Sony Kills Santa

It’s Christmas evening. You’ve spent the day with family. You sat and patiently explained for the umpteenth time what you do for a living to distant aunts and uncles. You know deep down they will never really grasp your job, or even the fact that you are no longer in high school or college. You got some quality time with your little cousins, who even at eight and nine years old seem impossibly cool for their age. You have eaten all your favorite holiday food and drank your body weight in eggnog. Now it’s time to hunker down in front of your PS3 and throw on the latest game. You look to your game stack and realize something isn’t right. Modnation Racers, I played that in the spring! God of War 3, didn’t I finish that already? Where’s my DC Universe Online and LittleBigPlanet 2? Oh yeah, they got pushed to the New Year, ripe with Killzone 3 and other Sony goodies. The final chilling realization kicks in. You have no new PS3 exclusives to play for the holidays. In addition, most of the third-party games you are really interested in are living in Q1 2011-land, not in the traditional holiday window. What happened? Santa why have you forsaken me?

Ghost of Christmas Past

Holiday 2009 was the first step in killing Christmas. Last year, Sony stuffed its holiday line up with delicious gaming treats, with Uncharted 2 and Ratchet and Clank headlining the assault. Not content to sit on a stellar holiday line up, Christmas seemed to extend into the spring of 2010 with God of War 3, Heavy Rain and Modnation Racers. Not willing to let Sony have all the fun, third parties gave us many reasons to keep those Blu-ray disc drives humming. Wonderful late in the year titles like Borderlands, Dragon Age and Assassin’s Creed 2 showered down on us, along with the usual Call of Duty and rhythm game updates. The New Year brought even more great games to our consoles, with Bayonetta and Darksiders leading the charge and blitzkrieging us as soon as 2010 dawned.

This was finally the year that developers and publishers got the message. Gamers are adults and have disposable income to spend throughout the year. We are not cash piñatas that should only be whacked in October, November and December. Good games will sell in March and April, not just when the snow is falling and Charlie Brown is setting up some piss poor Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, we didn’t heed the old adage. We weren’t careful what we wished for. All gamers had been given the present of year round releases. Now it was time to decide if we really wanted to accept that awesome gift. And, if not, how do we return it?

Ghost of Christmas Present

For every bright and brilliant summer there is a winter. Unfortunately, our winter of discontent is here. With releases spread out across the calendar we had only a handful of titles on the horizon to keep us warm during the colder months. Now many of those games have been slipping into 2011. LittleBigPlanet 2 and DC Universe Online are the most prominent casualties of the large, looming delay monster. This puts additional pressure on Gran Turismo 5 and the untested PlayStation Move software lineup to make it a merry Christmas for Sony and its fans. Even the long delayed Gran Turismo 5, Sony’s ace in the hole for this holiday season, is not a sure thing. Another recently announced delay, added onto a myriad of previous stalls in the games release, makes many doubt it will hit before the end of 2010. No matter how much gamers are assured that it will be in available this holiday, most will simply not believe it until it’s in their hot little hands. Seeing is believing, but playing will keep us paying, Polyphony!

So what are Sony enthusiasts left to pine for this holiday? The sad answer is PlayStation Move and third-party releases. PlayStation Move is seeing some success at being integrated into older titles like Heavy Rain or Resident Evil 5 Gold Edition. However, the lineup of games that launched with the device has met with a lukewarm reception, at best. While Sony is handling integration of the Move into its core titles better than Microsoft is with Kinect, many of the most interesting applications, like Killzone 3, are 2011 releases. Much of the multi-platform releases are the traditional annual update. Almost no new IPs are being introduced and the few that are, like Enslaved or Vanquish, are variations on games we have been playing for the last few years. Add these to a line up including Call of Duty: Aren’t We Running Out of People to Buy This?, I mean COD: Black Ops, and Star Wars: The Force Will Hopefully Make the Sequel What the Original Game Should Have Been, sorry another typo, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2.

