Video Game Chart Party 3: Showdown

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Feb 11, 2020

Filed under: Video Games 49 comments

Another week, another dump of video game data of unspecified origin. As before, the data has titles, release date info, and Metacritic ratings for a few thousand video games between 2001 and today. The difference this week is that we have data for several major consoles instead of just PC games.

Here’s the breakdown:

This is limited to the games listed in the database. I don't have any way of knowing how complete this list might be or how you would even go about checking such a thing.
This is limited to the games listed in the database. I don't have any way of knowing how complete this list might be or how you would even go about checking such a thing.

This makes it look like the PC is this huge platform, but remember the PC covers the entire range from 2001 to 2020, while the consoles are limited to specific time periods.


Then again, the PC still seems to get more titles than the others, even if we narrow our query to a single year. There are 315 PC games listed for 2015, and just 237 for the PlayStation 4. That’s a much bigger difference than I would have guessed. I’m betting a lot of the extra PC games are indies taking advantage of Steam’s low entry barrier.

Over the full 2001-2020 period, the numbers go the other way. There are 4,404 total PlayStation games (any generation PlayStation) listed in the database, compared to 4,345 PC titles. I haven’t had time to compare them year-to-year to see where PlayStation pulled ahead.

I’ve always heard that games tend to come out on Tuesday. This always seemed odd to me. In the world of digital games, it seems like Thursday or Friday would make a lot more sense: Give the customer a day or so to pre-load the game and then it’ll be available just in time for the weekend. If I have a traditional weekday work / school schedule and I only game on the weekend, then there’s no benefit to picking up a game on Tuesday. If I can’t play until Friday night, then I might as well wait a couple of days for the reviews to come in and buy it on Thursday night if the critics are positive.

But whatever. Let’s see what the data says:

Wow. I knew Tuesday was the favorite release date, but I didn’t realize by how much!

And finally, let’s look at release months. In the past I’ve complained that too many games are packed in the end of the year and the summer is a wasteland. That’s how it feels, anyway. But what does the data say?

The curve isn’t nearly as extreme as I would have guessed based on personal experience, but you can clearly see the summer crater and the pre-Christmas peak.

I wonder if this is something that developed over time. Is the Christmas peak something that grew with gaming budgets, or has it always looked like this? If I knew more about using Google Sheets, I might try to set up a graph that lets you see the distribution of releases over the years.

As always, I lack the expertise to study this data, so I turn it over to you:

vgdata_09-02-2020.zip

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of any of it. I’ve spot-checked a lot of records at random, and so far I haven’t found anything amiss. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t inaccuracies. This is a list of 12,000+ games, and that’s too much for a single person to audit manually.

Let me know what you find.

 


From The Archives:
 

49 thoughts on “Video Game Chart Party 3: Showdown

  1. Karma The Alligator says:

    Wow. I knew Tuesday was the favorite release date, but I didn’t realize by how much!

    Huh, never knew Tuesday was game release day (never really paid attention, since I rarely get games on day 1). Why Tuesday, though? That seems a bit awkward to me, it’s not quite when the week starts (assuming a Monday week start here), but the weekend also seems too far.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      Possibly to allow some time for issues to be resolved? If you release on Friday and the servers crash, well, there goes your opening weekend.
      Though that can’t have played 10 years ago or so when games were supposed to be complete on launch.

      1. Gethsemani says:

        My guess is traditional logistical reasons. A Tuesday release means you can deliver to retailers during the Monday if you want to ship as close to launch as possible (as to not get early releases from unscrupulous retailers for example), and if you get delays for some reason you have a few days to resolve them before the weekend. That’s a far better alternative then to get a delayed delivery and having customers without the game over the weekend.

        1. Duoae says:

          This is my experience as well. Actually, the reason (I presume) was the opposite way around: If you missed the friday delivery date, then the following tuesday was a sure bet. This seems the same as what you’re saying but your paragraph reads as the retailers aiming for the following Friday, instead of the preceding Friday.

          In fact, from my experience in retail in the late 2000s in the UK, the UK was perfectly fine with a thursday/friday release date – it was the USA that was the issue. I’m not sure why given these things are planned out in advance and, of course, physical release gives no indication towards the virtual but… it was a factor in our week-by-week release schedule. We would have the physical cartridges or discs sitting in the locked-off portion of the upstairs storage area for days before we could even bring them down to the shelves.

