Japanese Third-Party Games Staying Home for the Holidays

Publishers like Capcom, Konami, and Namco Bandai are increasingly keeping their biggest and best offerings out of a fourth quarter dominated by first-person shooters and heavily marketed first-party offerings from console makers.

Much is made of "the all-important holiday sales season" in the gaming industry. The phrase is shorthand for the post-Madden NFL stretch of the calendar where a parade of highly anticipated blockbusters hit shelves and consumers empty their wallets for the latest and greatest. But it's becoming increasingly clear that not everyone celebrates this time of year in the same fashion. In fact, for Japanese third-party publishers, Easter is looking like the new Christmas.

Sonic is one of the few Japanese third-party franchises not running from a fourth quarter release.

From September to November, the industry tracking NPD Group reported 23 different games among its monthly top 10 best sellers. Only two of them--The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Dark Souls--were developed by Japanese studios, and only Namco Bandai's Dark Souls was from a third-party publisher. The only other Japanese publisher to land a game on the list was PlayStation 3-maker Sony, and both of its chart-making games--Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and Resistance 3--were developed by American studios.

You could look at that and say Japanese games and third-party publishers can't compete against their Western counterparts. But when it comes to the holiday release window, they aren't even really trying to compete. It's clear from looking at the release schedule that Konami, Namco, Capcom, and their ilk were pulling their punches. Instead of going for a knockout haymaker, the publishers were content to throw low-risk, low-reward jabs like HD remakes for Tekken and Metal Gear Solid games or revamped rereleases for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Dead Rising 2. The biggest new games to speak of were Sega's Sonic Generations and Namco Bandai's Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. At the risk of understating things, both would have been considered long shots to make the NPD top 10 list.

Now compare that lineup from the final four months of 2011 to what Japanese third parties have lined up for the first quarter of 2012. Square Enix has Final Fantasy XIII-2. Tecmo Koei has Ninja Gaiden III. Namco Bandai has SoulCalibur V, Ridge Racer Unbounded, Tekken 3D Prime, Inversion, and Tales of Graces F. Konami has Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater and three Silent Hill games, capped off by the debut of Downpour. Sega has Binary Domain. Capcom has Street Fighter x Tekken, Resident Evil: Revelations, Resident Evil: Raccoon City, and Dragon's Dogma.

When Capcom moved previous years' anticipated hits like Resident Evil 4, Street Fighter IV, and Resident Evil 5 to the first quarter, it seemed like savvy counterprogramming. It was a way to avoid having its biggest releases lose out in the holiday shuffle because gamers wanted to headshot Nazis slightly more than zombies (of course nowadays, Call of Duty lets them do both!). Now, it seems like the Japanese third-party publishers are running scared, and in doing so, they're running into one another more often than not.

Even in Q1, Japanese publishers will be going up against some stiff competition.

But it's not as if the console makers and Western third-party publishers are leaving the first quarter alone either. Early 2012 will also see the launch of Twisted Metal, Mass Effect 3, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Syndicate, The Darkness II, and Kid Icarus: Uprising. Oh yeah, and the PlayStation Vita, along with new Uncharted and Resistance games will be in tow.

It's expected that the fourth quarter will have more gaming goodness than a reasonable player can afford, but now, that looks to be extended into April. My tastes may be considered unconventional, but that first-quarter lineup already has more games for me to be excited about than this holiday season with first and third parties put together. If you throw in new hardware in February, my first-quarter gaming budget is already spoken for, and then some.

The good news is that this industry is increasingly growing out of the fourth quarter, which means it's also growing out of the notion that games are nothing more than children's toys to be purchased at Christmas. The bad news is that publishers still haven't effectively colonized the rest of the calendar, and the rush to carve out a foothold for their titles in the first quarter is going to reprise the holiday dilemma, where entirely deserving titles get lost in the shadow of their better-selling and better-marketed brethren. Hopefully, publishers will adapt, and in coming years, gamers can expect a steadier stream of quality content from all markets, the entire year round.

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Discussion

30 comments
Shadow_Fire41
Shadow_Fire41

exactly what Kero100 said. although to be fair Kero, they ARE making another Suikoden.

Jackc8
Jackc8

At least they're not shoving out half-finished glitch-fests just to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season like Bethesda.

boricuasnake04
boricuasnake04

I would rather all games come out in fourth quarter anyways because im always broke spending thousands of dollars on gifts for the family that way I always buy Hit games a couple months after release and get them cheaper lol can tlet dvelopers know this little fact

megakick
megakick

Publishers sell whats' sales where. If FPS are a big sell in the states they will sell FPS anything else might be a gamble and if it is really obscure forget about it.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

I remember that "If you don't like (insert random FPS name here) just don't buy it, it's not gonna prevent you from playing other games". Yeah, RIGHT! >.

Kero100
Kero100

I just want my Suikoden 6 and Breath of Fire 6!

franzito
franzito

Strategic sales, development, whatever, game industry has its ways to keep running. But as I don't make my "gamer life" over release calendars and such, getting new games at the launch ends up, for me, being something that almost never happens. Getting one now or next year really doesn't make much difference IMO, I can wait while playing good old stuff.

torbonator
torbonator

"You could look at that and say Japanese games and third-party publishers can't compete against their Western counterparts." No just no.

RitsukoEX
RitsukoEX

My 2012 games is: SoulCalibur V, Mass Effect 3, Witcher 2, Street Fighter X TEKKEN, Halo 4, and MGR! Ninja Gaiden 3 and Dead or Alive 5 could have made that list....but it looks like Tecmo-Koei is taking a step back in the action in those games! too bad they look so awesome!