Without the traditional holiday glut of games, the platform exclusives that define each console can’t slip beyond their release dates without getting fans to start breaking out the fire and pitchforks. Unfortunately, Sony is learning that the hard way this year. In the end, most PlayStation fans may be better served by hunkering down for the holidays, asking for gift cards, and then redeeming them in the New Year when things are looking better and the titles you really want to play hit store shelves.

Ghost of Christmas Future

So will Sony take the lessons they are learning this year and apply them to years to come? I certainly hope so. It looks like the years of three months of videogame nirvana at the end of each calendar year are waning. Adult gamers will surely appreciate that we can now pick up great titles in all twelve months. Though this leaves a problem for developers and publishers. Do you try to engage the mom’s and dad’s and other holiday shoppers with the traditional winter releases and hope you don’t alienate the core gamer base? Or do you try to extend your release calendar to cover all seasons and potentially walk into the trap that Sony set for itself this year, with your holiday resting on a few key titles that could get delayed? The third, and best option would be to actually understand the gaming audience and embrace the casual market that has developed. Use interesting releases every month to bring your adult audience back to their consoles. Then place the casual titles near the beginning of summer, so kids out of school have something to play, and during the holidays when families are shopping their heads off.

The avalanche of titles every October and November may be lessening, but in the end this is a sign of the industry’s and audience’s maturity. We will go through growing pains, the 2010 holiday season being one of them. However, if we learn from our mistakes and continue to push past the traditional release model that has endured these last couple decades we will be much happier in the end.

No need to worry kids, and those who are kids at heart. Santa isn’t really dead. He has just been freed, removed from the shackles of only giving you great games at Christmas. If you look at your game stack this Christmas and lament its lack of new exclusives, take heart. Santa will be swinging back around in January, and nearly every month, to deliver you more of the games you love. Time to buy stock in milk and cookies.

Written by Justin Spielmann

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  • madeup6

    Maybe that’s why Gran Turismo 5 was delayed…

  • This isn’t about the consumer – this is about video games owned/published by large corporations. Large corporations are owned by stockholders. If a company has a single quarter with a lot of profit and is unprofitable the remainder of the year, the stock value with fluctuate wildly and the value of the company will be in flux. Very very bad from a corporate perspective. Sony sells a lot of TVs and video cameras and other electronics during the Christmas season. The reason they don’t want all their AAA titles in November and December is to offset that quarter to keep their value consistent and retain shareholders.

    • Anonymous

      I have to disagree. This is all about the consumer. Who do you think is making a particular quarter profitable or unprofitable for a large corporation? The consumer. The last few years, especially 2009 and 2010, consumers have bought significant amounts of games outside the traditional holiday window. This has demonstrated to game developers and publishers that there is a market throughout the year and now we are seeing a change in the typical release calendars. It is not universal, as yet, but Sony is taking a gamble and right now we are in the shadow of a stellar first half of 2010 and what looks to be an excellent early 2011. My hope is that this change will continue to manifest and will extend to third party companies.

      Also, speaking to your point about Sony selling lots of TVs and other electronics during the holidays. Traditionally, Sony has placed a large amount of their triple A titles at the end of the year, alongside their other products. As far as I am aware these other electronics have not sold significantly better in the last two years to be the sole cause for the change in game releases we have recently experienced. In the end, it’s the consumer demonstrating a year round market that has had more influence on game releases, not stock fluxes. While I’m sure such economic factors do play a part in some marketing and releases, I think the consumer is telling Sony that its willing to buy games all 12 months, not Sony dictating a schedule to the mass market.

      I appreciate the discussion.

      • Message to shareholders supports my argument.

        http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/IR/financial/fr/viewer/strategy/200911/

        • Anonymous

          I think this is an almost perpetual conversation. Are we dealing with a top-down economic interpretation, where the corporation releasing the retail goods is dictating the market? Or is it bottom-up, where consumer demand is impacting product distribution?

          Either way it’s a fairly minor point of the editorial. Overall, game releases are changing. We maybe suffering at the moment, but this is an inevitable period in order to transition to a release calendar that is more balanced and thus more rewarding for gamers.

  • Anonymous

    My kids got really upset when I accidentally read this headline out loud to myself…