Big Pic­ture Mode

In­dus­try is­sues given the widescreen treat­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - NATHAN BROWN Nathan Brown is Edge’s deputy ed­i­tor, and he has three more col­umns due for release by next Fri­day

Nathan Brown takes cover from the end-of-year release crush

Ah, re­view sea­son. It’s the time of the year when nary a Fri­day goes by with­out the release of one po­ten­tial sys­tem seller and a hat­ful of games that you’d have had a lot more time for three months ago. I’ve al­ways been baf­fled by the way so many pub­lish­ers put their games up against the year’s big­gest hit­ters like this. I mean, I understand it: this is the busiest time of year for game sales, and it’s thought that even a mid­dle-tier release will sell more copies up against Halo in Oc­to­ber than if it had the third week of June to it­self. But it’s an old-fash­ioned way of think­ing, one rooted in an era where a game only really ex­ists for its first week on shelves. Af­ter that, it’s a slow slide down the charts, off the pur­chase or­ders, and into the pre-owned sec­tion.

It’s a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy. So long as this in­dus­try holds true to the ‘Q4 rules all’ mantra, it will con­tinue to be the case that Q4 does in­deed rule all. But look­ing back on 2015, would The Witcher III or Blood­borne have done so well had they come out in the same week as Fallout 4 or Black Ops III? CD Pro­jekt Red and From Soft­ware were forced into new release win­dows by de­lays in de­vel­op­ment, but I doubt they can have many re­grets. Things are im­prov­ing year on year, I think – the sum­mer drought is no longer so parched – but not by enough, and not by de­sign. Blood­borne came out in Fe­bru­ary be­cause it wasn’t ready for Christ­mas, not be­cause Sony de­cided it would be bet­ter to give PS4’s best ex­clu­sive yet a clearer run.

Sony is un­likely to have taken too much from its suc­cess, ei­ther. As a plat­form holder, it sim­ply has to have a busy release slate in the lead up to Christ­mas – it is in the busi­ness of sell­ing hard­ware too, and a steady flow of ex­cit­ing new games is the best way to shift sys­tems. But The Witcher III is a case study that sug­gests pub­lish­ers would be well served to look at the other nine months of the year when set­ting their release dates. Six mil­lion sales in six weeks; even when the big hit­ters have come and gone, The Witcher III will be one of the fastest- and best-sell­ing games of 2015. It came out in mid-May.

Had The Witcher III come out in Novem­ber, I’m sure we’d all still have bought it, but how much would we have played it? There’s a cer­tain rhythm to be­ing a videogame player when the clocks go back: games are bought ev­ery Fri­day, played for a few hours, then put aside for the next big thing. We go to the check­out once a week with that slight twinge of guilt. This is a time for spend­ing on other peo­ple, not our­selves. Yet here we are, buy­ing an­other game we don’t need right now and mentally

rewrit­ing our Christ­mas lists, can­celling nights out, and won­der­ing if cel­lo­phane wrap and a car­rier bag might be fash­ioned into a free makeshift nappy (a sure­fire route to a very dif­fer­ent pile of shame).

And while it hurts us, as play­ers, it’s hurt­ing de­vel­op­ers and the games they make even more. While there’s been noth­ing so far in 2015 (I’m writ­ing this in late Oc­to­ber, so there’s still time) bro­ken enough to ri­val last

year’s dis­mal run of DriveClub, Halo: The

Mas­ter Chief Col­lec­tion and As­sas­sin’s Creed Unity, it’s clear that the need to hit the most lu­cra­tive release win­dow of the year is re­sult­ing in worse games, or at least games not be­ing as good as they should be. And given the in­creas­ing reliance on day-one patches, it’s also clear de­vel­op­ers are work­ing at full tilt right up to the last minute to knock things into shape. Then that team of de­vel­op­ers has to watch as a game they’re maybe 80 per cent happy with sells well for a week, OK for a month, then next to noth­ing as the sec­ond-hand mar­ket takes over.

The more I think about it, the more I fail to understand who ben­e­fits. Not the pub­lisher, which has to spend nine months of the year re­as­sur­ing its stake­hold­ers that ev­ery­thing will be OK af­ter Thanks­giv­ing. Not even the re­tailer, which would surely pre­fer it if re­leases were spread out a bit more in­stead of packed into what is go­ing to be its busiest time of year for foot­fall.

But de­spite the ever-grow­ing pile of shame, the stress of the in­creased work­load, the bugs and dis­ap­point­ments and the in­abil­ity to see much sense in any of it, I’m not sure I’d have it any other way. We play games be­cause they ex­cite us, and there’s noth­ing more ex­cit­ing than all of them com­ing out at speed, hot on each other’s heels. Maybe Mum doesn’t need that ex­pen­sive present. If I don’t go out, I can play games. And maybe it’s high time we potty trained the kid.

Had The Witcher III come out in Novem­ber, we’d all still have bought it, but how much would we have played it?

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