In almost every other entertainment genre they pay attention to this, but it seems that in the gaming industry they don’t take this into account. It seems that everytime I turn around I see games coming out either on the same day or close to the release of another game that it really shouldn’t go against. Gaming journalist like myself are anomalies, we either have the games sent to us by the company or we get it through some other means, but we review them so we will get them regardless, but we are NOT the average gamer. The average gamer doesn’t usually buy games in bulk, they usually buy one game at a time, finish it and then move on to something new. Let’s be clear here that I am talking about new releases, I am not talking about when you go into GameStop and buy two or three games that are $19.99. For the purpose of this article, when I say a new game I mean one that has just been released. So the question is why don’t game companies seem to care?
Does the timing of the release of a game matter?
For the life of me, I can’t figure it out. The first thing to do would be to assume that in gaming that first week sales don’t matter, that pre-orders and the mid to late adopters really drive a game’s success. However, the statistics don’t support that, at least not on the PS3. Of the top 5 best-selling games for the PS3 as of the writing of this article, only one of them sold better in any other week besides the opening week and that was the original Resistance: Fall Of Man, which was initially hurt by being a launch title but eventually rebounded through good reviews and word of mouth. The other four titles, Metal Gear Solid 4, GTA IV, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and Motostorm all saw their best weeks in the first week, at least when you look at just the Americas which is the single biggest gaming market in the world by far, if your game doesn’t sell well here it’s not going to sell with any relevance anywhere save maybe Japan. So what gives, if we go by the statistics and history then we come up the conclusion that first week sales are very important and if that is the case then we are wondering why more thought isn’t put into timing releases. I know if gamers had it their way the games would come out as fast as possible, but the stats just don’t support that being a good business model.
So at this point you are probably like, so you want games to come out later, not exactly but not only does not paying attention to overlapping release dates hurt sales, it also makes gamers miss some pretty good games that they either skip altogether or don’t come back to until months later. When it comes to good business sense, it just make sense that you would want to release your game in as much free space as possible to drive the maximum number of people to it because 1) there isn’t anything else out major competing with it in that crucial first week and 2) to give the reviews and word of mouth a chance to spread to pick up to that very important second wave of gamers. The basics of good marketing say that you want to have as little “noise'” around your campaign as possible to compete with your campaign. Let’s look at this a little further.
Resident Evil 5 got it right and the sales support that.
So let’s look at a good example, Resident Evil 5. Resident Evil 5 hit stores March 13 and besides Killzone 2 which came out February 27 about 3 weeks before and the surprise UFC 2009 Undisputed, it didn’t really have another competitive title until Infamous almost 3 months later and because of that Resident Evil 5 is currently the best-selling PS3 title of the year with approximately 790,000 units sold. Now I don’t know whether or not Capcom planned it that way or not but the numbers don’t lie. Even though Killzone 2 was a huge exclusive, it’s an FPS that didn’t have an especially long single player campaign and thus not the kind of title that would threaten the release of RE5, but somebody else seems to have understood timing too because can you guess what the number two best-selling title of the year is, you got it Killzone 2.
Now let’s take a look at what happens when you don’t pay attention to timing. A good example of this is Little Big Planet, which we must say up front has sold roughly 900,000 copies, not too bad. But is it as good as it could have been, probably not and let us tell you why. LBP came out within a week or two of several established titles such as Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, FIFA 09, Saint’s Row 2, Far Cry 2, NBA Live 09, NBA 2K9, Fallout 3, and Motostorm: Pacific Rift. This begs the question that no matter how much hype you have around your title, why put a brand new IP up against all those established titles, why not just wait a few weeks and give it a clean opening? You can say what you will but the fact is that RE5 and Killzone 2 have only been out for a few months and may reach the 1 million mark by the end of the year and I think a large factor in that was timing.
How many more copies could they have sold if they had timed it right?
The only titles that I don’t think could be affected by timing are the ultra successful titles like Metal Gear Solid, Grand Theft Auto, and COD just to name a few, gamers hold all those titles in the highest regard and will pretty much buy them first week no matter what. However, if you don’t find yourself in the company of these ultra successful and profitable franchises then you might want to pay attention to timing until you do. For us gamers, the games are about entertainment but for the gaming companies this really is a business and as that is the case they really need to start acting like it. In these times of games being resold multiple times at places like Gamestop, Gamecrazy, and FYE, if you are a gaming company you don’t get any of those subsequent profits so you really only have one shot, they need to start doing everything they can to make the most of it.
*All statistics gathered from vgchartz.com. Article references PS3 specifically but we would assume this holds true for other consoles as well.