Thursday, August 14, 2014

The End of The Summer Release Drought

Every year, without fail, there is a massive hole in the release list for video games around the summer months. This used to drive me crazy when I was younger; why wouldn't companies release games during the time when kids wanted them the most!?

Now that I'm older, I understand the phenomenon more clearly. And a different phenomenon has become apparent (which is much more damaging to my wallet.) Also, for the record, all of this pertains to dedicated video game consoles. PC is a platform I'm much less familiar with, and so I can't say for sure if these patterns hold up.

The "summer drought" occurs for a few reasons, based on my observations:

1) Old people don't care about summer. Once you're out of school (which might be narrowed down to even just getting out of high school) summer is just another, hotter, part of the year.

2) Kids don't have any money. Their parents do, sure, and some especially motivated young adults may have jobs to facilitate the purchase of video games, but they'll never be where the money is. You'll end up catch them later anyways, because...

3) It makes way more sense to release your "best" games in the later part of the year, at least from an American cultural standpoint. More holidays and a higher concentration of birthdays make it the time when people are going to be giving gifts and spending money, so you're (theoretically) more likely to have a big payday release if you can time it to come out later on in the year.

For those reasons (and I'm sure many more that I'm not aware of) the yearly video game release cycle has evolved to go something like this:

 - August through September: Some quality titles. Often these will be releases that companies didn't want to risk getting lost in the hairball of releases that comes later on, so you'll usually only get one "big" game for each of these months for a given platform.

 - October through December: The proper holiday season in the U.S. Almost all of your big name titles come out during these months and you'll very often be getting one "big" game a week or so, all the way up until Christmas.

 - January through April: The "didn't quite make it" season for games. This is where you find all of the games that developers either couldn't finish in time for the holiday season, or possibly pushed back in order to give them some breathing room. March in particular is often a surprising month in terms of quality releases. April usually marks the last time you'll be getting any games you've been remotely interested in.

 - May through July: Desolate wasteland. Count yourself lucky if something new and interesting for you shows up during these months, as that's exceedingly rare. This is the time to work on your back log of games, or go out and grab something you couldn't afford to during the mad rush of the last release season. The other upside of these months is that companies want you to stay excited, so this is when you get bombarded with info about games that will be coming out later that year via E3, Gamescom, TGS, PAX, etc.

Looking at the calendar, we seem to be getting back into the sweet spot of game releases.

As a kid, this time always filled me with joy. I was spoiled rotten by my wonderful parents (no sarcasm; they were legit great) so I'd be drowning in games in a few months between my birthday, Christmas, and me being a demanding little bastard.

As an adult, I am filled with excited dread. I'm still a gamer, so I love finally breaking out of the summer release drought and having some awesome games to look forward to. However, I'm also a grown ass man (mostly) that needs to afford those games, so the prospect of them all showing up in a 2-3 month window is slightly daunting. My raw enthusiasm is tempered by a need to budget and prioritize. Admittedly, I'm still pretty excited while I do that.

So, lets look at what's forthcoming:

August is already chugging along, and thankfully it's very light on releases I care about. That list is all of one game, though it is one I've been excited for since it was announced: Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition (PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox1). More specifically, I'm very excited to play D3 on a next generation console. I put a lot of time into the console release of the original D3 and had a great time (it implemented many of the changes that would find their way into the PC release and revitalize it prior to the expansion) but there were little niggling technical hiccups that I'm sure the current generation (i.e. PS4 and Xbox1) can eliminate. This is a game I plan to put a lot of time into - there aren't many alternatives on consoles when you're in the mood for this kind of game - and I'm very excited that it comes out so soon.

September is probably the most stacked month right now based on what I'm interested in. Bungie's MMO FPS epic Destiny (PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox1) is slated to drop at the beginning of that month, and since I have some friends that are likely to pick it up, it's on my radar. This also may get bumped up a few priority notches as it feels like it will replace the yearly FPS our group used to buy then dump time into (CoD, Battlefield.)

Next up are a pair of very similar games: Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate (PS4, Xbox1) and Hyrule Warriors (Wii U). I've had a lot of fun with Dynasty Warriors games in the past, and like many players I eventually burnt out. Now I'm feeling the itch, and it just so happens that two new games are coming out of that style. I'm leaning much more heavily towards Hyrule Warriors - supposedly it has the "good" Dynasty Warriors team working it, the implementation adds novelty, and it's a Wii U game which there are precious few of - but since that comes out later I'll wait and see which one is overall reviewed more favorably (I'm betting it'll still be Hyrule Warriors when all is said and done; Nintendo needs to keep the hits flowing and they know it.)

September goes out with a tremendous bang with the release of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (PS3, 360). Persona 4 Arena was one of my favorite games the year it was released, and it's probably one of my favorite fight games, ever. Ultimax looks to improve upon it in every conceivable way with new and revised systems, rebalancing, an expanded cast, and an all new story mode. It also includes the original's story mode which is good because I'm finally working my way through Persona 3 and will probably play through Persona 4 at some point. Ultimax is the next game I'm counting down to once I get D3:UEE (love that acronym) in my greedy mitts.

