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Monday, December 15, 2003

Comments

jason

Speaking from the other side of the fence, I'm very much in agreement with you. The months immediately before and after E3 are an absolute bore, and it seems like smaller publishers in particular should be jumping at the chance to publish their games during *that* period, instead of waiting until Christmas where they'll get lost in the flood of games from bigger publishers. Look at Metal Arms: Glitch in the System. There you have a solid action game, that's probably going to be skipped by many people in favor of games like Max Payne 2. If they had waited until next year, or published it over the summer, it might have been a sleeper hit.

markus friedl

Scott & Jason, I totally agree with you guys... ;)

one other thing I'd like to add... there's a bad (and weird) loop in publisher/developer relationships... and I realize that over and over again during the xmas rush...

studios are competing for publishers (not vice versa... well, if you're not Blizzard that is...)... and a big part of the competition is offering shorter and shorter (estimated) production times to the publisher... the studio with the shortest production time gets the deal...

what you end up with are games being produced in 5-6 months (and we're NOT particularly talking about budget titles)... game productions starting in May that have to be done for christmas...
for (a lot of) small studios... this is actually a big chance to land that (first) big deal... and as mentioned... the publisher knows there's a lot of those studios out there willing to do it...

Todd

I would really like to see a publisher's perspecitve on these issues. Do they have info (perhaps faulty) that makes xmas seem like the best time to publish a game?

Anon

Markus: Chillingly, this is becoming truer and truer especially in the UK, where it seems that the development community literally has no scruples about selling alms to Indians at this stage. I have recently worked on a product that I cannot name, in which Media Company X has literally banked on every last prejudicial idea about gamers, what they like and how stupid they are. They are banking on ignorance to sell what is possibly the worst piece of software since Rise of the Robots.

Scott: This kind of relates to your point. The main reason that the publishers want to sell at Christmas seems to me to be the ignorance sales. It's only at Christmas that the parents come out en masse to buy games for little George and Jimmy, and they really don't know what they are doing. Unlike the cinema, where people in general go to see movies all year round, games are still viewed as presents as opposed to entertainment, toys as opposed to, say, renting a movie.

So the publishers, who employ many people that also think of games as presents as opposed to entertainment/art, think likewise. To them, the gamer dollar, that might buy duke nukem for example, is much harder to judge. It relies a lot more on quality, buzz and so on. These are factors that a balance sheet does not exert firm control over. What seems obvious to the gamer seesm entirely mysterious to the businessman. The biz-man doesn't understand that there are enough people out there to consistently carry great releases, or if he does, he is very sceptical of it's consistency. It seems so much more like whim, a crap shoot or pot luck to him that these people might opt for his cash.

But he knows Christmas, knows that the floodgates open at Christmas, and so what's he going to do? Bet on qualities like polish that he essentially does not understand, or bet on Santa?

Of course the irony is that most games on sale at Christmas are in the bargain bin by Easter, and only a few actually sell shed loads. But until the games industry itself can figure out a way of proving what you say about polish to the ignorant, and changing the image of gaming away from presents and toward entertainment, Christmas is going to keep fucking it up for all of us.

John

I think it's easy to point the finger at the publishers, but keep in mind that investors play a huge role in this as well. When it comes down the fourth quarter sales figures in Feb. investors expect comparable performance on profits to other publishers. If Game X could have sold Y units if released in March or April as a finished product, but can sell Y - 10,000 in an unpolished state released during Christmas, it still makes viable business sense because in terms of "counting" each sale counts for more during the crunch time that is the fourth quarter than it does in the lower first quarter. What reinforces this is that gamers are less discretionary about their game purchases (or the receipt of games as gifts). Whereas if they were spending their own money on a game they may not settle for less than what they perceive as an excellent game, during Christmas if they can receive what they perceive as a worse game but for "free," why not?

Frankly, there are more people buying games at Christmas than there are during other times of the year. I don't think this necessarily includes gamers persay, but it does include gamers' husbands and wives and parents.

I think Blizzard games and Duke3d are generally the exception. Obviously sports are the same way. But for a non-established franchise, I think that idea that more risk may be taken on a game than during other times of the year lends itself to the plethora of releases during Christmas. The obvious side effect is that non established games, such as Ubisoft's Beyond Good & Evil, will undoubtedly get lost in the flood of franchise rehashes, EA's LOTR, for example.

