Historically, though, it's usually the big, well-hyped titles that can afford to avoid the expanded holiday market. "If you truly have a breakout title like a BioShock or a Madden or a Halo 3, it doesn't matter when you enter the marketplace, you're going to do well," Goodman says. But, by the same token, those big-name games are also the ones big enough to stand out in the holiday rush. "If we wanted to bring out Resident Evil 5 in the fourth quarter, that title will be big enough to warrant whatever particular date we felt would make the most sense," Kramer says. And if you save your big name for the holidays, it has the added bonus of taking attention away from your competitors. "One product is gonna suck the dollars out of a gamer's wallet," Goodman says. "If I've just gone and gotten Guitar Hero III, chances are I'm not going out next week and buying another game."
It's a tough balancing act, and one that causes some companies to sprinkle their big releases both inside and outside the fourth quarter. "We have so many big games launching that we like to space them out a bit," says Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo of America's outgoing Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Affairs. "That's why you have Metroid Prime 3: Corruption in August, Super Mario Galaxy in November and Super Smash Bros. Brawl in February. Release them all at once and you force consumers to choose one. But spacing them out lets them all stand on their own while giving gamers time to enjoy them. So far, sales have been going strong, and naturally we expect to see them increase during the holidays."
But when publishers bring out their big guns, they also have to watch out for other companies' firepower. "It becomes more of a marketing issue than anything else," Goodman says. "If you had a Metal Gear Solid and a Halo 3 coming out simultaneously, you'd have a harder time generating buzz, and they'd wind up cannibalizing each other; they're going to hurt each other's sales." Not all big-name game conflicts deserve a wide berth, though. "Launching Pokémon and Halo on the same day, go ahead and do it because they're two fundamentally different audiences, so there is no overlap between the two of them," Goddman says. "Launching Guitar Hero III and Rock Band on the same day would probably be a bad idea. You have to think what are the genres, who is the target audience and factors like that. You have to look at the marketplace dynamics when you decide who's going to launch when."
Is there hope for a more balanced release calendar going forward? Capcom's Kramer certainly thinks so. "More companies are beginning to realize that people aren't just buying videogames in the fourth quarter, that there is a year-round market for it, and they're trying to get out there. I think it's a hard habit for some people to break, but you are seeing some people put on their thinking caps."
But others think the holiday glut is here to stay. "That's the status quo," Goodman says. "Until some major gift-giving holiday emerges in March, I don't see this dynamic changing."