Conventional wisdom in video games tells us the best time to release a game is the “Fall rush” that tends to take place between the start of October and the 3rd week of November. This year alone has seen more than a half a dozen solid contenders for game of the year released in that 6 week period or so.
But we aren’t ones to just take the assumption at face value so we did a bit of research to see just how important it is to hit this window. And how did we do it? Simple, we took the 20 best selling games of the generation (Hey, we like research but not THAT much), and cross referenced their sales with their window of release. For the record, while this sounds like a sales topic, and it is, we aren’t too concerned with which game sold better, but more the fact when they went on sale. So here’s our rankings based on VGChartz (Again, we know not wholly accurate, but we only needed placements not solid numbers!)
- Mario Kart Wii
- Wii Sports Resort
- Wii Play
- New Super Mario Bros DS
- Call of Duty: Black Ops
- Wii Fit
- Mario Kart DS
- New Super Mario Bros Wii
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
- Wii Fit Plus
- Brain Age
- Pokemon Diamond/Pearl
- Grand Theft Auto IV
- Brain Age 2
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
- Call of Duty: World at War
- Pokemon Black/White
- Animal Crossing: Wild World
- Halo 3
So this is our Top 20 list based on sales ranking. Of the 20 titles on the list (and we’re using relative release dates, as some have a scattered launch of nearly a year +), 8 of them were released in that Oct/Nov window we described above. Of those 8, 4 of them are Call of Duty games. Some titles just miss the window like Halo 3 which was released in late Sept (a format that seems to benefit Microsoft greatly). Also to note, that while I mention the Oct/Nov window, of the 8 games, only one of them were actually released in October (Wii Fit Plus)
Just to break it down, of the Top 20 games of this generation, only 8 of them were released in the “big window.” And of those 8, half of them belong to the same franchise (also one of the reasons we see a lot of fall games move). The other 4 which were able to see big in the Fall, two of them were Mario titles (Mario Kart DS and New Super Mario Bros Wii), one was the sequel to Wii Fit (Wii Fit Plus), and finally there was Animal Crossing Wild World. So essentially, your best bet for selling in the Fall is if you are named Call of Duty or have Mario somewhere in your title. Sadly, that doesn’t really benefit 99% of the industry.
Another thing to note, of the 8 titles released in that period, the first enters the list at only number 6, which means 5 other games no released in the fall have done better than it this generation.
We’ve mentioned the 8, what about the other 12 releases? Believe it or not, the next biggest (or best) time to release games seems to be April. Maybe its a combination of tax season, school ending, summer beginning or something, but 5 of the games on the list were released in April. The 5 titles offer a decent variety in genre and systems, we have Mario Kart Wii, Nintendogs (the Japanese release, it was later released in the States in Nov), Brain Age (American release, as it released a year earlier in Japan), Grand Theft Auto IV, and Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. April has also bought us the best selling game of the generation in Mario Kart Wii (released April of 08) and you even get a second April release before the first Nov release charts with Nintendogs at 5.
So far we’ve seen the window between Oct/Nov accounts for 40% of the big sellers this gen, while April accounts for only 25% of the releases, but can yield better results. Then what does the other 35% of the releases look like?
What seems to draw the most potential is Q2 of the year, the April-July window in gaming. We’ve already shown how April is important, but we also have 2 releases in May (New Super Mario Bros DS and Wii Fit) and one in June with Brain Age 2. If you look at the chart, again you will release that a title released in this quarter (New Super Mario Bros DS) also clocks in on the list before our first Fall gaming at number 4.
Comparatively, if you were to take the two months around Oct/Nov (Sept and Dec), there is only one other game on the list from that period, and that’s Halo 3. Which as you can see on the chart, only comes in at number 20.
The rest of the list is pretty scattered with no real patterns, Wii Sports Resort released in July of 09, and is number 2 on the list, but its also a sequel to a game that came packed in with the console. Wii Play released in Feb of 07 and is number 3 on the list. And the most recent game on the list, Pokemon Black/White was released in March of this year.
What does this all tell us? Well partially not a whole lot, sampling the top 20 games kind of limits the scope of this project, and really when you break it down, this generation has really been dominated by a handful of franchises. Call of Duty has 4 places on the list, games with Mario has 4 places on the list, the Wii line holds 4 places on the list, Pokemon holds 2, and Brain Age holds 2. The rest of the list is filled with major franchise such as Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Animal Crossing.
A case could be made that titles such as Nintendogs, Brain Age and the Wii-line are all new IPs, which is true but their sequels also show up around the list as well.
The point is, I guess, after doing this for a few hours, it does paint an interesting picture. Games are more than capable of selling outside of the Oct/Nov window, and there is even a better time to release games (April/Quarter 2 of the year) as it seems to cater more to higher sales. The big problem though is that most of these games would sell whenever they release so being an April release or an Nov one doesn’t really matter. Heck, we have two examples of that here as Mario Kart Wii was an April title and Mario Kart DS was a Nov title, both did remarkably well because that’s what Mario Kart is. And then we have New Super Mario Bros DS and New Super Mario Bros Wii, again a May and Nov release, respectively and both did well. It should be noted in both cases though that the title released in Quarter 2 ended up doing better than its fall counterpart and since flip flopped consoles (Mario Kart Wii did better than Mario Kart DS, and New Super Mario Bros DS did better than New Super Mario Bros Wii), it does help to paint a minor picture. But all 4 of these games are over 20 million, so pretty big outliers in the grand scheme of thing.
This is getting long-winded. The important thing to take away is that developers and publishers need to open up the window because there are many other times of the year where you can release a smash hit title!