Q4 is crowded
This past Fall I spoke about Titanfall 2 and Dishonored 2’s lack of sales in what has always been considered the best time of year to release games. The months leading up to Christmas have traditionally been the most sought after release dates for Publishers who believe they’ll snatch up huge profits from consumers frothing at the mouth to buy presents.
Ironically, the “best time to release games” (quoting myself?) resulted in a glut of massive franchises (Battlefield 1, Infinite Warfare) crowding the market. Add the stupefying amount of sales from Black Friday etc and the industry saw an over-saturation that two of my favorite games of the year (Titanfall 2 & Dishonored 2) couldn’t compete with.
Find a better month
Another of my 2016 favorites, Firewatch, released back in February, and recently celebrated one million sales. For Campo Santo’s budget, I would assume this is a massive success.
Releasing Feb 9th meant Firewatch had far less competition than the poor souls thrown to the wolves in Q4. They shared the day with a couple. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, FFIX on mobile, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (great coop game), and EA’s indie experiment Unravel. Knowing that Campo Santo was made up of key members from the best season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead gave the game a nice bit of buzz.
As for the rest of the month: XCOM 2 hit a few days earlier on Feb 5th. Street Fighter V landed unfinished on Feb 16th. Far Cry Primal was the biggest name, but didn’t see light until Feb 23rd and was most likely looking for a different audience. Stardew Valley also quietly released at the end of the month.
Games journalism is always looking for something to cover but also moves very quickly. Games live and die off of the first few weeks of sales and need to find a launch window of their own. That’s not always possible, but choosing February 2016 worked wonders for Firewatch.
February 2017 will be nuts
Indie titles trying to replicate Firewatch’s February strategy would be wise to pick a safer spot.
Horizon: Zero Dawn could be the PS4’s biggest launch of the year so expect to see it taking up the front page of PSN for several weeks leading up to the launch and after. This should be a dynamite place to launch a brand new IP that could be one of the best games of the year.
For Honor and Nioh are releasing five days apart and may see many comparisons of their brutal head-to-head historical melee combat. That might not be fair, but tell that to Battleborn.
I hope publishers like EA learn to embrace non-traditional launch windows for their bigger games. Titanfall 2 is a great game that was thrown out to die. I hope EA realizes their mistake and doesn’t abandon interesting game ideas for what they believe is a sure-thing.
Firewatch’s February success is inspiring, but if Horizon: Zero Dawn does what Sony wants, we could see even more AAA games in February 2018.