October is a relatively light month, which is good after the deluge that is September this year. The biggest release is coming around the middle of the month with the start of Killer Instinct: Season 2 (Xbox1). This season marks the start of Iron Galaxy's work as the new developer for the game, and they're looking to come out pretty strong: the new season will launch with 2 new characters (TJ Combo and Maya) and will add another new character per month for the next 6 months. They're also promising a redesign of the UI, rebalancing of the current cast, new stages, new music, and other exciting features. This is another release I'm very excited for.

The other noteworthy game coming out in October is Lords of the Fallen (PS4, Xbox1). Despite it's ultra-generic title, this game is interesting because it's another company's take on the Souls style of adventure/RPG gaming (i.e. brutal and challenging.) Although I'm dubious as to how well the game will turn out, I'm interested to see how another team handles that style of game, and the previews have been generally positive. There is also the fact that the next game coming out of From Software is only on the PS4 (Bloodborne), so this is the only way I'll have that kind of experience on the Xbox1 (at least in the foreseeable future.) Maybe not a day one purchase, but definitely something I'm keeping my eye on.

November is likewise light. The only game coming out that month that I'm super interested in is Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS). It's a mash up of Persona 3 and 4 characters into Etrian Odyssey, and those last two words were all they had to say to get me on board. Barring some terrible reviews (which I don't anticipate) I'll be picking it up as another excellent portable game.

November also sees the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox1) which is a game I'm conflicted over. On one hand, this Dragon Age game seems to combine all of the aspects I liked best about the first two games in a way that would make it fun to play. On the other hand, both of the previous Dragon Age games felt incomplete or "off" in places, possibly due to lack of time for refinement/completion. Mass Effect 3 had a similar feel, so I'm a little nervous about BioWare's track record at this point. Still, if Dragon Age: Inquisition can buck the trends they've had with their last few games, I'd be on board for another round.

December this year ends up being a catch bin for all of the games that developers are too nervous to put a hard release date on, but are pretty sure they'll get out before the end of 2014. That list of games currently contains three megaton bombs, so far as I'm concerned:

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U) the long awaited and eagerly anticipated follow up to the manic character action masterpiece. One of the biggest feathers in Nintendo's cap for their current system has been in development for awhile now, so it is very likely to be done and ready to ship before the end of 2014. The "when" of that is still TBD, but I'm sure whenever that is they'll be getting another spike in Wii U sales.

I say "another" because Mario Kart 8 gave them one heck of a boost earlier in the year, and they also have a huge release floating around the December 31, 2014 release date (i.e. sometime before the end of the year) that will give them another big bump:

Super Smash Brothers - Wii U (Sega Saturn). Fans of the Smash Bros series have been waiting for a new game for awhile now, especially since Super Smash Brothers Brawl left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of fans. Although this game is still being met with some trepidation from the Smash Bros contingent of the fighting game community, there is still a ton of momentum and excitement built up for this game due to Nintendo's fantastic marketing for it up to this point. Even if this new Smash Bros doesn't replace Super Smash Brothers Melee as the FGC's favorite, it's sure to be a big hit with fans. Nintendo just needs to release the damn thing already!

Finally, fighting game fans have another reason to be excited for the end of the year, because sometime before the end of 2014 U.S. fans will finally be able to own home copies of Guilty Gear Xrd - SIGN (PS3, PS4). This new chapter in the Guilty Gear franchise marks it's first foray into gaming on next generation consoles - although it was ported to PS3 and 360, the most recent Guilty Gear is based off of an engine put together on the PS2 - and by all accounts they did not waste that potential. Xrd looks absolutely astounding, marrying the ease of 3D model development with an aesthetic that perfectly captures the beauty of the spritework in previous games, and by all accounts it's still a blast to play. Xrd also makes it easy to buy into, since the only difference between the two versions (PS3 vs. PS4) is the resolution (both versions run at 60 FPS) and it will support cross-platform multiplayer gaming (the first that I'm aware of.) Meaning that players on PS3 and PS4 will be able to play against one another, which cuts down on the possible concern of having your player base fragmented across two different consoles.

As mentioned, all three of those games share a very nebulous "December 31, 2014" release date. While that may end up actually being true for one of those games, it's very unlikely; most of the time a publisher will want to have their game available before Christmas, if not the start of December to catch early shoppers. We're likely to get more concrete release dates for these titles as we get closer to the end of the year. I'm sure everyone involved with those games are nervous about putting a date in stone for fear of possibly missing it, or having another time constraint put in place. These games will almost certainly show up in 2014 (heads will roll somewhere otherwise); the question is when.

After typing all that out, the list isn't too bad. It feels more overwhelming that it is, and if I pace my funds appropriately I should be alright (admittedly difficult to do when your other main hobby is miniature wargaming.) If nothing else, every month from here until the end of the year has a release I'm really looking forward to, and with those three floaters in December there's always the possibility that any one of those months could suddenly get even more exciting.

And it all starts next week with D3:UEE. I'm gonna slay the shit out of some demons.

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