Modern Warfare 2 will lay waste to the charts come November.

Modern Warfare 2 will lay waste to the charts come November.

Activision stated this week that it wanted Modern Warfare 2 to be the biggest entertainment release this year. That’s not just video games, but book, films and music. Can it do it? Probably. The writers strike has meant the summer blockbuster release slate isn’t massive (though there is Harry Potter, and I suppose, Terminator and Wolverine, but what’ they will do is anyone’s guess). Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare racked up enormous sales, Call of Duty: World at War a year later, even bigger ones and followed that up with a DLC pack that broke records. There’s more PS3s and Xbox 360s out there, and Infinity Ward are likely to turn out a stunning game, so chances are, Modern Warfare is going to rule the charts come November and December. (A side note here: Modern Warfare 2 has dropped the Call of Duty moniker because it is a big enough franchise in its own right, but is it more because there is confusion (check Google) as to whether this would be Call of Duty 6: Modern Warfare 2 or Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2, or is it because the twin developers want to build their own games and brands? Whatever the reason, I still think the lack of the Call of Duty prefix might confuse consumers and dampen some of the none-core gamer purchases, but then again, I wouldn’t be surpirsed to see th Call of Duty logo on the box somewhere. We’ll see.)

But is this is good thing for other games? 2008 broke gaming records for sales of video games and sequels like Gears of War 2 and the aforementioned Call of Duty: World at War racked up sales faster than their predecessors. However if you speak to people within the industry privately, you’ll find that many have been disappointed with the sales figures from the final quarter of 2008. It would be easy to blame this underperformance on the wider economic situation; after all, it seems to be possible to lay the blame for any company’s misfortunes at the door of the “credit crunch”. The video games industry though has always weathered recessions without a dampening of enthusiasm for its products and currently has no reason to believe this one will be any different.

No, the reason for disappointing sales figures for some games this quarter lies simply with the release schedules. Yet again in 2008 AAA game after AAA game was released in November. The week leading up to 14th of November was so stacked with AAA game releases that it would have simply been impossible for games retailers to find adequate room to display the games to their full advantage. This slew of releases also meant the games charted and then quickly dropped, giving next to no tail to the sales of a game.

This is not a new phenomenon. Every year games publishers skew their releases towards the Christmas period, but 2008 seemed heavier than even before. This meant that some games that were considered sure fire hits barely registered in the charts, games like LittleBigPlanet, which was going to be a PlayStation 3 system seller, Tom Clancy’s Endwar or Prince of Persia. None of these are bad games. In fact there are all rather good, and Sony even went so far as claiming that LittleBigPlanet would have been number one in the charts if it had been released at any other time of the year, which rather begs the question why wasn’t it?

The truth is that while games publishers know that not everybody can be number one, they all hope to claim the top spot because the prize of top sales in the manic Christmas period is enormous. It’s even possible that being number 9 or number 10 in the charts during this period is worth more than being number one in the charts in the middle of the summer. However, speaking privately many industry insiders agree that the surfeit of AAA releases in the last quarter of 2008 resulted in lower than expected sales figures for some extremely high profile titles and as a result they expect that release schedules will be spread more evenly through the year in the future. This will be welcome news to games retailers who have long asked for this, and is good news for gamers too as we should see better games released in what are traditionally quieter periods.

We’ve heard this before of course, so it’s not worth holding our breaths. The truth is that the mad rush for the Christmas period is an addiction that the gaming industry is loath to give up. Even high profile successes for games released outside of this quarter, such as GTA IV, only do so much to convince publishers that sort of extremely high sales volumes they want can be achieved outside of Q4. But until we do, we’ll continue to see incredibly good games fall by the wayside as we scratch our heads.