RealFabioSooner
RealFabioSooner

@Chaos_Angel_14 This year we had TONS of games released in the summer, it's just that the press didn't notice the sheer volume since none of them were as high profile as Madden, Fifa, CoD, Battlefield and the like. We had Duke Nukem Forever (for better or worse), Alice: Madness Returns, Child of Eden, Catherine, Shadows of the Damned, Red Faction: Armaggedon, inFAMOUS 2, F.3.A.R., Dungeon Siege III, Ocarina of Time 3D, Bastion, From Dust, Call of Juarez: The Cartel... And that's only on June/July. If you factor August in, there's Deus Ex: Human Revolution and more. I was particularly please with that period. I distinctly remember having way more problems keeping up with June/July than with the holiday season.

Phil-teh-Pirate
Phil-teh-Pirate

I only clicked this article because Sonic was pictured, I find now this article is barely about Sonic. I am somewhat disappointed.

RealFabioSooner
RealFabioSooner

@istuffedsunny That's funny, considering that many of 2011's best and most innovative games are actually Japanese (Catherine, Dark Souls, Shadows of the Damned, El Shaddai and Ghost Trick, to name a few that made the rounds here on Gamespot's Best of 2011). I find that this notion is actually convenient for Westeners: if the Japanese do great, innovative games like these above, they're 'too niche' so they don't count (save for maybe Dark Souls which sold well); and if they do go for what most Westerners want (Ace Assault: Combat Horizon), it sells, but then pundits and 'savvy' gamers come out to say 'meh, they're just mimicking us'. This way the Japanese simply can't win. But the reality of it is that it's been the second year in a row where if a gamer wants any shred of innovation, he/she needs to look at the Japanese games.

istuffedsunny
istuffedsunny

It's sad to see what's become of Japanese game companies. These days they're too afraid to innovate, all they can do is attempt to emulate the west and bank on desperate old fanboys who will buy the umpteenth port or rehash of a stagnant series. Original ideas are now reduced to low-budget, digital-only releases, unless that "original" idea has plenty of guns or swords.

kiramasaki
kiramasaki

Tales of Grace F was the only title I saw thats a day one purchase.

Rovelius
Rovelius

@kwanzudood Check out gamasutra

kwanzudood
kwanzudood

Good article, I wish there was more of a "Gamespot Game Industry" section of this website that is more about the industry of videogame development.

MJ12-Conspiracy
MJ12-Conspiracy

Hmm *thinks* My plans for 2012 is not to buy that many games, I'll probably grab 1 or 2 games I missed from 2011 but I'll only grab maybe 3 or 4 titles new in 2012, I've already decided on Mass Effect 3 and Kingdoms Of Amalur and I'll probably grab SH Downpour, the last one.....not too sure maybe Soul Calibur...... My problem this year is the only game I'm satisfied with is Skyrim, everything else I bought was good games but either too short or not enough content or just unbalanced in some way...... Also it would be nice to have games come out all year long with 2 or more major titles a month. I'm sick of publishers banking everything on one or two months and losing out because we can't keep up.

Chaos_Angel_14
Chaos_Angel_14

I never understood why more games aren't released in the summer. It seems like a really untapped market. Almost every time a great comes out in the summer it succeeds ( Bioshock and Arkham Asylum are two great examples off the top of my head...). I mean, with kids out of school and college students having nothing but work and socializing, you'd think it would be a perfect time to get content out there. In fact, I do the majority of my gaming over the summer as during the year I simply do not have the time.

soulless4now
soulless4now

I, for one am glad the releases are spread out. I hate it when all the best games of the year come out during the holidays. It becomes hard to choose which ones to get since not all of us are made out of money.

ahpuck
ahpuck

It wouldn't be a problem if they were making quality games. Sadly, that has not been the case the last few years.

Barighm
Barighm

Nice to see Dark Souls sell well despite the heavy competition and little marketing. Maybe that just goes to show good games sell. Nobody thought Borderlands would sell 3 million while debuting next to Call of Duty, but guess what? It sounds to me like certain gaming publishers need to man up.

Ovirew
Ovirew

@alexLmx6 But by that same token, a lot of these Q4 games are going to be around next year, too. When Summer rolls around, you should try looking to the past at games you never really got around to playing, or else games you started playing but never finished. Or else you end up with an overwhelming pile of games that you've never really made much progress on.

Ovirew
Ovirew

This article seems to be giving the Japanese developers too much credit, in suggesting they are opting not to go for the "knockout haymaker". I honestly don't think the Japanese can get a TKO right now, I think that's because Western games have just been better than Japanese games the last couple of years. The Japanese still make some pretty good games. But it seems like the bigger Japanese games, such as Dark Souls and Skyward Sword, are the only ones that really even try to earn their money these days. Otherwise it seems like the Japanese are really kind of lost as to where they want to go with gaming now.

alexLmx6
alexLmx6

I so want more summer releases. I mean, all last summer the only thing I picked up was Deus Ex:HR, and then starting in October so many games were released that nobody was able to keep up. Just because a game releases in the summer doesn't mean you can't still push it for x-mas. Hell, by then it should have some dlc, maybe a couple of patches, it's better for everyone.

eBentl
eBentl

I do hope that we eventually see a good spread throughout the year. Next quarter will likely be Kingdoms of Amalur and Diablo 3 for me with any luck

dxdevilex0
dxdevilex0

Will be getting Kid Icarus Uprising,REvelatons,Tekken 3D Prime Edition and maybe MGS3D Q1 2012.

G_gglypuff
G_gglypuff

Hmmm... Hard to say if there's really any big deal with that one. For me the first quarter of 2012 will make my pocket very happy, as my plans for game purchases are inexistent; in fact, December is turning out to be a dangerous month, and I'm not talking about western games.