That's not to say this isn't good. I can't help but wonder how much better my precious Deus Ex: IW would have been had Eidos not been obviously clammering in on Ion Storm.

Matt Hilliard

While like anyone else I find it annoying that games are rushed out unfinished by publishers, let's look at it from the publisher's perspective. They are footing the bill, either with their money or with their investors' money. They have a...mostly...finished game from a mid-level studio. Should they release it for Christmas or polish it for the pre-E3 doldrums?

Scott's argument seems to come down to two points:
- There's no reason people can't buy games in the summer. There have been enormous successes outside of the Christmas season
- More polish makes for a better game. A better game makes for better sales.

While neither point is invalid I would question both. I don't think anyone will deny that there simply is more money being tossed around leading up to Christmas in general, and this goes triple for the games industry since a larger than usual portion of its consumers are really wielding their parents' money (yes, I am aware it is bigger in the 20-something demo than people think, but still kids have a slice of the pie) and that money is much easier to secure during the holidays. Also if the parents are getting games as a gift they are probably much less discriminating than the kids themselves, which will probably help a non-superstudio game. That said, the increase in money may well be offset by the overcrowded release schedule. But there's just as much shelf space as the rest of the year and if the publisher can secure it, all should be well.

It is true there are huge selling games outside of the holiday season, but is it not true that they tend to come from studios who have already established themselves as A-list anyhow? Warcraft II fans will buy Starcraft no matter what time of year it is. The same can't be said for most games.

The second point to me seems a little more weak, at least when viewed from the publisher's perspective. Sure, sometimes that polish turns a good game into a great one that can make back the money put into extra development through great word of mouth. But how many times does the publisher dump money into, for lack of a better phrase, polishing a turd? Daikatana anyone? It pains me as a consumer to admit it, but for the publisher sometimes the best strategy is to fool some people into buying the unfinished game during the high volume time (maybe in the crowded period less bad word of mouth will get around, too?) and cut their losses. With only a few exceptions consumers identify studios with games, not publishers. The publisher has nothing to lose (except the studio to bankrupcy...but there's plenty of fish in that sea).

So yes, it is bad there is such an onrush of unpolished games, but if 3 out of 5 times the publisher makes more money doing it that way then it may be, from their perspective, the Right Answer.

Just another way the industry is broken.

Jamie Fristrom

Scott, you forgot #3!
- ton of other competition during these months
If your game isn't a must-have must-buy, they're going to buy somebody else's game in those months. For example, maybe *True Crime* would sell better if it didn't go toe-to-toe with the GTA Double Pack. Anybody have numbers on *Tron 2.0?* That would have gotten buried at Xmas, but because it came out when there wasn't much else out there, it probably did ok. (Did it?)
I gotta say, I love shipping Spidey in the summer, because there's just nothing else to buy. Big piece of a smaller pie.

Charles E. Hardwidge

"their best long-term interest"

I'm delighted you've chosen to emphasise this point. Much forward progress depends on this being the norm, whether seen from developer, publisher, or gamer perspectives.

"Chillingly, this is becoming truer and truer especially in the UK"

If I might point out a benchmark from another industry, British car retail and manufacturing was distorted by the annual number plate prefix unlike Germany. When the investment structure encouraged by the respective financial cultures was taken into account there was no sane way one could compete with the other over the long term. Rover is now Britain's last mass market car manufacturer while Eidos is the last major game publisher. Nobody bothered to look outside their own short-term experience and consider the bigger picture.

"What seems obvious to the gamer seesm entirely mysterious to the businessman."

I wouldn't be so hard on businessmen. Most of the ones I've met are just like everyone else insofar as they're trying to get by under difficult circumstances. What you aren't appreciating is they're playing a game that makes sense to them even if it doesn't make sense to you. Obvious is usually a matter of perspective which is why I've had difficulty persuading Scott of the need for more businessmen to develop a better understanding of history, society, and culture. The industry is young and relatively isolated so it's no surprise it hasn't learned the lessons of any company thats survived its first century intact.

