But some say it's not just habit, that there are good economic reasons for thinking games will sell better if they're forced into a crowded holiday market. "In some ways, it's which came first, the chicken or the egg?" says Michael Goodman, Director of Digital Entertainment for the Yankee Group. "I'd hypothesize that the reason why [more games are released in the holiday season] is because this is the time period when people are entering the marketplace. From January to September you're predominantly selling directly to the gamer market. Outside of birthdays, you don't have non-gamers buying games. During the holiday season, you expand the market to moms and dads and gift givers." Even with the increased competition, game companies stand to make more by taking a smaller slice out of the much bigger holiday pie.
Not everyone is so gung-ho about throwing himself into the holiday maelstrom, though. 2K Games, for example, felt that even a marquee release like BioShock was better off coming out in the usually game-barren month of August. "We knew the holiday was going to be extremely crowded," says 2K Games VP of Marketing Sarah Anderson, "and we felt it was important for new intellectual property to have its own moment, so it could get full attention from press and consumers. We wanted to be the first big title to hit for the season. ... We knew BioShock was amazing and wanted it to have its time to shine. We feel like we launched at the perfect time globally."
Besides helping the game sell over 1.5 million units so far, the decision to release BioShock in August also helped people enjoy the game more, Anderson says. "During the holidays, the commercial volume gets turned up, and our lives become filled with messages about things to buy and play and see," she says. "By shipping in August, which is typically before the official holiday rush, gamers worldwide were consumed by BioShock's awesomeness - partly because it is an amazing game that had great reviews and word of mouth, but also partly because they had the time without so many other distractions to fully let themselves experience it."
It's not just big new names that can benefit from a move outside the fourth quarter window, either. Capcom thinks smaller, licensed titles like Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law will do better in January than November, just through sheer competitive economics. "Someone in planning here at Capcom actually sat down and figured out what the release schedule was going to be for the month of November in turns of games," Kramer says. "There's something close to 250 games coming out in the month of November. Granted, not all of these are AAA titles ... but there are a significant amount of titles such as Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty 4 or Rock Band that were definitely taking up a lot of the air in the room in the month of November. ... The thought was 'Why compete in such an incredibly crowded space when you don't have to?'"