          Saying that, I know that physical retail has held a hammer over the hand of digital release for many years, even (it seems) to this day… which means that it has to be held in line with the physical distribution plan. Frankly, this is ridiculous and I’d hope that, by 2019 or even now, in 2020, this wouldn’t be an issue but it still seems to be….

          1. Duoae says:

            [Edit] I took a look at the spreadsheet but it’s arrayed in such a chaotic manner that it’s going to take me a longer time to sort it out to continue the analysis I performed last time. There’s no easy solution aside from re-writing the filters I previously used because the data is out of order and out of console bracketing too – so the PS2 is split around the Xbox…. true, maybe programmers find this inherently non-consequential but I’m just an excel logistician and the filtering can be problematic – like the random “2020” release inserts in the database. :) I’m not a programmer, unfortunately.

          2. Duoae says:

            This set of circumstances may reveal why there are so many early releases* for physical retail games. The most recent I saw was Jedi: Fallen Order from a German streamer who was playing from the PS4 disc… Ultimately, those items are sitting on shelves for multiple days and there are increasing percentage chances for people to sell/ obtain / or use them. Publishers appear to shackle themselves to the USA market but that makes little sense in this day and age. I doubt that Wallmart really cares about international physical release dates.

            In fact, traditionally, European release dates are withheld until the thursday or friday, resulting in huge badwill across the consumerbase: We can still see what’s happening half a world away! And it’s incredible to see the diatribe when a much-anticipated game releases EU first….

            *In this circumstance, I mean leaks/pre-buyer streams, etc.

        2. ccesarano says:

          Having worked at GameStop back in the earlier years of this chart, I can confirm that Monday is the day new releases would typically arrive, or Tuesday morning before the store opened. Only the biggest releases shipped ahead of time to guarantee stock for pre-orders and non-pre-ordering customers. However, sometimes you wouldn’t have the physical games until Tuesday morning and needed to try and get everything set up before you unlocked the front door.

          I don’t recall precisely when Nintendo made the shift, but I know since around the Wii and Nintendo DS they started releasing all of their first-party content on a Friday instead. While that’s still not 100% true, you’re starting to see more and more companies make that change. Even so, Tuesday is still the most common release day.

      2. SidheKnight says:

        Though that can’t have played 10 years ago or so when games were supposed to be complete on launch

        That, and the fact that most games didn’t have online components back then unless you played the multiplayer, and that only on PC. Consoles didn’t have online functionality,

        So no collapsed servers or stuff of that sort.

    2. DrCapsaicin says:

      I can’t remember where I heard this from, so take it with a grain of salt, but I always heard the Tuesday release date is just a holdover by publishers based on physical distribution channels and shipping. Music albums and VHS/DVD releases were all historically on Tuesdays as well (as far as I know). When the games industry came along, those distribution channels already existed and so the publishers just piggybacked on them. With the rise of digital games and online retailers with centralized warehouses (Amazon), I don’t know that it still HAS to be that way other than simple inertia.

      1. Blork says:

        I think the inertia and the simplicity of following it has a lot to do with it. There’s probably not much difference between the days of the week and it’s really easy to hold off on releasing a game for max six days just in case it does matter.

      2. Erik says:

        Came here to say this, so I can confirm. Tuesday release day is a long-standing publishing house tradition that applies to books and major label music as well. I believe it came from magazine publishing, where the new issue had to be published on Tuesday to get by train and truck to every corner of the country to be stocked by opening time on Friday. Since the same people published magazines as books, I would guess that’s the root of it, though I welcome correction from someone who knows for certain.

      3. Joe Informatico says:

        I’m pretty sure this is the reason. Similarly comic books always came out on Wednesday, because that’s the day Diamond (the distributor that controls almost all North American direct market comics distribution) chose for whatever reasons they decided on back in the 70s or 80s.

  2. Lino says:

    Typolice:

    covers the entire rage from

    Should be “range”.

    As for the data, last time life got in the way of analysis, hopefully this time I’ll be able to give the data some attention!

  3. Joshua says:

    IIRC, Tuesday was the traditional release day for most kinds of media. I seem to recall CD launch parties on Tuesdays, for example. As someone said above, I suspect it’s strongly for logistical reasons. Things don’t (or didn’t use to) ship on Sundays, so you’d want Monday to receive and get everything prepared.

