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Omni rants about game publishers' constant insistence to release most of their games for Christmas.

 

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The 4th Quarter Must Die

 

Ask any retailer about the importance and impact of the 4th Quarter (Q4) and you’re bound to hear that it’s the most important part of any financial year.  This goes doubly if you’re an independent retailer.  The concentration of Holidays (Christmas, Hanukah, etc.) and a rising emphasis on gift-giving makes Q4 a Land of Opportunity for companies that sell stuff.  This has been the case with the gaming industry but I didn’t really notice it until this year when I had a stack of 15 games sitting on my dresser waiting to be reviewed.  And, believe it or not, it was a problem.  The 4th Quarter must die!

 

Now that I’ve had a month to think about it, I realize how many average to poor games I played in the closing months of 2002.  Sometimes the game was simply average, other times I could see a game’s potential flushed down the drain because the publisher (or other powers that be) pushed it out the door before it was really finished.

 

I’m not naïve enough to think game publishers and developers aren’t out to make money.  (Sure they have fun making games, I’m sure, but they’ve got to eat too.)  If they don’t make money, they stop making games.  But for every Metroid Prime, Splinter Cell and Tony Hawk there are ten or fifteen lesser games behind them, one of them Minority Report.

 

MR had the raw potential to be a lot better than it turned out.  A universe where a Precrime unit exists should open a slew of story opportunities.  Instead we got a light re-hash of the movie, which, even with Roger Ebert’s assurance it was the best American movie in 2003, wasn’t all that compelling or even popular.  But the problems didn’t end there (if you want the full low-down, read our reviews GC, PS2

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XB) and was all the more suspect when you looked at who developed it, Treyarch – the same guys behind Spider-Man: The Movie The Game, also released in 2002.  However numerous the problems, there may have been time to fix them had there not been an emphasis on Q4 (and the release of the Minority Report DVD).

 

But this problem isn’t specific to Minority Report.  You can probably think of a half-dozen other games right off the top of your head that suffered the same fate.

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And I bet you can think of other games delayed – missing the critical Q4 – such as Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and DOA Extreme Beach Volleyball to hammer out gameplay and technical issues.  I’m sure both could have shipped but if the product is better for the delay, who cares if they missed Q4?  Wouldn’t gamers rather play solid games rather than a game that shipped on time (or early) full of bugs and other problems?

 

No.  Gamers love tripe.  The more patches, bugs, poorly designed levels, half-baked inventory systems, cliched units, and other problems, the better.  Bring it on!

 

Yes, time is money.  The publishers have a responsibility to hit deadlines to help the bottom line, which in turn means pressure on the developer.  This leads to a problem no one – including myself until recently – thinks about:  the pressure placed on the game reviewers. (Hear me out before you roll your eyes.)

 

As I mentioned, at one point I had 15 games to review sitting on my dresser.  But which ones to review first?  I had so much dread I went for days without playing anything then bingeing for 3 or 4 days and nights then trying to write more intelligent reviews than, “Good” or “Average” or “This bites!”  I felt I didn’t have time to write any reviews.

 

15 games… where the hell do I start?  I’ve played this game for 10 minutes and know without a doubt that it sucks.

 

Of course, my conscience in the form of a rabid bunny says, “That’s like a jury bringing back a guilty verdict after hearing one witness!”  So I keep playing, all the while trying to sort out what game I’m going to play next.  And this situation was hardly unique, most of The Armchair Empire’s writers were likewise buried. (We’ve still got the rescue dogs out for Tazman.)  It’s the first time gaming became work – and I hated it.  I spent too much time with unworthy games and not enough time with quality games I really enjoyed. (This explains why our Splinter Cell review is so late – I’m savoring it, suckling at the teat of good gaming.)

 

In short, Q4 shouldn’t receive any special attention.  Good games will sell regardless of the season.  A bad game may be able to sell a couple thousand more copies when it’s released just before Christmas – thanks to unwary parents – but what’s the point?  It tarnishes good reputations and can drive potential buyers elsewhere.

 

As I've said, I realize that to some this is a naïve approach.  No publisher has pockets deep enough to perpetually delay a game until it’s perfect (besides, "perfect" is subjective), but there should be some courage shown when it comes to pushing a game in Q4 when it should be held to Q1 of the next year.  Lets spread those games around.

 

- Omni

(January 29, 2003)

 

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