With July a week old and the year half over, it is a good time to look back at what has been an incredible year for gamers so far. While it might seem easy to seem a bit overeager when calling this the best six-month stretch for games ever, there is a case to made.
Each month of 2017 has seen at least one major game release. In between, Nintendo successfully launched its new console, the Switch, and smaller but popular franchises saw new releases hit with easy success.
Just to make this point hit home fully, I will start in January and briefly mention all of the major releases from month to month.
Rapid-fire release recap
January started the year strong with Resident Evil 7 and cult favorites Yakuza 0 and Gravity Rush 2.
February was an incredible month for original properties, with Nioh, For Honor and Horizon Zero Dawn all earning solid receptions despite being new IPs. Next to these new IPs, Nintendo launched its next foray into the mobile market with Fire Emblem Heroes, and Microsoft brought back its strategy games with Halo Wars 2.
In March, Nintendo let its new console onto the world, bringing along Zelda: Breath of the Wild with it to some of the highest critical and fan praise for any game ever made. March was not done with the Switch, though. Nier: Automata, Ghost Recon Wildlands and Mass Effect Andromeda represented heavy-selling sequels for games of varying legacy.
April brought Persona 5, the long awaited JRPG that somehow beat out people’s high expectations, the revamped Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to the Switch, as well as the smaller but popular Outlast 2 and Youka-Laylee.
May saw Bethesda’s long-delayed shooter Prey and the DC Comics fighting game Injustice 2 release, with June continuing the fighting game trend through Tekken 7 and Nintendo’s newest original IP, ARMS. Then, just to cap off an already crowded first half of the year, the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy remake virtually sold out immediately.
What does this mean?
It’s understandable if that list is a little bit mind-numbing. The amount of major releases and million-selling games packed into it are nothing short of spectacular. It was not just shooters, which traditionally dominate sales and popularity in the mainstream.
This year has brought something for everyone. From shooters to open-world adventures to fighting games to hardcore, character-driven RPGs, there was a release for even the pickiest of gamers.
The reason why this glut of games happened now is simple: delays. Almost every game on this list suffered a delay in release, ranging from a month to multiple years. It was not intended for this many great games to be released in the same timeframe, but as several 2016 release plans were pushed back, they fell into the first half of 2017.
The big surprise from all of this is not the number or quality of the games’ release, but the success the games have seen. Many of those listed have been both critical and financial success stories.
While this may not be a big surprise for titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn from Sony or a new Zelda game, it is unheard of for niche titles like Nier: Automata, Nioh and Persona 5 to all break a million in sales in their first month on the market.
While it is easy to define why these games came out this year, it is much more complicated to explain how they have seen success. Since the start of the current decade, there has been a steady but noticeable shift in how and when games are sold.
In the past, there was seemingly only one release window, namely the holiday shopping season. Major game releases started in late September and continued through November to capitalize on extra spending. Generally, games released outside of this window saw a noticeable decline in sales, regardless of the quality from the game.
What this means is that even 10 years ago, video games were still marketed and sold in the same manner as toys. The majority of toys sales take place during the holiday season because the intended audience are children or young adults who lack a primary source of income. So if you were 13, the only times you could afford a major $60 release was on a birthday or at the holidays.
Now those 13-year-olds are adults who have jobs and a year-round income. They can buy full-priced games at launch if they are interested instead of having to wait for a gift-giving occasion. It doesn’t matter if the game comes out in time for Christmas or on June 1. If it’s something people want to play, they can and will buy it.
The digital revolution
It is also worth noting that like every other industry, games are quickly moving into the digital front. Most major games are available as a physical disc and on digital storefronts the day of release. This can explain why niche titles have been able to sell more, as the digital storefront can never run out inventory.
In the past, if a small title saw unexpectedly high sales, it could become nearly impossible to find copies of the game until a reprinting was made. By the time those copies hit shelves, gamers had already moved on to the next big title.
Even if digital sales numbers can be hard to come by, they are steadily growing by all accounts. Even if they only account for 20 to 30 percent of a games’ sales, that can be the difference between a smaller franchise breaking a sales milestone. This accessibility of smaller games could help move the industry towards a year long release cycle by keeping a game available when it is at the height of popularity.
The future is now
Time will tell if 2017 marks the start of a new market trend, or if this was just a flash in the pan. Even if future years lack the density of new and great games, there is plenty to learn from the successes of this year. As niche titles continue to break a million copies sold in the first half of the year, smaller companies may start to abandon the holiday release cycle instead of just being delayed out of it.
And who knows? By the start of the new decade, there may not be a holiday-release window anymore. It may just be a year-round release cycle where great games are released each month regardless if it is July or October.