other worlds, allow us to do things we can only dream of, tell us deep emotional brilliant stories, and they are just plain fun. My first video game was Super Mario Bros on the NES when I was just four years old. Although the Super Nintendo was out for a few years by then, my family was stuck with the NES. But that was a great thing because it allowed me to grow up on the 8-bit classics. I’m an early 90’s kid so my first console could have just as easily been a Nintendo 64. Mario and Duck Hunt quickly took over as my absolute favorite thing to do when I wasn’t eating peanut butter and jelly, watching Batman the Animated Series, and pretending I was all twenty-two players on an NFL field at once. Fast forward twenty years and gaming is still my definitive go-to diversion from the real world. Whether it’s playing Child of Light till the morning light is literally shining through my windows or being deeply interested and invested in the stories and advancements of our great medium or constantly checking on the smash bros website to see if any new characters have been revealed; I am always living and breathing video games. Every year around the same time I am baffled, perplexed, and downright annoyed by something that we gamers have to deal with. Summers… Why is it that there’s such a huge chunk of the year where there’s so little to play? There’s an epidemic on our hands and I think it’s time the industry takes a closer look at this and notices that there’s huge money being lost and wonderful opportunity for games to flourish this time of the year.
There’s no doubt that there’s less games to play during these scorching hot summer days
To clarify, I consider June, July, and August to be the real summer. Yes, summer doesn’t start until the 21st of June, but for the most part, these three months are what we regard as the actual summer. Most of us don’t think of September 15th to still be summer for example (even though the calendar would argue otherwise). For the sake of this article, and for what the entertainment industry in general considers, let’s simplify June, July, and August to be the legitimate summer. Now I don’t for a second want to say that there is nothing at all to play during the summers. There are certainly some games that launch each year. This summer we had games like Shovel Knight, Sniper Elite III, and The Last of Us Remastered. But the quality and quantity is definitely not on the same page as the other nine months. Much of what gets launched during the summer are games that we may end up playing only because it’s the only thing available. Transformers, One Piece, Worms Battlegrounds, Murdered: Soul Suspect, and Sacred 3 are some of the lackluster games that many of us ended up playing just because there wasn’t much else. The aforementioned The Last of Us or the updated Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition are both ports of already released games (Metro Redux is another example of this). Even if these games are amazing, which they are, it’s telling that some of the best games to play this summer were re-makes. There are definitely some truly brand new and truly great games that came out this summer. Valiant Hearts and Shovel Knight are two of my favorite games of the year. But there’s no doubt that there are fewer games to play during these scorching hot summer days.
You can NOT tell me that any good game released in July wouldn’t have been extremely successful
These past three months are a great example of how deprived the options are this time of year. Not only were many of the games sub-par, but there were sometimes whole weeks where there weren’t any new options at all. For example, on the Xbox One for the month of June, there were just ten games released. None of them were necessarily showstoppers, the highest rated game (on Metacritic) from the bunch was 1001 Spikes—a classic style ridiculously hard pixel platformer. The rest were either remakes or ports like Outlast and Another World, movie tie-ins and annual sports cash-ins like Transformers and EA Sports UFC, or small indie games that didn’t quite pan out like Sixty Second Shooter Prime and Contrast (R.B.I Baseball 14 barely deserves a mention). There was also Murdered Soul Suspect, which I’ll talk about later. July was even worse. We got two games in the first two days; Zombie Drive Ultimate Edition, a decent arcade style game, and the brilliant Guacamelee. Then two weeks later Sniper Elite III was launched. That’s it… That’s literally the entire line-up of Xbox One games for the whole month of July. You can NOT tell me that any good game released in July wouldn’t have been extremely successful. It would have had no competition! We then waited an entire month til the next game was released. From July 16th to August 14th there was not a single new game to play. And on top of that, the game we got after a one-month drought was Pinball FX2. Yay? Diablo III, released on the 19th of August, was sort of the unofficial game to end summer and start the insanity of fall. There will pretty much be at least one big name game, if not more, every week for the rest of the year. But wow was that a lame summer. I’m not as invested in the Sony ecosystem of games. But I do pay attention to news and word of mouth and I know that there wasn’t a whole lot worth mentioning for the PlayStation platforms. Don’t get me wrong, there were some games I did genuinely enjoy, but they were few and far between and I got burned by many games that suckered me in because they were the only options available.
There are some valid arguments towards the positive aspect of such weak summers. One great thing is that we get to catch up on our back catalog of video games we missed out on. Whether that’s games from earlier this year or even games from last fall and beyond. I personally picked up FIFA 14 during the World Cup craze, WATCH_DOGS, and Battlefield 4; each being games I probably would have missed on if the summer drought didn’t exist. But then again maybe it wouldn’t have been a big deal. The reason why I skipped them in the first place is that I didn’t think any of them would blow my mind—and my assumption was right. Although they provided entertainment, I wouldn’t be crying over the fact that I overlooked these games. I did have one example of this working in my favor with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. I missed out on it initially and picked it up in June and had an absolute blast. The other big advantage to these summers is that small games and indies have a great shot of stealing the show. If Valiant Hearts was released this fall or even this past spring it would not have had as much success. The people who played it assuredly would still have loved it. But many of us wouldn’t have found the time with so many other games to play. The same goes for Rogue Legacy and The Swapper on the PS4/VITA, Shovel Knight on the Wii U, and Guacemelee, which was actually free for Xbox Live Gold Members in early July when it launched.
