原作者：Christopher Dring 译者：Vivian Xue
一些发行商选择避开节假日，将发行推迟至今年第一季度，但这导致了今年2月的竞争，截止目前，《圣歌》（Anthem）、《除暴战警 3》（Crackdown 3）、《孤岛惊魂：新黎明》（Far Cry: New Dawn）和《地铁：离去》（Metro Exodus）将在未来一周内发行。这周结束后，并不是所有游戏厂商都能皆大欢喜。
本周，《新超级马里奥兄弟U豪华版》（New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe）在任天堂Switch上发行，距离圣诞节结束已过去2周。通常情况下，这个时候不适合发行任何游戏；第四季度的大作热度还未散去，而且潜在的消费者还在忙着打圣诞促销期间买的游戏。
然而，在这个特殊情况下，这些都不重要。马里奥游戏无论什么时候都人气高涨，任天堂以深谙持续营销之道闻名。例如《马里奥赛车 8》（Mario Kart 8: Deluxe），发行第二年的销量比首发年还多。.
一月份的游戏市场充斥着日本游戏，Bandai Namco、Koei Tecmo、Square Enix、Capcom等等，这些发行商的游戏拥有固定的粉丝，无论他们何时发行游戏，粉丝们都会买单。《王国之心 3》（Kingdom Hearts III）的粉丝无论游戏在什么时候发行都会购买它，那么为何不在1月发行它呢？
事实上，竞争较低的发行期是一个吸引新玩家的大好机会。如果您想了解这方面的最佳案例，请参考游戏《怪物猎人：世界》(Monster Hunter: World)，它在一个冷门的时间段发行，获得了强烈的反响和舆论的支持，而且在后来取得了巨大的成功。
鉴于我们反复谈到一月份的发行，我们有必要讨论一下营销。去年，我们和独立开发商Snapshot Games 聊了他们即将推出的类《幽浮》（XCOM）游戏《凤凰点》（Phoenix Point）。团队通过Facebook广告营销刺激预购。它最初收效甚微，因为营销活动是从10月份开始的，很难让人们注意到，但到了1月份，预购量实现了猛增。
举个例子，Gory Detail的《锈狗传奇》（The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup）。该开发商去年10月发行了这款游戏，同期市场上发行了一系列大作，包括《荒野大镖客 2》和《使命召唤：黑色行动4》。如今，《锈狗传奇》并没能和这些产品竞争，但想让媒体报道它已是不可能的事。记者们正忙着写《荒野大镖客 2》攻略，以及测评下一批游戏大作。
这种游戏厂商固执地发行的最荒唐的例子是2016年，《战场1》（Battlefield 1）、《泰坦陨落2》（Titanfall 2 ）和《使命召唤：无限战争》（Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare）在14天内接连发行。最终三个游戏的销售表现都不尽人意，不过发行商们的坚持也是有原因的。
即将到来的“卡丁车之战”也是如此。《索尼克赛车》（Team Sonic Racing）将于5月发行，一个月后《古惑狼赛车》（Crash Team Racing）将加入战场。这对于动视或世嘉来说，都不是一个理想的情况，但若其中的一个决定推迟几个月发行游戏，那不等于直接把市场拱手让人吗？有时候，最好的方法是把游戏发行出去，让市场来评判。
在2017年的某一周内，《超级马里奥奥德赛》、《德军总部 2》（Wolfenstein II）和《刺客信条：起源》相继发行。这还不是全部，同一周内，《怪奇物语》第二季和《雷神3：诸神黄昏》上映。Midia Research发现《刺客信条》和《怪奇物语》拥有一大批共同粉丝。
不幸的是，越来越多的公司认识到了这一点，今年计划在2月中旬至3月初发行的游戏多到离谱。一如既往，育碧将带着《孤岛惊魂：新黎明》 (2月15日)和《全境封锁 2》(3月12日)登场。EA的子工作室BioWare将推出动作RPG游戏《圣歌》 (2月22日)，微软将推出备受期待的《除暴战警 3》 (也是2月15日)，还有Deep Silver的《地铁：离去》(又是2月15日)。26天内就有5部3A游戏发行。
It’s the same every year.