Dave

I think it's wrong to ship a game before it's time. Period. Games are an artform but they are also a business. I understand that the publishers want the maximum number of dollars they can bring in with any given title. I don't think it's wrong for them to be that way, but I do think it's wrong for them to rush developers to deliver something that wasn't what the developers originally envisioned. Why not schedule the games to be released around Christmas and give the studios time to make their deadline?

For me personally, when a publisher or a developer puts out a game that is buggy, incomplete, or not fun, I don't buy from that publisher/developer again until I read reviews. I don't spontaneously purchase a game anymore because it looks cool, or looks fun. If a developer or publisher gets the reputation for putting out shit, the consumer remembers it. Surely they understand that. That's why companies like 3DRealms and Blizzard games command respect and people rush out to buy them without even thinking. Their games are held in high esteem because they don't release crap.

If you buy something at Wal-Mart like a toaster, and it doesn't work, you take it back and swap it for a new one. It's purpose is to make toast, if it doesn't make toast, you didn't get what you payed for. If a game doesn't deliver, your just shit out of luck. The purpose of a game is to entertain. If it doesn't entertain me I can't take it back. To me that seems wrong.

Most publishers are extremely deceptive and will do anything to get thier hands on your money. Ever notice how gaming commercials on TV show 25 seconds of stupidity and 5 seconds of game footage? They don't want you to see enough of the game to get the imression that it sux.

This has turned into a rant, but to sum up on topic. What Scott said about skewed results is correct. If 90% of games are released in that short timeframe, naturaly 90% of sales will be there too. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. I like summer games, games in the fall, any time of year there is a game out that I want, I'm gonna buy it.

Gestalt

I'm with Scott on this one - I've been saying for years that the Christmas rush was probably counter-productive for a lot of games. There's so many new releases in November / early December each year that a lot of perfectly good games inevitably get lost in the flood.

If your game is a stocking filler or part of an established franchise that's likely to pick up a lot of casual buys from non-gamers looking for Christmas presents for their friends / children (eg, Harry Potter or FIFA) then I'm sure it does make sense to kick it out the door at Christmas. But a lot of Christmas releases would probably do better coming out a couple of months later and having the benefits of a) a bit more polish and b) a much less crowded marketplace. Not to mention getting some impulse purchases from all those people trawling the January sales or looking to spend the gift vouchers they got for Christmas. ;)

Charles E. Hardwidge

Given the tightness of the retail market, a lot of British retailers are getting nervous that so much of their sales success is dependant on one month of the year. Games aren't alone in getting crunched this way. The book trade is showing a similarly alarming trend and harbours fears that an entire publisher might go down the drain. At some point someone is going to get their fingers burned. Badly. Sure, shareholders like the millions that pour into their coffers. What about the billions they'll lose when it goes wrong? Hopefully, that will sharpen a few minds.

JP

"I think Blizzard games and Duke3d are generally the exception [to holiday buying patterns]."

*Double take*

Sorry, what was that second item? Where does Duke3D come into any of this?

Dan MacDonald

I have no way of backing this up, but I herd that it is actually in the best interests (short term obviously) for publishers to ship games that are "almost done". The reason for this is publishers recognize revenue when they make the initial shipments of a game. They have buy-back agreements with retailers, such that if the retailer is stuck with unsellable inventory, the publisher will buy it back.

However these buy-backs do not appear in the book until the following quarter, when they are recorded as losses. So in essence, publishers receive a big boost in their bottom line when they ship a game rather then when the game sells well. It looks really good on paper because it really isn’t based on the market success of the product.

If a publisher is up against the end of a financial quarter around Christmas time and it doesn't look like they are not going to meet earnings expectations. It is in their best interests (in our market driven economy) to just ship the game that’s closest to being finished, regardless of what state it's in. Sure the game may sell like crap because it’s got more bugs then an ant hill. But what do they care, they’ll record the losses in the subsequent qtr. which is expected to have losses.

If anyone with actual knowledge of the business has any light to shed, I’d be very interested to know if this is true or not.

Brian Gladman

Interesting position, Scott. And while there are certainly instances where publishers are guilty of "rushing a game out the door" I think more often than not this is the result of poor project management.

