Halloween is big business. Cards, film, books, decorations, and, of course, candy all adapt every year as soon as October’s dreary chill comes around. More than most other holidays, Halloween inspires people to get into a very specific mood, one that thrives on cheap thrills and light to heavy scares. Movie producers start pumping out horror movies of questionable quality, sure that they will meet some success because people are so frenzied for horror. But video game publishers don’t. For whatever reason, the video game industry seems to ignore Halloween. Today, let’s look at why this may be, and why it should change.
Firstly, big publishers are prone to paying lip service to Halloween every year. You’ll see various horror-themed sales pop up on the PSN, Steam, Xbox Live, etc. These generally try to peddle older horror games at a discount price. It’s not a bad solution, but it misses out on a potential major source of revenue – new games. With the likes of Steam sales and similar sales, many people don’t pick up games at release, instead waiting for a price drop. Big AAA games spend large sums to build hype, just so they’ll encourage pre-orders and early sales. It’s no big secret that selling brand new games is the preferred method of distribution than having trickle sales over a long period.
Yet, AAA developers seem to ignore the very real marketing possibility that Halloween provides. The movie Saw ran with the tagline “It’s not Halloween without Saw”. The series was actually cerebrating mediocre yearly releases. Nevertheless, it was great marketing, and picked up many sales. A summer release of a Saw movie wouldn’t make any sense. So why do video game developers and publishers seem to think that horror games should be released in the summer and winter months?
There’s a great example this year. SuperMassive Games’s Until Dawn, a horror game that celebrated slasher and monster movies, was released on August 25 of this year. Not only that, but this was a PS4 exclusive, one of the few exclusives of the year. Why was this not released in October? It could have done more with a much smaller marketing campaign. It would have fit as a holiday exclusive, and there is very little competition around October, especially in the horror genre. It makes zero sense that video game companies would continue to ignore this very real source of revenue.
So, why? The biggest reason is likely disorganization. It’s difficult to deal with release schedules in general, and most of them are plotted by publishers, who aren’t looking at the big picture, but earnings from a quarter perspective. It’s easy for a developer to see the advantage of a Halloween release, but if a publisher needs a game to release in the Summer to meet sales targets, that’s what they’re going to do. But even many indie horror games aren’t waiting for Halloween. Red Barrel’s Outlast was released on September 4 for the PC and in February on the PS4. Resident Evil Revelations 2 came out on March 17. All of these games would have benefitted from some Halloween hysteria. It’s possible that publishers are worried with conflicts between a Halloween bump and the holiday rush, but this is non-sensical. The holiday rush is premised on gift giving – buy now, get later. Halloween is based on immediacy, falling into a frenzy for a very short period of time.
It’s maddening because of how easy Halloween would be to regulate in the industry. I don’t normally advocate this, but there should be yearly releases. Just like film, the video game industry should release their horror franchises each year. They do it with shooters during the holiday season. Why not horror? Resident Evil and Silent Hill could easily be put onto a rotating schedule with two different developers putting two years development time on each. That way, everyone would snatch up a Resident Evil or Silent Hill game every single year. But there’s no plans for any such thing. It’s Halloween time again and there isn’t a horror game in sight.
Will this change? Perhaps. EA, Activision, and Ubisoft only recently cornered a yearly release schedule for the holiday season. It’s very possible that they’ll clue in to the big opportunity that every other industry has long-since jumped on. The trick is proving horror as a viable money-maker. This could be done way easier, though, if someone would release a horror game in October instead of March.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer