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Editorial: Summer Blockbusters?

Summer Blockbusters? Where they at?

This fall most gamers are going to be in heaven, what with all the amazing new titles launching on all different systems. From Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (hopefully still coming this year) to Halo 3 , this fall looks to be jam packed with more great games than you can shake a Wii Remote at.

But what are you going to play over the summer?

I understand why Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft try to jam all their big, blockbuster titles into the holiday season. They want to give you as many reasons to buy their new console as possible; they want to make the PS3 or Xbox 360’s lineup seem so killer that you just can’t pass it up. They also know that the holiday season is the time when most parents are more willing to spend disposable income on games. There is nothing wrong with this line of thought, at least on a theoretical level, but in reality, the dynamics of gaming have changed enough over the past two generations that such a tactic is no longer successful. It’s actually harmful to the bottom line of these companies and you, the gamer.

Simply put, gaming is far more popular these days, with more and more companies pushing out more and more quality titles. Gone are the days when only a handful of truly great games came out but once a year; now, each year there are literally dozens of “must-have” titles on each system. And when you try to push them on gamers all at once, many quality games are going to fall by the wayside under the impact of truly monstrous hits like Metal Gear Solid , Grand Theft Auto and Halo .

This year, Microsoft is taking a slightly different approach by releasing Halo 3 much earlier than everyone predicted, with an official release date of September 25th. Everyone expected this much-hyped finale in the Halo trilogy to ship in November as its predecessors, and most big titles in general, always have. Of course, the reasoning behind this earlier release date is obvious, in that Microsoft wants all the focus on Halo 3 long before you start thinking about what big games Sony is bringing to the PS3 this fall. From that perspective, this move is pretty brilliant, but it doesn’t really change anything.

Personally, what I would like to see is developers taking more chances on newer franchises. Sure, keep using Metal Gear Solid and Halo to push your hardware during the holidays, but give some new titles a better shot at gaining market share by not releasing them alongside those popular, established franchises. For instance, Electronic Arts is releasing Army of Two this fall on both the PS3 and Xbox 360. The game looks amazing so far, with some very original and interesting gameplay design, and it’s probably going to be completely overlooked by most people who are completely fixated on Grand Theft Auto IV and whatnot. Why not release this game in July instead of November? Granted, EA may need the extra time to finish up the QA process, but if possible, there’s really no reason why this game shouldn’t be a summer hit.

More and more these days, I feel like the suits running the big development houses are losing touch with the industry they work in, simply because they so often fail to adapt to the changing demographics of gamers as well as the industry itself. Gone are the days when you can rely on brand name recognition to push a game or console, gone are the days when you only have two choices of where to get your gaming fix, gone are the days (mostly, anyway) of huge, exclusive third party titles. Think of all the hyped games coming out this fall for both the 360 and PS3 that started out as exclusive to one platform or the other. Yeah, as it stands MGS4 and FFXIII are the only big franchises that haven’t made the multiplatform leap, and it’s still not 100% confirmed that they won’t.

Why is this so important, you may ask? Because it means that Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft’s first and second-party developers are going to play a bigger role in gaining market share for their respective consoles, now more than ever. That means more original content with emphasis on production value and quality design. However, more importantly, it is, historically speaking, incredibly hard to launch a successful new IP in the midst of a swarm of already highly anticipated games. Sure, God of War was a huge hit for Sony right off the bat, but it also released in the spring of 2005 when there wasn’t much else out there.

It’s time for the big name developers to get their act together and change their policies on game releases. Hollywood traditionally splits up their big releases between the early summer and the winter holidays, and there is no reason the gaming industry can’t do the same. It may take a year or so before people catch on to the notion that they can finally expect quality titles more than once a year, but soon enough the target demographics will follow the games, big developers will have an improved bottom line and we’ll have something besides Atlus ports of JRPGs to play in June.

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