It's nearing the end of 2011, a deeply craptastic 12 months. It was a bad year for the world economy. And for movies. And for almost everything else on earth, but while Western civilization may be crumbling around us, know hope: 2011 was definitely a great year for one thing: Video games! And the peak part of this peak year was the 2011 holiday season.
It’s not often that gamers have nothing to complain about, and this holiday season is no exception. However, this time around, the complaints aren’t about bad games or exploitative publishing firms. Instead gamers are complaining that there are just too damn many good games out there. Or that there aren’t enough hours in the day to play them. Or that they have to work during prime Skyrim hours. Either way, I’m nearly positive that this year’s holiday season will go down as one of the greatest few months in video game history.
All three of the major game consoles are nearing the end of their production. Traditionally at this time in a console’s lifecycle, people are clamoring for the next generation; hedging their bets on upcoming games and looking beyond those being released at the time. Certainly this is the current situation of the Nintendo Wii. The Wii—after peaking in sales and capabilities years ago—is the victim of Nintendo itself. Having announced the Wii U, they essentially voiced a vote of no confidence in the slipping system, instead unintentionally encouraging consumers to sit back and wait—avoiding Nintendo products until the next system launches.
However, the impressive hardware of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have ensured their relevance remain far past that of its predecessors. Not only have they remained relevant, these two consoles continue to rack up sales, even amid the worst economic period since the Great Depression. Allow me to reiterate—with a near nine percent unemployment rate, Americans still purchased 1.7 million 360s and 900,000 PS3s during the month of November alone.
The existential reasoning is hard to suss out. Are Americans looking for escape from their increasingly austere lives? Are video games starting to offer some sort of release unavailable in movies or television? Regardless of the philosophical implications, there are a few reasons we can look at as to why this season above so many others is beginning to distinguish itself as an anomaly.
This season would best be summed up in one word: sequels. The last few months have seen a perfect storm of some of the most popular gaming franchises in the industry all releasing their newest iteration. Every single one of the top ten selling games of November was an installment of a well-known, high selling franchise.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Battlefield 3, and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations; just to name a few. If the industry has taught us anything it’s that no matter how successful or wonderful a game is; a direct sequel will always sell more copies. The power of a name is paramount.
Some sequels unfortunately, simply suck. This year, though, this is largely not the case. Just about every sequel we’ve seen is just as wonderful—in general—as its predecessors. After a while I found myself shaking my head as game after game was released to universal critical acclaim. In fact, G4 gave out six perfect scores in the month of November alone. Not to mention the three this month.
It’s like arriving home on Halloween with a sack full of delicious candy, only to realize that your earlier well-laid plans to eat it in a single sitting only bent you over a toilet. Except in our case, each piece of candy requires at the very least eight to ten hours to consume. And like I said, there are no Almond Joys to throw away.
This brings us back to my original argument—this holiday season may never be surpassed in terms of sheer quality and quantity of an array of spectacular video games. Sure, next November we’re sure to see some great games; many of which may be anticipated sequels like BioShock: Infinite. But there is no way we can expect to see the breadth of games we have seen this year.
A perfect alignment of irregular series like Elder Scrolls, Saints Row and Rocksteady’s Batman is far too unlikely already. More unlikely still is all of these games are all so damn good. Also, the fact that the current generation of consoles is so near its expected funeral, yet still selling with such ferocity is not anything anyone could anticipate or hope to repeat.
Looking forward, with systems from both Sony and Microsoft rumored around 2014, many studios may choose to stop or slow development on PS3 and 360 games to get a jump on the next generation. Further, many gamers may start saving their money for bigger expenses; namely a PS4 or Xbox Whatever. This ambiguity from both consumers and developers make the next few holiday seasons tough to call. Beyond announced games, speculation is worthless when our current systems’ clocks are ticking away.
Will holiday seasons continue to pump out great games? Sure. Publishers know that the best formula for success is sometimes not simply having a great game; but releasing the game at the most opportune moment. Often this moment is the season when consumers buy the most. Sure, if it’s convenient, publishing studios would love to march their games out before a horde of unwitting mothers and loved ones right before Christmas. But that isn’t always the case.
Hey, maybe we’ll see another season full of high profile titles and high sales. But I can guarantee you that we won’t—all at once—see a game of the scope and brilliance of Skyrim, a game that breaks as many sales records as Modern Warfare 3, or a game that concludes a series quite like Uncharted 3 did. But don’t worry about these glorious days passing you by so quickly. At least you’ll be able to tell your grandkids that you were lucky enough to live through the Winter of Games 2011.