As I see it, when the deal is signed, both the publisher and the developer agree to a development schedule. Oftentimes, that dev schedule is drawn up with a GM date allowing for an Xmas (or Thanksgiving) release.

What happens when the publisher plans media buys to support the Holiday Release, and then the developer misses delivery of the GM? Rather than lose the investment in marketing dollars and mindshare that hopefully has been created, the publisher says "ship it and patch it post launch. That's how you get rushed Xmas releases.

This (admittedly problematic) situation can only be solved by effective project management and truthful assesment of the developer's ability to deliver the product on time.

My $0.02.
____________
Brian Gladman
Webmaster
Game Industry Media and Marketing Professionals
(www.gimmps.com)

Jay Woodward

Brian -- that's just begging the question of why the game should be scheduled to be finished at Christmas time in the first place.

It's also not recognizing reality. Yes, effective project management is absolutely imperative, as is developer truthfulness in estimating their abilities. But, as any physicist or chemist could tell you, every measurement comes with some degree of uncertainty. Even measuring the length of an object sitting right in front of you will involve some degree of error.

So, even if you could eliminate the OTHER major reality relating to scheduling -- namely, that a game's design will evolve and improve as the game is developed -- and even if you began development with a precise and complete list of the thousands of tasks that would be needed during development, you would still be faced with the challenge of summing together those thousands of uncertain measurements, resulting in a LOT of uncertainty.

And note that this uncertainty doesn't have anything to do with giving less-than-truthful estimations. Again, estimates simply have uncertainty built in -- especially estimates about events in the future.

Which leads me to propose that perhaps the best way to be done in time for Christmas is to schedule to be done in June. :)

I'm quite serious. That way, the goal of slipping from the schedule in order to make the game better is in *harmony* with (rather than in opposition to) the goal of shipping the game in time for Christmas.

J.

It seems to me that the Christmas disease is affecting games in part because many games are still being produced as "value" titles (meaning that they have no value), and there's still very little understanding about what games are good and which are crap.

There are several publishers that pick up titles, often by start-up developers with no hope of getting their work published otherwise. Polish is the furthest things from these developers' minds -- they just want to get their title on the shelves, maybe just to say that they produced a title.

Sorry if this sounds snide, but what else can you say about half the games on the shelves at Wal-Mart these days? They might have flashy box art, sure, but they're complete crap! It's as if there are publishers these days who finance game projects solely on the sucker market.

The Christmas rush is the perfect opportunity for mommies and daddies to decide they'll surprise their kids, or their equally game-ignorant adult friends, with a game as a novelty item. Ignorant of which of the shiny boxes actually contains a good game, they might otherwise notice that some of the titles are $50 and some are less than $20.

In the rush to get out of the store, which are they going to buy?

Scott Miller

Many great comments! A few of my own...

o Project management is going to remain a problem for at least another decade or two, [1] until we get a lot more experienced project leaders in the industry who can better run a project, and [2] when technology reaches a point of diminishing returns, allowing developers to better plan a schedule that doesn't include a great deal of technology building to keep up with the Murphy's Law.

o Bad games probably do have a better chance of selling during Xmas simply because during this time lots of non-gamers are buying gifts, who couldn't recognize Half-Life from Half-Crap. So, if your game sucks, Xmas may be your savior.

o Like Xmas itself, the stock market is an equally devastating force that's in 100% opposition to the proper polishing of games. Any publicly traded publisher is hard pressed to hold back a game for an extra two weeks if it means missing their quarter. It's just sickening that game quality is sacrificed in this way because of gutless CEOs who do not place the quality and long-term success of their games ahead of a short-term loss in their company's stock.

Charles E. Hardwidge

"The Christmas rush is the perfect opportunity for mommies and daddies to decide they'll surprise their kids, or their equally game-ignorant adult friends,..."

"It's just sickening that game quality is sacrificed in this way because of gutless CEOs who do not place the quality and long-term success of their games ahead of a short-term loss in their company's stock."

