Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ll know that this holiday season is absolutely loaded with massive AAA video game releases. No matter what game you’re most excited for, one thing seems clear: you’re probably not going to get to all of them. I previously wrote a feature about how people expect more content in games and it seems as though developers have listened. This fall features games like Fallout 4 and Just Cause 3, which promise to have some of the biggest in game maps we’ve ever seen. It also features Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Star Wars Battlefront, Overwatch, Rainbow 6 Siege and Halo 5 which are all vying to satisfy that multiplayer itch with what appears to be interesting gameplay that will have players hooked for months. Then there’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Rise of the Tomb Raider to sink more countless hours into. Oh and let’s not forget that many of us are still working through Metal Gear Solid 5. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. If you’re thinking, there will always be enough time in the winter and spring, it actually doesn’t let up. Games set for those months include The Division, Dark Souls 3, Hitman, Mirrors Edge 2, Far Cry Primal and Uncharted 4 to name a few. So, when on earth are we going to get to all these games. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t.
This all leads to a problem the gaming industry, particularly the AAA games market might have to solve. Games might be getting too large. Video games have more hours of content than ever before. I’ve sunk over 200 hours into The Witcher 3 and still have more to do. Now companies have even introduced games as platforms which roll out new content month after month. With this being the case, even in seasons not has jam-packed as our upcoming holiday, there still won’t be enough time to play everything. Two games coming out at around the same time will cannibalize each other because they are too large for the consumer to justify playing both. It appears we are going to be buying less games per year. Case in point, while Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a game I’m excited about and Star Wars Battlefront seems right up my alley, I am probably going to have to pass because of the sheer enormity of Fallout 4. I wouldn’t have to do that were Fallout 4 a shorter game like say Uncharted 4. But those types of games are few and far between these days. Unfortunately, when all is said and done certain developers may suffer regardless of the quality of their product.
Who specifically will be hit the hardest by the bloated holiday? It seems likely the main victim will be Avalanche Studio’s Just Cause 3. Just Cause 3 is going to be an enormous open world game, full of crazy things to do. The issue is that with Metal Gear Solid 5, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Fallout 4 all preceding it, not only will people struggle to find time to play, they just may be burnt out on big open worlds and may be craving something linear. With all the Multiplayer focused games, someone will likely get cut out and it just doesn’t seem like there will be enough room for Rainbow 6 Siege. It, like Just Cause 3 is the last game to release during that block and consumers will likely already be devoted to a different multiplayer title. While many games will still do very well it’s inevitable that at least a few will get swallowed up by the sea of blockbusters headed our way.
While these developers and publishers could take a hit, the AAA market as a whole may be okay. It could even grow actually, for one reason only. Consoles are selling better than ever. As of August 2015 PlayStation 4 has sold about 25 million units and XboxOne has sold around 14 million. Both consoles are significantly outpacing what their previous version did in the same amount of time. It seems the amount of people gaming on console is quite high. While some are still playing on older consoles, with the amount of exciting games releasing this holiday season, it’s likely many people will finally make the jump to the newest generation. So here is the big question. Will the larger amount of consumers in the market make up the smaller amount of games each consumer will buy?
Unfortunately, we can’t predict the future so this question isn’t really possible to answer. We can however use some information to make our best guess. Currently PS4 and XboxOne have tie rates around 4.7 and 4.6 respectively. Tie rate refers to the average number of games each consumer has purchased for that console. At 23 months into the last console generations the PS3 had a tie rate of about 5.3 and Xbox 360 had one around 6.6. Already we can see that the average consumer is purchasing less games per console. However, on the flip side, previous consoles sold less. Two years after launch PS3 had sold almost 17 million copies and Xbox 360 had sold around 9 million copies. So doing some quick math, we can see roughly how many games were sold at approximately the same point in their life cycles:
PS4 – 117.5 million PS3 – 90.1 million
XboxOne – 64.4 million Xbox 360 – 59.4 million
Total – 181.9 million Total – 149.5 million
Clearly current systems are still edging out last generations software sales. So for the time being it seems like AAA developers and publishers as a whole are safe. However, the lower tie-rate for current consoles is a cause for concern. If this trend continues, the number of AAA developers in existence may shrink. If a consumer is only going to buy one game, it’ll be the best one. The developers making the second best games will disappear. This rate also makes another thing abundantly clear, with people buying less games per console those consoles have to keep on selling.