There hasn’t been a lot of time for anything lately because most of it has been preoccupied with this year’s glut of big videogame releases. The holiday season is always a busy time for releases but this year it’s been exceptional. The maturation of the current generation of game consoles has a lot to do with it, especially when you consider that the XBox 360 is hitting its mid-life (3rd generation) stride and the Wii and Playstation are finally losing their new console smells. (The DS is pretty much ubiquitous at this point). With all that time to stew, we’re seeing a lot of really well cooked games coming out in a rather short period of time.
Too many games. With Mass Effect, Halo 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band (though not yet in Canada, the fuckers), Call of Duty 4 and many others coming out in, essentially, a one month period time for gamers has been in short supply. My time has been consumed fully. I wake up, go to work, come home, turn on the XBox or the Wii until I go to sleep and I repeat the process all over again the next day. I’m not sure what to think of that habit.
The last time that a holiday season was this packed was three years ago in 2004 when Halo 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Grand Theft Auto 3: San Andreas, Gran Turismo 4, Half-Life 2 and Metroid: Zero Mission came out. Prior to that, the last big holiday rush was in 2001, three years before that.
Actually, if you go back even further it seems as though there’s a three year cycle in the game industry as 1998 was also a banner year, seeing Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life and Star Craft, amongst others. I could just be seeing a pattern where there isn’t one but it doesn’t seem far fetched. A lot of the marquee titles have excessively long development times. Three years, from conception to retail, isn’t out of the question. And if a high profile game is successful you can count on there being sequels, and maybe that explains the pattern. It’s no coincidence that when you look at these three year intervals you will see a lot of the same franchises.
2001, that fantastic year, had the first Halo, the first Grand Theft Auto III, Metal Gear Solid (2) and Gran Turismo (3), a Final Fantasy game (X). It also had its share of other genre-defining and/or studio establishing games like Ico, Animal Crossing, Devil may Cry and Advance Wars.
Perhaps the most telling thing of all are the two major releases that were meant for this year, but ended up delayed: Grand Theft Auto IV and Gran Turismo 5. The industry revolves around its marquee, so-called “AAA”, releases. On the one hand I’m sad that it’s so predictable, but at least I now have something to look forward to in 2010. That three year flood of games will hopefully wash away the shock of turning thirty.