If I can build on J's and Scott's comments in this topic, along with one I made in an earlier topic, shouldn't efforts be made to understand and educate the different parties? Better informed gamers will demand better games. The CEO battling the shareholders needs some damn good arguments to back up doing the right thing. Investors need to see their own actions in a wider context. Thankfully it's not all gloom and doom. The politicians, bless their cotton socks, have done something that might help:

Recent changes in British law led to investors taking a more active role in scrutinising directors performance and gave them the ability to remove poorly performing directors. Along with changes in the pensions arena, which directed pension funds to prioritise their long-term responsibilites to future retirees, the overall market has been given a steadier hand. Institutional British investors are now lobbying the American regulators for similar powers in the domestic American market.

It's easy to be jaded and not see opportunities for what they are. It's all down to choices and what we do with them. This is one such choice. For a greater understanding of its significance reading "The State We're In" and "The Third Wave" might plug a few gaps, when read in that order.

Dave

Bad games probably do have a better chance of selling during Xmas simply because during this time lots of non-gamers are buying gifts, who couldn't recognize Half-Life from Half-Crap. So, if your game sucks, Xmas may be your savior.
-Scott Miller-

I have to disagree with this in part. Most people that buy games around the holidays are either gamers, or their friends/parents. Kids normally tell their parents what games they want to begin with. The friends of gamers know what games are cool because they ask their friends.

While I'm sure many sales will occur with the "Uneducated Shopper", but I'd have to say the majority will know what they're buying in advance.

I have no numbers to back this up, and it's just based on my experience with people that buy games. I'm sure you have better numbers.

Rahat

Further expanding on what Scott said regarding publishers and the stock market:

Although I can't talk for European firms, the American video game publishing industry in respect to the stock market is relatively interesting. It feels that as of now, you only have Electronic Arts and Take Two who hold major sentiment among widespread investors. Others such as Activision, THQ, Atari and Midway are unsure of where they stand as of now.

What's the correlation? Electronic Arts and Take Two are probably the best of this group when it comes to polishing their games. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but generally, I think I'm pretty accurate.) And if you agree with me, it's of no surprise then that these are hands down the two strongest stocks in the industry.

Investors like companies who do well in the long-term, who are "hot," who are quality firms with quality products. That's a big reason why the others have faultered. Although I believe investors in general are not very intelligent (another point that you can argue), people who're looking into video game companies probably understand the companies well enough to drop their dough on it.

So, everyone else should take a cue and realize that another Angel of Darkness won't help anyone, not even in the stock market.

Tadhg

"I have to disagree with this in part. Most people that buy games around the holidays are either gamers, or their friends/parents. Kids normally tell their parents what games they want to begin with. The friends of gamers know what games are cool because they ask their friends." quoth Dave.

I disagree. I worked at the sharp end of the Christmas retail experience for several years and it has been my direct experience that most people don't know what they are buying. They frequently ask staff to tell them what to buy, effectively, which can result in anything being bought, as many of the staff might not be gamers themselves.

There are simply not as many interested gamers out there at Christmastime as there are what Anon called 'presents' customers.

Some parents do come in with lists of what they are to buy and why, but mostly they come in knowing one word (Playstaton, for example) and that their son or daughter (usually son) likes the games for that. They will almost always buy whatever game is best positioned, pushed and enthused most by the shop staff, and doesn't look too violent from the cover.

Sad but true.

J.

"If I can build on J's and Scott's comments in this topic, along with one I made in an earlier topic, shouldn't efforts be made to understand and educate the different parties?"

Education is the most important but most difficult mission of marketing. Most campaigns don't even bother with it. You could rely on mainstream gaming magazines for reviews, but game reviews are harder to do than say, movie reviews, and few reviewers exist with the writing talent to get the job done. But that doesn't matter, because none have the respect level of Roger Ebert, or even Gene Shalit.

That might not matter, either. Games are probably the biggest ticket item as far as entertainment, just in the amount people are asked to pay for a single, "new" title. Add to that the cost of high-end PC hardware (which in part explains why console gaming is so much hotter -- it costs less!) and it's not hard to see how the gaming industry can get befouled with shiny-box crap. Sold on the cheap, it can still command a section of the market.

This shouldn't take a whole lot of industry insight to realize -- and hey, I don't have much. I'm not even in the business. Thing is, most gamers I talk to rely on word of mouth alone for which games to buy -- but on the off chance they buy something they don't like, they just uninstall it and pitch the box. They roll with the punches, and warn their friends.