  4. shoeboxjeddy says:

    Tuesday release dates are just “the fastest we can reasonably expect during a given week” for physical items. If you aimed for Monday, anything that didn’t ship through on Saturday would miss it because Sunday isn’t a good shipping day. So you aim for Tuesday and often the boxes are sitting behind the counter on Monday. Obviously with digital it could be any day, but they’ve created an expectation that Tuesday is the day, so they’ve just stuck to it.

    1. Duoae says:

      That doesn’t make sense because in retail you’d have the items the previous week. Like i mentioned above, we always had the discs in- house in the uk but would have to hold them because the USA market liked to release on Tuesdays. Worse still, some releases made us wait until the friday after the Tuesday release in America… it was very frustrating and nothing to do with “fastest to the store”.

      1. shoeboxjeddy says:

        Again, for a given week. If the seller of Rage 2 wants to start selling it on the week of Feb. 10-14, the fastest for that given week is Tuesday.

        1. Duoae says:

          Again, not really. It appears to me as if you’re arguing the point from a store that is receiving the items last minute and then putting them for sale the very next day. This is generally not how retail works. This was discussed elsewhere in the thread where I mentioned that retailers would receive items a few days before or even a week before their intended release date, this was on top of the multiple weeks before where the cd/DVD/Blu Ray disc was mastered and copied in a factory half the world away before being shipped via very slow methods (i.e. literal ships) and before that where the game had gone “gold”.

          There’s a reason there’s always a day one patch… and it’s not because the developers are lazy – it’s because it’s been a month or more between when they sent the “final” release for manufacturing and the actual release date.

          So, no. The earliest possible release date of any seller is literally the day they receive it (actually, most retailers don’t receive that large a volume of items so unpacking a singular item is not that big of a deal), most modern retailers also operate on Sundays (10 years ago, we had Sunday shifts) so deliveries could take place without an issue…. Honestly, it’s is very clear this is an issue of convention rather than necessity.

  5. Ninety-Three says:

    I’ve always heard that games tend to come out on Tuesday. This always seemed odd to me. In the world of digital games

    The issue is that there’s always going to be a physical release, and because of marketing concerns, you want to line that up with the digital ones (it’s way easier to message “Release date: March 20th” than “Coming to Steam and Xbox Live Store Thing™ March 15th, Coming to retail outlets March 20th”). The retail release date is constrained by annoying physical factors like shipping, so even as digital sales eclipse physical ones, release dates will find it better to sync up on what’s convenient for brick and mortar stores. I don’t think we’ll move away from Tuesday releases until some point in the cyber-future where buying physical discs at a store is as antiquated as listening to music on vinyl.

    1. Duoae says:

      I would tend to err on the side of DrCapsaicin above, it seems that Tuesday releases are a holdover from former times. Logistically, they made no sense and, again, as per my prior experience in UK retail, there was no reason for it other than because America did it.

      1. Gautsu says:

        Remember America is much larger than the UK. In a country that physically small you can expect to have everything shipped and arrive on time. Even now, shipping can take much longer in the US, where single states can be larger than your entire country. Add in distribution rights (why would I buy the game physically if I can download if three days early) and everything being available the same day, in The US, makes sense. No company wants to lose money by losing out on physical shelf space. Not sure why they hold releases later in Europe, since in my experience being stationed over there, US military bases had the game the same day as it’s US release.

        1. Hector says:

          I wouldn’t assume everything worked quite that smoothly in the UK, either. The U.S. has some big states, and a lot more people, but it’s still a long way from London to some corners, and no reason to assume that every part of the country will get things at exactly the same time.

          Prepared, coordinated releases are simply a good idea in marketing regardless. US vs Britain doesn’t really have anything to do with it.

        2. Duoae says:

          While I’m speaking of England because that’s my particular experience, it’s not like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. The discs are probably mastered and printed in one factory and have to be sent around the world by slow freight (ships and rail). These things are sent out weeks before the release date in order to arrive on time. Thats why we always had the discs sitting in a caged-off secure area a week before release.