Two games that weren’t critically acclaimed but hoped to have decent sales were Murdered Soul Suspect and Sniper Elite III. I commend these two games for launching this summer. Even if these games aren’t great, they still offer good fun to the players. Since they are not “triple A” games, they would have no chance stacked up against Call of Duty, Destiny, or Far Cry 4. Even Metro Redux is another example; the game itself is really good. It just launched a few days ago and I foresee it selling pretty well. It’s just before the crazy fall so it won’t be swallowed alive by bigger titles. But I do wish it would have come out earlier, even a few weeks could have greatly improved the sales. If that game came out in late July when there was literally nothing else to play, I imagine it would have far surpassed the sales it will end up producing. I believe a “double A” game, if launched in the summer, has the potential to sell like a “triple A” game. And I’m not talking “double A” as in the quality of the game; I’m more talking about the budget and notoriety of the game. A game like the upcoming “Evolve” from Turtle Rock Studios and 2K would absolutely thrive in the summer. 2K smartly pushed the game into early 2015 because it probably wouldn’t stack up well against Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, Destiny, the GTA5 port, and more. But it’s not because Evolve is a weaker game, it may, in fact, be the best of the bunch. But it’s a new IP made by a relatively unknown developer published by one of the smaller publishers. If the game was ready for Summer 2014, which it obviously wasn’t, it would have had a fantastic shot at completely stealing the summer, thus improving the brand and helping the franchise get its feet off the ground with emphasis.
I believe a “double A” game, if launched in the summer, has the potential to sell like a “triple A” game
What really confuses me about these summer droughts is the quality of games that refuse to give June, July, and early August a chance. There are small indie games that are great, and we’ve surely had some great games be released during the summer heat. But overall it seems like if a developer and publisher feel like they have a great game on their hands, then they choose to launch it during the holiday season; or at least during the early months of the following year. Why not release your amazing new game in the summer when it has little to no competition? I honestly don’t get it. This isn’t a new problem either; summers are notorious for their lack of both quality and quantity when it comes to video games. Metacritic is a website that pulls in reviews from all over the internet and averages them out for one solid review score. It’s not a perfect method by any means, but it does give a very good idea of the general critical success or failure of a video game. Since as far back as 1996 there are one-hundred and two games with a score of 94% or better. Of those, only twelve of them were released in June, July, or August. That’s less than twelve percent! Those three months obviously take up twenty-five percent of the year. But the best of the best games rarely are released during this summer window. If we broaden it a bit further, there are four-hundred and forty-four games on Metacritic that have a score of 90% or higher and only seventy-nine of them are summer releases; less than eighteen percent. And many of these seventy-nine games were released in late late August, which is right on the bubble of the end of summer. These games are sort of pseudo fall games trying to get an early jump-start on the holiday competition. So what can we take away from those stats? Most of the best games of all time have stayed away from summer. But do you think some of them could have had more sales success if they launched in the summer?
Last year we got The Last of Us in June, I think that was a wonderful time to release the game and I’m sure it was a contributor to its sales success. One of the arguments against releasing games in the summer is that it won’t sell as well as if it launched in the fall. Part of that is most likely true, but at the same time, I feel like we’ve barely even tested that theory. Publishers are too scared to even try it. The Last of Us took a shot at it and what were the results? It ended the year as the tenth best selling game of 2013. It, along with the 360 version of Minecraft, was the only game that’s exclusive to one console to crack the top fifteen. That’s amazing! Of course The Last of Us was also one of the greatest games of the generation. So that obviously was the biggest factor to the success. Publishers are worried about shying away from launching a game in October and November because they want the sales that come with a holiday push. But I believe if the game is great enough, it will sell fantastically in the summer. Less competition equals more people playing. Along with more gamers buying the product, the word of mouth will spread as it will be the talk of the summer. And then as an added bonus, come Christmas time, the game will get a second wave of sales as it becomes a must have game for anyone who missed out on it during summer break.
Not as many game purchases are made during the summer, this is one of the reasons publishers stay away. But just as the summer sun parches the mouth, gamers are thirsty for content. With less competition, a game can truly flourish. The dedicated gamer will buy a good game no matter what time of the year it is. So if it’s the only good option on the shelf, there’s little doubt they will pick it up. But then in the fall months, when there are dozens of good games to choose from, a tough decision has to be made. Those dedicated gamers pay close attention to new and interesting titles like Evolve, Rainbow Six: Seige, and The Division. But when the options become overwhelming it’s easy to lean towards the familiar. I personally know of many people who missed out on the Far Cry series for the first few iterations because it always launched alongside games like Halo, Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, and Call of Duty. But those same people later got a chance to play them and realized they were truly missing out. It’s easy to miss great games during the holiday hysteria. This is amplified for the more casual gamer. Imagine the annual Call of Duty, Madden, and Just Dance gamers. Let’s say someone who falls in that category only can buy three or four games in the fall. Which game most likely gets axed if the options are Madden 15, Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, Assassin’s Creed Unity, GTA5, and Alien Isolation? Even with the Alien name behind it, Isolation would probably miss the cut. And who knows, it may be the better, more entertaining, and more innovative game.
There are undoubtedly good reasons to launch games in the fall, Call of Duty should certainly stick to November. The holidays are no joke; that time of the year is the entire retail industry’s bread and butter. Just look at the doors of Wal-Mart almost being smashed to pieces every black Friday. But one of the great things about the gaming industry is its connection to the consumer. Developers and publishers do listen to the gamer, even if it seems like they don’t. The almighty dollar is definitely still the king of all decisions–but input from gamers can certainly make an impact. It’s often said that you must vote with your wallet, I’ve always agreed with this. The problem is that there aren’t enough games in the summer to vote for. Let’s hope that The Last of Us isn’t an anomaly, more high-quality games during the long summer days are great for the gamer. With barely any options, I guarantee that any great game launched in the summer I will personally pick up and play. And I think that most gamers are the same. If the game is great, no matter what time of the year, gamers will want to play it. So launch it when there’s little competition and we all win!