The Divnich Tapes: Why Crowd October With The Top Games?

Continuing his analysis of the U.S. game biz in October, EEDAR's Jesse Divnich wonder why publishers still jam their high-profile games into October's crowded schedule, suggesting a more diversified release schedule may help the firms.
[Following last week's release of NPD's October North American sales figures, EEDAR's director of analytical services Jesse Divnich presents his Gamasutra-exclusive study of October's hardware and software trends. In this analysis, Divnich shows that publishers are still neglecting to scatter their AAA releases throughout the year, cramming their high-profile games into October's crowded schedule. Previously: How Sony's consoles could be more affected by current economic conditions than Microsoft or Nintendo's systems.] Several publishers have promised that they will spread out their marquee releases throughout the year, as games like Super Smash Bros., Metal Gear Solid 4, and Grand Theft Auto IV have taught us that a AAA game can be released outside of the holiday window and still achieve tremendous success in the market. Unfortunately, this new strategy did not take effect this year, as we saw more high quality releases in October 2008 than in any other previous month in the last two years. For our chart below, we calculated the review percentage using a combination of various review sites sand aggregate review sites, such as Metacritic. We do not count special editions, but we include each seventh generation SKU separately (e.g. Guitar Hero World Tour is counted three times for the Wii/Xbox 360/PS3, but not nine times for each version's three special editions.) reviews-by-month.gif The amount of new releases in October 2008 with a calculated review score of 84 percent or over is overwhelming. In fact, October’s new releases have thus far accounted for over 42 percent of high quality releases this year, compared to last October’s 30 percent. This has led to market cannibalization and disappointing sales for some of the year’s biggest new releases. This is evident when we take some of October’s key releases and compare them to similar titles in the same genre/score range. I could not find comparable titles for Fallout 3, Fable 2, and LittleBigPlanet, but I was equally disappointed by their results as well. comparable-titles.gif Many might describe the core video game market as a highly competitive sector, but on a micro level, it may not be. Publishers generally try to avoid releasing big games against other AAA titles. For example, Take-Two decided on a release date for Grand Theft Auto IV, and expectedly, other key titles were either pushed forward or back from May 2008. No one dared release a high-profile Wii game in March 2008 (Super Smash Bros.), nor does anyone mess with the sports genre in August (Madden). October 2008 is a perfect example as to why. It is simply cannibalism, and it negatively affects our entire industry. Publishers do not maximize revenue potential, retailers have to discount games to make shelf-space for the large amount of new releases, and hardcore gamers have to reduce themselves to eating Ramen noodles and using one-ply toilet paper to cut expenses in order to afford all of these new releases in such a short span. We can only hope that the industry has learned from this mistake, and that going forward, we will begin to see a more dispersed release schedule. Some could argue that these October releases are just setting themselves up for stronger November and December sales to offset the cannibalization in October. While in theory, it does make sense, I have a feeling that the actual results of November and December will only reinforce the idea that publishers should begin to spread out their AAA titles throughout the year. [Jesse Divnich currently serves as the director of analytical services at Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR). The preceding is the views and opinions of one person and not of EEDAR, The simExchange, GamerMetrics, or Gametrailers.]

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