          Yes, having a coordinated release date is good for business, but the Tuesday “thing” never made any sense because historically they didn’t coordinate the releases for the rest of the world. E.g. america would get to play the game on Tuesday and the rest of the world had to wait until Friday.

          I don’t know if that’s still the case since i haven’t worked in any retail store in ten years but we still get games released on Thursdays or fridays here. Do you get games released on Tuesdays?

          1. Gautsu says:

            Still Tuesdays. They’ve also piggybacked updates on basically every live service game on Tuesdays as well

  6. guy says:

    The curve isn’t nearly as extreme as I would have guessed based on personal experience, but you can clearly see the summer crater and the pre-Christmas peak.

    I would not be surprised to see the curve get much deeper if you weighted by sales; movies and TV have sections of the calender/timeslots where titles the executives lack confidence in go so they’re at least not facing off against a wall of blockbusters.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Yeah, I suspect a lot of the non-peak months are where they smaller studios or more experimental projects for released.

  7. RFS-81 says:

    Totally off topic, but I have no good place to put it: Shamus, if the forums aren’t coming back, what are your thoughts on making regular open threads in the style of SlateStarCodex?

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Going to pitch in because, as I’ve mentioned several times before, I do miss the “what have we been playing” thread the most (admittedly it was the one thread that was reliably active) so I wouldn’t mind being able to interact with the community in this manner again. That said I understand if Shamus doesn’t particularly want the hassle of moderating a discussion that’s not directly related to the blog. I mean, it is a platform for him to publish his work rather than an actual community hub.

      1. Syal says:

        Understand but don’t appreciate. To the lists!

        …I’m in between games. Burned out on Streets of Rogue, burned out on Noita, burned out on Saint’s Row 3 again, got good enough at 20XX that I feel like I’ve beaten it. Inexplicably found I own Divinity Original Sin, so started that, but I’ll probably stick with Trails of Cold Steel for a bit. Still in the intro on that but so far it’s been pleasant; not awe-inspiring, but pleasant.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          I’m going to hold off because I think it’d be impolite to do this without sanction.

  8. Tim Keating says:

    I think an interesting spin on the PC vs. console releases charts would be to weight individual titles by their MSRP at launch. The PC has until very recently been the only place to go for smaller indie titles, one-man band type stuff and so on. Which is not intended in any way to shit on those titles! Lots of indie games are innovative and fun. But the relative amount of investment is vastly lower with a tiny staff, and that would (IMHO) be an interesting comparison.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Yes, please. Weighting by total number of sales, or by total dollars of sales both seem like good charts. As above, I think the blockbusters would make those graphs as extreme as you remember the release schedule, compared to this non-weighted graph, Shamus.

  9. Ninety-Three says:

    I did a bit of research and apparently there are some industry-standard metrics that favour Tuesday releases, like a widely-used “weekly sales” metric that counts the week from Tuesday to the next Monday. If anyone were to release on a Friday, their first week of sales would look weak because they were only selling for four days of their “first week” according to the metric. In any kind of detailed discussion you could explain this and list your actual first week of sales, but somewhere there’s going to be a chart of games released in the first week of March, and yours is going to look bad on it if you don’t release on Tuesday.

    1. Sarfa says:

      This is exactly why music singles are released on the day they’re released- in order to get the full 7 days worth of sales the first week they appear in a chart.
      Where I live, when I was growing up, new video games were usually released on a Friday, because our sales charts had a week as being Friday through to Thursday.

  10. Will says:

    Please no more of this dry surface level reading of video game sales/release data, this is horrible content.

    1. Mistwraithe says:

      Hmmm, I find it reasonably interesting. Not that my opinion devalues your opinion…

      1. raifield says:

        Hell, I became a Patreon supporter based on the posts covering the progress of that city-building algorithm. Variety is the spice of life and all.

    2. Bubble181 says:

      While I prefer longer reads, this info generates interesting discussion, and isn’t coming instead of something else but alongside other content.
      So…by all means, keep it coming, as long as it doesn’t become the whole type of post?
      I mean, I never ever ever listen to podcasts, but it’s not because I don’t like it that it’s suddenly “horrible content”.

      1. Metacritic must die says:

        I don’t know, I found this entry particularly thin. A lot of these graphs are actually pretty bad illustrations, just including several of the other stats he mentions in the post with other colours would help.