So I'm not sure I buy Scott's characterization that CEOs of such game developers/publishers are "gutless." Used car salesmen have guts. And you have to have some brass balls to work for a game company or division with "value" in the title. It's just a shame that couldn't be used for the greater good.

Rahat

Something I came across today:

Lady, in her mid-forties, comes into GameStop. Asks one of the guys working there, "Do you have that game... Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" The guy says no, she turns away, and he looks at me and snickers. I watched her afterward. During the rest of the time she was there, she only picked up one game to look at: CSI.

How you educate consumers such as this (and it's not to say they're supposed to know better) is as complicated as anything in the gaming business. It's a tough road ahead, and even though I initially didn't think it would take so long, the aforementioned 10-15 years seems more realistic by the day.

J.

"Lady, in her mid-forties, comes into GameStop. Asks one of the guys working there, "Do you have that game... Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" The guy says no, she turns away, and he looks at me and snickers."

Maybe if game shop clerks were of slightly higher caliber, they could be part of the solution. The new Gamecube ads with the unshaven, slobby game shop dude dressed as Link from Zelda don't help either.

Then again, game shop clerks probably deserve better customers. Consult http://www.actsofgord.com/ -- note that I'm not suggesting most or even any of these stories are true.

Charles E. Hardwidge

"Education is the most important but most difficult mission of marketing."

I appreciate that, though I must say I'm thinking more along the lines of something that's closer to education in its purest form. The book market is indirectly supported by broadcasters such as the BBC and newspapers such as The Independent by giving authors, works, and issues regular and quality exposure. Gaming is, at best, given the infomercial treatment on an infrequent basis. I think this is desrespectful to all parties who deserve and could clearly benefit from something more.

"Maybe if game shop clerks were of slightly higher caliber, they could be part of the solution."

Indeed. I'm too young to remember apprenticeships, though I'm not too young to remember being served by apprenticed staff. I've heard all the excuses, from cost of training to rapid product turnover. Nothing beats good quality staff. Again, another example from the book industry, librarians in the United Kingdom are given extensive training and opportunities to specialise. They're valued as are the "products" they're offering. Can anyone working in a games shop say the same thing about themselves or games, as a general impression?

To underline the points I'm making and connect them with Scott's topic I'd like to sum this up with a question. Who cares about commodity crap?

Scott Macmillan

"I appreciate that, though I must say I'm thinking more along the lines of something that's closer to education in its purest form."

"I think this is desrespectful to all parties who deserve and could clearly benefit from something more."

Charles, do you have any thoughts on how such a thing could happen?

"To underline the points I'm making and connect them with Scott's topic I'd like to sum this up with a question. Who cares about commodity crap?"

I'm not actually sure what you mean by that, can you elaborate? Thanks.

Charles E. Hardwidge

"do you have any thoughts on how such a thing could happen?"

I have more questions than answers, though I hope you may find them useful. People might like to consider what games are, what subcategories exist, and how many different ways they could be presented to people; from the range of existing and recognisable formats. Remember, the format can be asynchronous to the content; witness popular science dumbing down to chase ratings, and childrens programmes being reviewed on serious art house programmes. One format that appeals to me is a varient of "Video Nation," where Brian Walden, a former member of parliament and political commentator, gave a series of half-hour unscripted monologues to camera on the great leaders of history. Why can't treatments like this be extended to the games industry?

"I'm not actually sure what you mean by that, can you elaborate?"

I was trying to express how people feel might feel uncomfortable with, and unsure how to treat them, given the variable quality and content of what's available. In saying that, I don't mean to detract from the many fine games, sales assistants, and informed customers out there.

JP

Wide variation in quality is the inevitable consequence of a populated industry. Each year a positively mind-boggling number of bad movies, games and books are released, but (hopefully) people manage to sort through the dross and make an informed decision that they end up happy with. I'm willing to take a wide range of quality (ie plenty of stinkers) if it means a greater breadth and depth of choices.

Kathy Schoback

Apologia for Christmas releases!

If your game is 1) not AAA, 2) only somewhat differentiated from the competition, 3) in an extremely crowded competitive category, and 4) in a genre that consumers are increasingly disinterested in, Christmas is your only hope.

