Experienced Points: The Stupid Season

By Shamus
on Aug 7, 2009
Filed under:
Column

Yes, a column about Christmas shopping patterns. Well, it’s more an explanation of the game publishers are forced to play, and why we lose every time they do.

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17Just 17 comments.

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  1. Rilty says:

    There’s a typo in the blurb at the end. “His actually really looking forward…” should be “He’s actually really looking forward…”.

    An interesting article though…

    Wouldn’t a (popular) game released earlier that year still be on the shelves at Christmas and thus still get a share of the money?

  2. Rutskarn says:

    Yeah, it’s some complicated calculus, alright.

    Also, the opening question sounded like something David Morgan-Mar would have put in his IW! polls.

  3. Maldeus says:

    It’s, uh…It’s August.

  4. lebkin says:

    Related to this topic is that if the games were more spread out, we’d hear far less whining about having “too many” games to play. I absolutely detest that mindset. There is no such thing as too many game to play. Simply do not buy more games than you can not play.

    I generally end up spreading the holiday glut out for a good six months of enjoyment. There are even still a good game or two from last year that I still have on my plate. I should finish them up just in time for the holiday rush to start. Thus I never lack for a good game to play.

  5. Maldeus says:

    I usually don’t buy games released in December until sometime around October. In that time, prices have dropped ten (or even twenty) dollars, the reviewers have had enough time to sort out which of the Christmas releases were actually good, and I’ve probably had the entire plot spoiled for me on the internet because people stop using spoiler tags sometime in February. It’s a trade-off.

  6. Magnus says:

    As an athiest…

    I suggest banning xmas.

    who’s with me?

    (we’d also have to ban every specific holiday, and instead just give everyone the right to extra days holiday as part of their contracts. Paid of course. Not sure what to do about the self-employed…)

  7. A Nash Equilibrium _can_ mean that players would be better off with a new point, but doesn’t always mean that. In the “prisoner’s dilemma” game, for instance, there are 2 points of Nash Equilibrium, but that payers only ever end up falling into 1 of them…

  8. LintMan says:

    I suggest a tweak to your 12-doors metaphor: the money you receive is not evenly split, but portioned to each chooser based on how relatively attractive you are (compared to the other choosers of that door), as judged by an unknown group of people behind the door.

    In this situation, if you think (or know!) you’re gonna be the hottest guy/gal around, it’s a no-brainer to pick door 12 since you expect to get the lion’s-share. Problem is, of course, that you might be wrong. Really really wrong. But most pessimists probably don’t go into developing/publishing computer games.

    Edit: Doh! It looks like I typed my email address in wrong, so I don’t get my Orz avatar – and you can’t edit your email address once you post.

  9. neriana says:

    From my experience working in a game store over the holiday season (don’t do it, it’s far worse than any other retail experience I’ve ever had), game sales at that time seem to be inversely proportional to game quality. Horrible licensed games sell incredibly well because parents and grandparents recognize the name “Eragon” or whatever. And while game store employees will often steer customers toward better games, they do not have time to do so during the holiday crunch. After having been variously cajoled, bribed and threatened with bodily harm because I couldn’t produce Wiis out of thin air, I wasn’t feeling particularly helpful toward customers anyway.

  10. AGrey says:

    reading this, I can’t help but feeling that the best time to release a game is the day after christmas.

    everyone’s returning the crappy knock-offs their aunts bought them, and lo and behold, there’s a shiny new game in a neat little pile next to the register.

  11. RPharazon says:

    I quite like this article, since I’ve noticed that this effect has the opposite outcome for me. There are usually so many games out during the fall and winter season that I can only get one or two, and then catch up with maybe two other games by summer.

    That is to say, my possible money flow per month remains constant, even though my possible expenditures do not. I can only buy two games every 3 months, spread across two platforms. That makes 8 games in total.

    I can only buy 2 of (maybe) 10 neat games during the fall, meaning that the people who release games in hopes of reaping off the Christmas gluttony will only have a 1 in 5 chance of getting my business. Two of them, at the very best (if I save up) still won’t get my business.

    However, if a company releases their game during, say, the summer, only competing against maybe one other game that interests me, both of those games will get my business.

    Of course, I don’t think like the mass market does, so what do I know?

  12. Brickman says:

    In response to the last two paragraphs:
    “Nobody has any motivation to change anything. Sure, you could release your game in August, but your game will really have to stand on its own merits. And even if it performs well, you’re letting your rivals have a bigger piece of the December pie. You’ll be taking on more risk while helping them make more money. What we have here is a Nash Equilibrium. The industry as a whole would be better off if sales were spread more evenly year-round, but it’s not in anyone’s interest to change their behavior.

    For now the industry is probably going to continue its practice of holding games when everyone is on vacation and then releasing them all at once when nobody has time to play them. Merry Christmas!”

    You seem to be attributing way too much control to the developers. They didn’t do this, and they couldn’t undo it if they tried. If every single game developer on the face of the earth signed a binding agreement not to release any products during December, there would still be a huge rush of consumer spending as people buy gifts for the holidays, and all that money would just shift to the batch of games that were released in November. Or the October games. There IS no way of changing this, because the problem is caused by the commercial boom in December, not by the glut of games itself. Change here, if it ever comes, will come from a source entirely unrelated to the videogame industry, just like it will probably come from a source independent of the DvD industry, the turkey industry and the toy industry, or the hundreds of other industries which would still exist if it weren’t for the winter holidays but nonetheless have to alter their practices to take advantage of the massive increase in demand in all sectors. Ok, well maybe the toy industry is one of the ones who would be at the head of this change, but regardless. This is an external problem whose effects happen to bleed into the videogame industry and cause problems for it, not a videogame problem.

  13. Goggalor says:

    @AGrey
    You could be onto something there. I have to say there’s no place that comes closer to crushing the human spirit than a (PC) game store on Boxing Day.

    The dads are all queueing up to return the high-performance game that turns out not to run on their computer. The kids are giving the dads hell because they’ve been hypnotized by the shiny screenshots and packaging and are now being told they can’t play with their Christmas present after all. The dads are taking it out on the sales staff, and they can’t do anything but stand there and apologise for something that isn’t their fault.

    A fun but not high-performance game could clean up here -especially if you could make some sort of deal like “£5 off if traded in for a copy of GPU-Roaster IV” or some such.

  14. LintMan says:

    The one consumer benefit (at least for me) of having a glut of games at christmastime is that it might be many months later before I get around to checking out some of those christmas releases. And by then, those games are often cheaper and have received several patches so they work better.

  15. I tend to agree w/ many other folks’ purchasing patterns – I’ll gladly scoop up Mirror’s Edge off Goozex when 18 billion people are done with it (and for ~$30 off MSRP, ha!).

    I’m inclined to agree with you, Shamus, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the current season – seems the “big boys” we thought would sweep this Christmas have mostly been delayed (barring Modern Warfare 2 and Assassin’s Creed 2, I think). This is one of the first times i’ve noticed folks delaying games based on brand power… which probably plays right back into your theory.

    Look forward to reading more comments :)

  16. toasty says:

    Someday, someone, somewhere, somehow will change the world for the better.

    I gladly wait this moment. Until then, I’ll just have to settle for mediocrity.

    That, or I could attempt to change an entire culture’s well… culture. :p

    Good article though.

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