        The only questions he has to ask are “Does this reflect the Christmas Schedule” and “What about the games release on a Tuesday thing” (Which granted, is a thing I only just learned about). These aren’t particularly deep levels of analysis, nor a particularly high level of data reduction.

        I know I’m being critical, but I feel like this was a VERY short post, that really doesn’t say a lot, and if the point is data reduction, showing some of the simplest possible graphs and offering the data set feels more like “I’m sort of done and I give up on the project” than an actual article-which to be fair-I understand-as he said, it’s a bunch of unverifiable data so you can’t even be sure of the results, and you could only make broad points with it, and there are really only so many ways to broadly, objectively, categorise things that at the end of the day, are personal, social, and artistic experiences to meaningfully SAY something about the work. I just feel like things like that, or things that people don’t expect to learn from a data breakdown, are what people would like to see.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Seconding this: I don’t hate dry data analysis, but this article in particular feels very light on analysis. I feel like in terms of information content, this post wouldn’t lose anything if it were trimmed down to just the graphs, with no text other than maybe the footnote about how PC releases look inflated because they cover two decades.

          1. Shamus says:

            Since so many people have expressed this concern, I guess I should chime in.

            1) I was aware when I published this that it was short and light on analysis. Some of my articles are getting longer. (The previous and next This Dumb Industry articles are both over 4k, which is about double normal). I thought I could get away with it, but apparently those articles ended up stealing time I’d normally use for other stuff. It might sound obvious now, but it’s easy to trick yourself with incremental expansions like this. I guess this is why feature creep happens.

            2) I’ve been hoping that more people would jump on the VG data and do more stuff with it. I have this giant load of information, but I know lots of people could get way more out of it than I could. I was worried I was killing the curiosity. Like, “why take the time to look at the data if Shamus has already covered it?” So I thought if I offered more data and fewer charts, some enterprising statistician might step in and find something I wouldn’t have been able to discover on my own. That obviously hasn’t happened. It’s understandable why – proper analysis is hard work.

            I’m still trying to figure out how to balance my workload now that it includes video production. Maybe in the end I’ll have to scrap the video series, but I’m going to keep at it for a couple more months and see if I can make it work. This means we’re probably going to end up with short articles on the off weeks. Or maybe we’ll get faster at it as we go.

            We’ll see what happens.

  11. Ander says:

    Because Sega.
    Sonic 2sday in 1992 hype machine that stayed. Now, there are probably reasons to keep it or not keep it on Tuesday, but the initial “Huh, that’s a thing?” comes from Sega.

    1. Duoae says:

      Wow, that’s really interesting. Shame the retailers didn’t keep the simultaneous part of the release idea later…

      It never occurred to me this answer would be well- known so i had never searched for it. So, you inspired me to search and it seems that i had this backwards (i only had what my store manager told me) that retailers in other countries chose Fridays for release to differentiate themselves from other media. How stupid…

      link

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      A lot of people attribute it to the Sonic 2sday stunt, but the explanation typically goes “Sonic 2 did a wordlwide Tuesday release called Sonic 2sday, then everyone released on Tuesday forever more.” This does not actually explain anything: why did Sonic 2sday lead to everyone else picking up Tuesday releases?

      1. Abnaxis says:

        That was my thought too. Like, did a single PR stunt REALLY, have that lasting of an effect, and if so why?

    3. ccesarano says:

      Sonic wasn’t the first to release on Tuesday. They just turned it into a marketing gimmick is all.

  12. Abnaxis says:

    I’m thiiiiiis close to importing the data into an actual proper stats software package (like, say, R) but I have so little time these days, so it’s dubious I could do much with it…

  13. Metacritic must die says:

    Suggestion: If you included a “Total xbox” and a “Total Playstation” column for the time period you’re discussing, it would make the data more readable and also eliminate the sentence explanation for that, and would illustrate your next few points.

    I’m suprised at the Tuesday thing.

  14. Adeon says:

    Having release dates on a Tuesday makes a lot of sense for software in general. You can do a pre-release meeting on Monday as a final “do we have any showstopper bugs” check. You then have three days after release to patch any major bugs that are found post-release before everyone goes home for the weekend.

    Obviously not everyone does this but it is pretty common, a lot of games with continuing releases will drop large updates on a Tuesday as well for this reason.

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