It's all related to the magic window of opportunity for a release. I'm thinking of a cute, reasonably innovative platformer that didn't have the AAA budget of its genre competitors. If it had shipped as originally scheduled in early October before its competitors, it would have stood a chance. It ended up shipping not just after its competitors but on the last scheduled shipping day before Thanksgiving. The stakeholders didn't even consider holding this title after Thanksgiving to polish further - no more time/money/tweaking was going to get back the sales lost by missing the magic window. It was simply throwing good money after bad.

Anyone could point out a ton of bad practice in that anecdote, but when you're $4m+ in the hole with no end in sight, sometimes you need to force the project to an end, even to an ignominious end.

Kathy S.

Chris Subagio

It's a bit sad, but most of what everyone's said is true. However, I recon Xmas is the symptom, not the disease. It boils down to:

- Most games are banal. They rely on swimming in a sea of clones and being picked up. I've actually been told by some marketing fools that a title did well because the cover was similar to the best selling in the category. And I don't doubt it.
- We've sold hype for so long, that it's perceived games get better every month. This means that games from several months back are inferior by definition. Anything released in summer is automatically stale by winter. This is evil.
- We're so damned expensive (retail games), that people are less willing to experiment with buying new games, so the hits continue to sell, while everyone else languishes.
- Given all the above, the tendency (regardless of time of year) will be for releasese to clump around the hits. I still don't understand this mentality, but there you go. Xmas is a traditional retail season, so there be the clumping.

The real core problem is that the quality of games is in general is rather poor. Many an excited punter has unwrapped a new game only to be left rather dissatisfied, with a whiff of dejavu about the whole thing. It's a self sustaining spiral of publisher fears and constrained development. We need to focus more good games, extend the shelf life of these good games, and punish deservedly bad ones. What we need is a few good auteur equivalents to come up with the good stuff, and a publicly visible, and respectable, critical community. In that I agree with Charles.

The end result should be an industry where good product sells no matter what time of year it arrives, it has staying power, and people will come back for more. If we can lower the price in the process, then the number of these products the market can sustain will go up.

Gestalt

Kathy - "If your game is 1) not AAA, 2) only somewhat differentiated from the competition, 3) in an extremely crowded competitive category, and 4) in a genre that consumers are increasingly disinterested in, Christmas is your only hope"

I'm sure that's true in some cases (like if your game is an obvious stocking filler), but surely in other cases it would make sense to delay the game until early spring, when it won't have any real competition in terms of new releases. After all, what's the point in kicking it out the door at Christmas if it's going to get lost amongst a flood of similar titles in the same "crowded competitive category"?

A couple of months later people might well be thinking "I could really do with a new INSERT GENRE HERE game", and if yours is the only one in that genre that's come out since Christmas (which may well be true - January and February are often a total dead zone for new releases) and it's got decent but not stellar reviews, it might be more likely to get impulse buys than if it had been released in November and got buried at the back of the store by dozens of similar games.

R. Hurter

It appears as if the persons applying the pressure are the ones who could benefit most from some 'training'. From evidence it looks as if most of them do not grasp exactly what a well-rounded finished title is going to bring to their table. Instead of considering the short term gain, they should perhaps think more about long term investment, in both the development team as well as the product that they are putting out there.

Before Blizzard released Warcraft3 there was a joke article that appeared, saying something along the line of 'Blizzard releases art wrapped brick, sells millions'. Even though the divide in Blizzard between the developer and the top-level administration/publishers seems to be getting larger, they do well because they have some well established brands and a large loyal customer base.

Compared to some other industries, most of the publishers/big-wigs here in the gaming industry don't seem to have a clue.

Brian Krueger

Hey Kathy! What role might the IGDA play in the education of publishers/developers/retailers here?

I've never understood why we can't sell games in the Summer months. Isn't that the time when the teenage target demographic is working, and has extra cash on hand? Don't they also have a lot of time to kill then? Why have we as an industry failed to capitalize on this?

For that matter, you'd think you could sell a fair number of games in March or April, what with the reduced release competition and people who got a system the previous Christmas becoming bored with their initial batch of software, but that's a tougher sell...

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