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Aren’t We Smarter Than This?

Why don’t publishers talk to each other to organize mutually beneficial release dates for games?

In a recent Joystiq article (http://www.joystiq.com/2010/07/02/modnation-racers-top-15-finish-sets-slow-pace-for-may-racing/) it was noted that the NPD numbers for May show that three high-budget, high-profile, arcade-style racing games (ModNation Racers, Blur and Split/Second) failed to perform.

It was suggested that the racing genre itself maybe “toxic at the checkout counter” or that “gamers [may] have simply passed over May's hybrid concepts”

REALLY? Could it not be instead that racing game fans, faced with the choice between three excellent titles in the same month, just couldn’t afford to buy all three? (Particularly if they were also part of the trillion people who bought Red Dead Redemption in the same month)

I was certainly interested in all three, but could only afford to buy one of them (and even if I could have afforded them financially, I wouldn’t have had enough time to play them all).

Now, if they’d have been released a month or two apart, then I almost certainly would have bought them all, at full retail price, without really thinking about it ... as it is, I’ll now wait the same amount of time and pick up one (or both) of the others at some appropriately discounted price.

Now, not one of these was a secret, stealth release – they were all well publicised in advance (and all demoed more than a year out from eventual release). Would it really have hurt the various publishers (Sony, Activision, Disney) to actually have talked to each other and tried to organise some release dates that wouldn’t have crippled each other’s sales?

It’s not as if there are many other arcade racers coming out any time soon. Sure there’s Need for Speed coming in the autumn, and Gran Turismo 5 (although that doesn’t exactly count as an arcade racer). But surely even the impending arrival of those two high-profile releases doesn’t justify launching three brand-new franchises within the same two-week period. It’s just insane.

Of course such self-sabotaging release-date hogging is nothing new, and nothing limited to the games industry.

I remember in the summer of 2008 when Speed Racer got completely trounced at the cinema because it was released at the same time as Iron Man and Indiana Jones 4 ... now maybe Speed Racer was the weakest of the three (although personally I don’t think so) but even so, it surely would have done loads better if it had been released in a quieter time of the year (between a Rom-com and some depressing drama about rabies, perhaps?)

But the film companies want their one-up-man-ship - they want their tent-pole title to knock down the other tent-pole titles - and as such, one (or more) of the block-busters tanks at the box office – to no gain, but perhaps some smug-satisfaction on behalf of the victor-studio(s).

I thought the games industry was getting smarter. Ten years ago every game seemed to be released at Christmas, and so only a few survived. That seems to have improved recently, with releases scattered throughout the year, even in the previously dead summer months. But this recent NPD racing debacle seems to show that the one-up-man-ship attitude remains, and self-sabotage in the name of competition remains in the mind-set of the guys with the release schedules. Crazy fools!

So I ask again - Would it really hurt the big publishers to talk to each other? To try to organise release dates that, rather than crippling each other’s sales, or crippling gamers’ wallets – actually ensured a steady stream of well-spaced great titles throughout the year.

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