Friday, June 30, 2006

GAME ON: The Dog Days of Summer

For my column this month I called out the Waaahhhbulance to complain about the lack of noteworthy games in stores this summer. Poor, poor pitiful me.

In the world of cinema, summertime is blockbuster time, when all the major studios release their big, expensive showstoppers.

In the world of video games, however, summer resembles a dry, parched desert, where gamers have precious few options to slake their thirst.

Welcome to the dog days of summer, when publishers and developers see fit to release as few games as possible, the bulk of those being dull budget titles or rushed spinoffs of popular film and TV franchises. "X-Men: The Official Game" anyone?

To be sure, there are a few notable high points among the otherwise lackluster calendar listings. A number of notable Xbox 360 games, such as "Dead Rising," "Chromehounds," "Ninety-Nine Nights" and "Prey," are scheduled for release this summer. A few anticipated titles such as "NFL Head Coach," the revamped "Valkyrie Profile" and Rockstar’s "Bully" also are scheduled to hit stores in July and August.

But by and large, this summer is a video game wasteland, with gamers forced to choose between titles like "AMF Xtreme Bowling" and "Pirates of the Caribbean."

The reason there’s such a dearth of big-ticket games right now can be summed up in two words: Christmas holidays.

November and December are when video game publishers make serious money, as every parent, aunt and other far-flung relative decides to pick up a game for little Johnny or Janey. That’s why Sony and Nintendo release their new consoles in the fall and not the spring or summer.

As a result, gamers can expect to get buried in an avalanche of titles as soon as September rolls by. Will a significant number of high-quality games get buried in the onslaught? You can practically bet on it, especially since this year also will see the release of the PlayStation 3 and the Wii.

Who’s going to have the cash for a title from a small developer after having blown all that money on a new console?

I know how expensive it is to put a video game together these days. And I know the potential to see serious cash by releasing a game at the end of the year, which is too good an opportunity to pass up.

But if you have a game that you think might get eclipsed by the hordes of more higher-profile titles (say, Capcom’s "Okami"), wouldn’t it be better to bring it out in the summer, when the competition is next to nil and you can garner more attention your way?

I mean, I’m sure there are tons of gamers looking to play something other than "Cars: the Game."


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