Dear Publishers: Release More Games Early in the Year

It's time for publishers to break free of the mold and release more titles in the early, wintery months. 

Erik Norrisby Erik Norris


Have you ever noticed that the beginning of the year is the dead zone of video game releases? After we get deluged with new blockbuster releases in October and November, January is drier than the Sahara in summer. February’s not that much better. While the reason for this isn’t impossible to understand, I think game developers should challenge this dead zone. With that in mind, here are five reasons why I think more developers should consider a January (and February) release date for their blockbusters.

1. When there are no new games to talk about, gamers can be talking about your new game.

If you’re a legitimate gamer then you talk about games all the time. On the ride to school, you’re talking games. Terrorizing cops at the mall, you’re talking games. Hell, when you’re in the shower (alone), you’re talking to yourself about games. Hopefully, you’re talking about the best games of all time, what you’re playing right now, and what lies ahead. That’s where developers can benefit. In January and February the next big releases are always in March. That leaves a huge space for developers to squeeze in a title that deserves to be talked about. Just take a look at the lack of decent video game news being covered right now. A blockbuster game would steal all of the headlines if it was released in this dead zone.

2. Gamers have gift cards burning in their pockets.

It used to be the case that consumers would spend most of their money in December thanks to Christmas. Now, in the age of the gift card, consumers are spending more and more of their money in early January.  Why not target those Best Buy gift card holders? Developers could justify their games selling at full price in January while the ridiculous black friday sales have devalued the games released in late October and November.

3. Getting snowed in means more time to get sucked into a game.

For those of us not living in the heart of the desert, now is the perfect time to get some serious gaming on.  I bet if some industrious PhD student did some research on average time spent playing games, January and February would destroy months like March, September, and even October in hours played. I’d even wager that more players finished a game like Skyrim in January than they did December. The key element in this is the weather forcing us to be homebound. No more paintball excursions, camping trips, or all night strip club jaunts. All that’s left is a gamer and his (or her) controller.  

4. If not your game, why not release some big name DLC to connect with your new game?

So, you’re forced to put out your game in November because its blockbuster status has a major impact on your stock valuation (I hate that this kind of shit effects when we play games). Why not put out some killer DLC in January or February? Who cares if you finished crafting it months ago? With the current dead zones at the beginning of the year, killer DLC has the potential to clean up shop.

5. Blockbuster games define their own market – not the release date.

Finally, it is a proven fact that blockbuster media defines its own market. This is especially important for sequels or blockbuster adaptations. Because publishers aren’t very forthcoming with their game sales and budgets, I can’t really illustrate how this works in video games. However, thanks to the detailed box office numbers recorded for movies, I can provide a multitiude of movies that have made tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars despite being releases in dead zones.

If you really care, here’s the first salvo of examples: Jaws was released in summer of 1975 and made $100 million domestic (before Jaws the summer was a notorious dead zone); Paul Blart: Mall Cop made $146 million domestic in January 2009 (don’t you dare scoff at this one); Sweet Home Alabama made $127 million domestic in September 2002; finally, Titanic made $600 million domestic after seeing release in the then dead zone of December. I could spend all day listing movies that have overcome poor release dates to make a killing at the box office (Cloverfield, Liar Liar, Green Hornet, etc.).  

I believe that this same success can be duplicated in the gaming industry if some ballsy publisher is willing to take the chance. Hell, GTA IV proved this theory all by its lonesome when it missed its initial November release date. Come on EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft, take a gamble and you’ll reap the rewards (just send a couple grand my way for the suggestion).