As I catalog the games I’ve played over the summer months, it occurs to me that perhaps these dry gaming seasons aren’t the curse we take them to be. Right now, my gaming oscillates between BioShock on the PC, which I picked up for a song on Steam, World of WarCraft, the outstanding Braid on XBLA, Fallout and Psychonauts on GameTap, with Call of Duty 4 on deck waiting for the attention it so richly deserves.
Despite consecutive weeks of largely disappointing releases, counterpointed by the occasional Soulcalibur 4 or Civilizaiton: Revolution, the truth is that I don’t have much difficulty finding something worth playing even without a steady flow of AAA releases. From fantastic downloadable content on consoles, to summer deals and cheaper used prices for games I missed last year, to games that never run out of style, summer gaming is like that pair of comfy old sneakers, familiar and easy to get into.
Here are a few reasons why we should embrace the slow and turgid summer gaming season.
Price – BioShock, which I picked up during one of Steam’s weekend sales, was installed onto my waiting PC for the dirt cheap price of about $15. In an age where we gather virtual pitchforks and torches to assault the capitalistic pig-dogs of greedy publishing houses, it is worth taking note how quickly a $60 product can shed 75% of its price tag.
Publishers are all about the first two weeks of release, and usually after that they are just looking to match the price point to a model that moves product. While we may love the autumn and winter months for their endless parade of new and shiny games, my bank account can only sustain so many direct hits before it’s sunk. But six months later, the industry seems happy to sling data at discount prices.
Summer is gaming bargain hunter season.
Stability – Early adopters don’t just suffer high prices. They suffer bugs, incompatibilities, patches, DRM issues and the headaches associated with products lacking that fine veneer of spit polish that can only come from customer feedback. From a gameplay perspective, there is perhaps no more significant advantage to late adoption than the opportunity to play a game that has been tightened, polished or even expanded.
Imagine the cornucopia of potential content for people just now buying into the Rock Band phenomenon. Imagine how little trouble I had with my PC version of BioShock compared to the DRM train wreck of launch. With patches, expansion packs, user generated content and better functionality, the consumer satisfaction of picking up a six month old game is exponentially greater than being first in line on day one.
Coupled with the previous point you have better product at lower prices. Sign me up.
Time Enough At Last – For me, the most frustrating thing about the winter release schedule is that I get a game that I could spend months with, and within a week I feel pressured to try the next best and greatest thing. Part of that is because some fraction of my livelihood is related to my knowledge of videogames, so I feel compelled to know of what I speak, but it’s clearly not a problem exclusive to games writers.
Each week between mid-August and mid-November seems to offer at least one game that I genuinely crave, and the truth is that I can’t play them all. And yet, I’ll feel compelled to accelerate through one experience so I can get right on to the next.
Ah, but these summer months, how I can linger and savor. The release schedule is of my own design.
Volumes of Content – This is not a young industry, nor one that is ever really quite in hibernation. Claiming that there are no games available during the summer months shows a genuine lack of creativity. Even if you are limited to a single console, the number of current games, downloadable games, backward compatible games and independent games are absolutely staggering, and genuinely beyond the abilities of mortal man to play them all.
Sure, there is a pleasant shininess to a newly released game, and I’m looking forward to the holiday gaming season for a whole slew of different reasons, but I don’t have to dig very deep into any credible list of the best games to play on my favorite systems before I run across something I’d always meant to try. This is the opportunity in the year to expand, to play that game that everybody loved and I couldn’t be bothered to get around to, or perhaps the game that I wasn’t willing to shell out 60 bones for, but that seems reasonable at twenty bucks used.
The summer, so often maligned as a gaming wasteland, doesn’t need to be looked upon with such scorn. While fans of that new game smell may be without ideal conditions, there needs to be something said for the phrase: It’s new to me.
Soon the retail shelves will swell with titles such as Spore, Fallout 3, Gears of War 2 and so on, and some percentage of those games will go upon my heap to be played at a later date. And next summer a game like, say, Warhammer Online, Dead Space or Mercenaries 2, which somehow I just didn’t have time to play this winter, will have had time to ferment and improve with just enough age. And, it’ll be new to me.
Sean Sands is the co-founder of gamerswithjobs.com and a sucker for a good gaming bargain.