Lionhead boss Peter Molyneux thinks companies should avoid releasing games based on new IPs during the lucrative holiday period because of the risk they'll be overwhelmed and lost in a flood of blockbuster releases.
We've all been down that path: Your year-end religious festival of choice rolls around, a ton of hot games hits the shelves and you have to pick which ones you'll take home and which ones you'll regretfully leave behind until later. (It's why I'm currently playing STALKER: Clear Sky.) There are winners and, more commonly, there are losers, and catching up with bypassed titles a year later does little good in determining whether or not a game is a "success," which can impact everything from how well it's supported with patches and updates to the very existence of the developer.
There's an obvious solution that nonetheless seems to elude industry executives year after year, but maybe now that famed designer Peter Molyneux has made a note of it, people will get the idea: If you don't want your game to get killed over the holidays, don't release it over the holidays. "[Blockbusters] create what we call craters - the bigger the product, the bigger the crater, and the larger you want the distance to be away from it," he said in an interview with GamesIndustry.
"If you're inside the blast radius of something like Halo or Gears of War, or even Fable, you have to have a very strong, clear message of why a consumer should spend this much more on your product," he added. "If you haven't got that you should stay clear of the blast radius - it's really that simple."
Molyneux thinks spreading releases throughout the year is a smart move for publishers who realize their game isn't necessarily going to be a massive hit. "Christmas is this insane focus where an enormous percentage of our market is there," he said. "I think there are other opportunities in the year - Easter, and the summer holidays - but I just cannot see six or seven huge titles coming together at an arbitrary time any other time."
He may actually not be alone in coming to grips with that fact. EA believes that two of its most anticipated games of 2008, Dead Space and Mirror's Edge, both fared relatively poorly because they were unknown quantities caught up in an avalanche of holiday game releases. Suggesting that EA was rethinking its release strategy, former Visceral Games boss Glen Schofield said, "We're now learning that we could probably launch a game at any time, and if it's a good game it will be well received."
Other companies may also be taking note: The 2009 holiday release schedule has been thinned considerably as numerous mid-card releases are pushed back into 2010. Development issues are blamed in virtually every case of "holiday delay" but it's a safe bet that in at least a few cases, publishers are simply opting to take their chances at a less crowded time of year.