For nine months, we receive a smattering of sizeable game launches, and then suddenly all the big AAA releases arrive in the same six week window.
Christmas is, of course, an important time to release games. The festive sales window is hugely lucrative and, for some companies, can account for up to 60% of their annual business.
But it’s also a hugely competitive and expensive time to release games. Last year it was a bloodbath, and for every successful product there were two that didn’t achieve the results that were expected.
Some publishers have avoided the festive period and pushed their games into Q1 this year, but that has resulted in as competitive a February as we’ve seen so far; Anthem, Crackdown 3, Far Cry: New Dawn and Metro Exodus are all due to arrive within seven days of each other. Not all of those games will be happy once the week is done.
Of course, sometimes these situations can’t be avoided. A release date might be dictated by financial pressures, development schedules, distribution pipelines, or a need to get ahead of the competition. However, whether you’re an indie developer or a AAA publisher, there are certain things to take into account when picking a release date. And looking through past interviews and sales patterns, we’ve come up with ten to consider.
1: Is launch day important for your game?
This week, New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe is launching on Nintendo Switch, just two weeks after the Christmas period. Typically, this would be a poor time to release anything; the Q4 blockbusters are all on sale, and potential customers are still working through their Christmas presents.
“When it comes to family titles, the key thing to consider is when to promote your game, rather than when to release it”
However, in this specific case it doesn’t really matter. Mario games are evergreen and Nintendo is known for promoting its products continually. Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, for instance, sold more copies in its second year than its first.
When it comes to family titles, the key thing to consider is when to promote your game, rather than when to release it. Just Dance, for instance, often launches with little fanfare, only to receive marketing closer to the ‘party’ season of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. If your game is more about consistent sales over a longer period, then your launch window simply isn’t that important.
2. Does your game have a very specific audience?
January is usually awash with Japanese games from the likes of Bandai Namco, Koei Tecmo, Square Enix and Capcom. These publishers typically have a specific audience that will buy their products regardless of when they launch. Kingdom Hearts III fans will purchase the game irrespective of its release date, so why not release it in January?
In fact, a window with reduced competition is a potential opportunity to attract new customers. If you want the best case study for this, check out Monster Hunter: World, which was released in an empty window, backed by strong reviews and a vocal community, and went on to be a huge success.
3. Consider your marketing budget
As we’re talking so much about January releases, it’s worth discussing marketing. Last year we spoke to indie developer Snapshot Games about its upcoming XCOM-alike Phoenix Point. The team backed the game with a Facebook ad campaign to drive pre-orders. It resulted in very little initially, as the campaign started in October and was struggling to be seen, but by January pre-orders had spiked.
Marketing costs in the early parts of the year are cheaper and you’re competing against fewer titles. If you have a small marketing budget consider these windows; it’s where your money will travel the furthest.
4. Consider the media
If you don’t have any marketing budget and are relying on PR to drive your sales, then make sure you’re tuned into what the media is doing. Online media is driven by traffic. Although most websites will try to write about interesting subjects regardless of the amount of eyeballs they attract, the success of these sites are still ultimately defined by the size of the readership. That means that journalists and editors will favour more popular games over smaller products.
Take for instance The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup by Gory Detail. The developer released this game alongside a medley of blockbuster releases last October, including Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Now, Gory Detail’s game isn’t exactly competing with these products, but when it came to getting press to cover it, the job proved impossible. Journalists were too busy writing guides for Red Dead and reviewing the next batch of big releases.
5. Consider the sales.
Sales events, whether it’s Black Friday or the Steam Winter Sale, can be like a second launch for some games. If you release a game too close to one of these events you’ll be unlikely to offer a discount. If you do, you risk the anger of those who bought the game at full-price. During 2018 we saw a spate of games released in September and early October. This meant that, come Black Friday, they had all been on shelves for long enough to justify a price cut.
6. Really consider the sales
Last year, GAME CEO Martyn Gibbs suggested Nintendo had been very smart about releasing games on – or near to – Black Friday. The thinking is that with so many people shopping, even full-price games were bound to benefit from the sheer number of shoppers.
Pokémon, however, has a very specific appeal, and this strategy has its risks. During sales events, you’re not just competing with new releases, but older releases at heavily discounted prices. It’s worth considering whether a possible competitor might be getting a discount during the sales period in question.
For instance, if you’re launching a new 3D platformer on Switch during the eShop Winter Sale, make sure you find out if Super Mario Odyssey or Yooka-Laylee will be available at a lower price. You might find your $50 game is going head-to-head with a similar product at half the cost.
7. Don’t be afraid to delay (but running isn’t always the answer)
Looking at the February release schedule, Sony made a smart decision in delaying the new PlayStation IP Days Gone until April. It’s not just a safe move for the product, it’s also pro-consumer; it gives gamers the chance to experience everything on offer.
One of the popular arguments we hear from publishers that choose to release games close to the competition is that either ‘our game is better’ or ‘our game appeals to a different audience’. The second argument is rarely true.
The most ridiculous example of a publisher sticking to its (excuse the pun) guns was when Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare all launched within 14 days of each other in 2016. It turned out to be a disappointing situation for all involved, but there is a reason behind holding your ground.
Multiplayer titles (online or otherwise) live for a long time, so giving the competition a sizeable head start is often not an option. 2K’s decision to release Battleborn so close to Overwatch may look foolhardy in retrospect, but would Gearbox’s game have done any better if it was released later, once Blizzard’s shooter had built up a sizeable fanbase?
The same is true of the upcoming ‘battle of the kart racers’. Team Sonic Racing will be released in May, with Crash Team Racing following a month later. This isn’t an ideal situation for Activision or Sega, but if one decided to simply push its game back a few months, doesn’t that just hand the market to the other? Sometimes it’s best to just put the game out and let the customers decide.
8. Consider ALL the competition
Planning a release isn’t just about whether there are similar games in similar genres coming out at a similar time. It’s also about understanding your target audiences’ overall interests.
We live in a peak attention economy, where people are never short of things to do. Sometimes there is little you can do to avoid it. There wasn’t much Ubisoft could do about the fact that Starlink (already a risky concept) was trying to attract the exact same audience as Fortnite. Nevertheless, it’s still worth thinking hard about what your target audience might be talking about during launch week.
There was a busy week in 2017, with Super Mario Odyssey, Wolfenstein II and Assassin’s Creed Origins all scheduled for launch. Yet that wasn’t all; it was also the same week the second season of Stranger Things and Thor: Ragnarok were released. Midia Research found that there is a huge crossover, for instance, between Assassin’s Creed and Stranger Things fans.
Ubisoft and Bethesda found themselves going up against other big entertainment properties in terms of share-of-voice, social media buzz and, indeed, time. There will have been customers who decided to wait on the games and spend their time that weekend binge-watching Netflix.
You are not just competing with other games, so check the cinema release schedule and your TV guide.
9. Keep an eye on the mid-February/early-March window
Ubisoft is the master of this release window. Almost every year, it will release a major game (or two) either at the end of February or in early March (or both), which will sell huge numbers. In 2018, that game was Far Cry 5.
It helps when those games are of the right quality, but they also typically arrive at the opportune moment – six to eight weeks after December 25th – when people are finished playing with their Christmas presents and looking for what’s next.
Unfortunately, more and more companies have recognised that fact, and this year’s mid-February to early-March release window is absurd. Ubisoft is here, as usual, with a new Far Cry (February 15) and a sequel to The Division (March 12). EA is here with its big new BioWare RPG Anthem (February 22), Microsoft has a highly anticipated sequel in Crackdown 3 (also February 15), and there’s Deep Silver’s Metro Exodus (again, February 15th). That’s five AAA releases in 26 days.
10. Speak to your retailer
Digital and physical retailers have an idea when games are going to land (they need to plan for them, after all), and though they won’t tell you what’s launching precisely, they can give you a steer.
Should you go for that late August/early September window and mimic the success of Spider-Man or BioShock or Saints Row? Or is someone else likely to be there? Is there a lack of kids games this Christmas again? Has the industry forgotten about Easter for the third year in a row? If you launch your indie metroidvania this summer, how many others are planning to do the same thing?
Games stores tend to prefer games being spread out. And, of course, they’re not always thinking about what’s best for your game long-term. However, if you want to avoid a congested period, it’s best to speak to your retailers. （source：GamesIndustry.biz）