Picking the Date: When to Release Your Game
Some helpful tips for what to look for on the calendar when launching your game.
Something we’re almost always asked by the developers & publishers who use Terminals is: WHEN.
When to release their game.
When to send out their press releases.
When they should hold things back and announce a delay.
All are valid questions, and with an industry that moves as fast as gaming, it can be hard to know when to take your shot and make a move. That’s why we’ve put together a short list of tips & tricks to keep in mind when you’re looking at a release calendar (such as our own
) to try to suss out the right release timing. After all, while there’s rarely ever a truly perfect date out there, with a little foresight you can certainly get close.
For Every Game there is a Season
In a trend that dates back decades at this point, bigger games have a tendency to release along seasonal lines, with major rushes happening in both Spring and Fall. The former rush happens from late January up through to about the end of March, not coincidentally coinciding with the end of most companies’ fiscal years; and the latter rush spans from mid-September to late November, traditionally looking to get big titles into people’s holiday wish lists and Black Friday shopping carts. You’ve been seeing publishers follow this particular strategy less and less over the years as games in general have grown in popularity and gained wider acceptance among all age-groups, but old habits die hard and looking at any release calendar out there, you’ll still see this ebb & flow taking place. That said, while releases will generally dry up somewhat during Summer, you’ll instead get a lot more games announced during this time thanks to all the events and digital showcases that run during this season.
What does this mean for you and your game? Well it gives you a rough guideline of where the competition is and where you might get overshadowed if your game is on the smaller side. If you’re releasing an Indie game for example, especially one without much or any pre-established hype behind it, then you’ll want to avoid those big rushes so you’re not competing with AAA juggernauts which have millions in marketing dollars behind them. By that same token, if you’re releasing a larger AA or AAA title and can stand toe to toe — or at least not be completely overwhelmed by those larger blockbusters — there can be an advantage in releasing during the rush and being on the shelf when people are already in the store to buy whatever that season’s biggest title happens to be.
Of course, simply picking the right month is no longer enough these days. We’re seeing more and more ‘out of season’ releases and more games are coming out year over year than ever before, so you’re always going to have neighbors on the calendar to consider.
Vying for Elbow Room
At the end of the day, limelight is a limited resource. Media & influencers only have so much bandwidth available and there’s a limit to how many articles they can write or videos they can make in a given period of time. Understandably, they’re going to focus on using that bandwidth to cover the games that their audience is most interested in or will give them the most potential traffic thanks to the various algorithms we all must appease these days. That often means covering the biggest titles or breakout hits first with everything else filling in the gaps the best it can. To their credit, most press & influencers will try to give every game a fair shake, but there’s just not enough time in the day.
This means that you need to be strategic with your release date, looking to thread the needle and placing your launch and embargos where you’ll have the least competition and be able to make the most of the attention available. Knowing the “tail” that your competitors are likely to have is very important here; Indie titles generally make their biggest splash on launch day with coverage falling off afterwards, while conversely a big name AAA title can lazily sprawl out over a couple of weeks, hoovering up mindshare. Slipping your launch in when attention for a big name title is starting to fade but before other smaller titles can pop out is generally a good bet, but you’re always going to be vying for your moment in the spotlight. The biggest thing to avoid are other games that are very directly comparable to your own, whether that’s sharing a setting, tone, or a niche genre. More often than not launching against something that’s very similar will lead to one of the two games being overlooked as things blend together & outlets end up choosing a favorite, and you don’t want your game to be the one left by the wayside.
Sadly finding your dream launch date is not so cut & dry as just picking a day from the calendar that looks empty, because things are constantly changing. A date that looked perfect when you set it can swiftly become very crowded when you’re not looking. This is why you have to be very careful and consider not just when your game will release, but when you commit to that release date.
There are big advantages to being able to publicly point to a specific date of course, it can boost attention and anticipation around your game. Having a firm release date makes it feel more real for prospective players, increasing the chance they’ll add to it their wishlists and budget money & time for it in the future. But that excitement can be quickly erased if you end up having to delay, and the more times you delay, the more hype and good will you’ll end up losing. This is why it’s often better to be vague to start out, simply calling out a release year, or just saying it’s “Coming Soon,” before then narrowing it down to specific season or quarter (i.e. “Coming Q4 2023” or “Coming Winter 2023”). Once you’re good & ready and are fully confident you can hit your desired day — ensuring you’re happy with the surrounding games you’ll be competing against — that’s when you should point to the calendar and give people an exact date.
That’s not a guarantee everything will go off without a hitch, though, as things are always changing, with dates being announced and moved around constantly. The whole games industry is basically playing one big game of chicken, with every studio waiting to see who blinks and delays so they can get out of the way of one another. Sometimes this means you have to roll with the punches as a big game you were trying to avoid delays itself right into your lane, but a little research and good forethought can help you see those collisions coming and mitigate the damage.
At the end of the day, all of these tips point to one key thing you need to do when considering your dates and that is being cognizant of what’s going on with the rest of the industry at any given time. We’re all trying to do our best to make the titles we’re working on succeed, and driving down the highway to release, you have to be mindful of the traffic.
Tuning into the various gaming news sites and Twitter feeds can help of course, but the best tool in your arsenal is a good release calendar, as that affords you an overview of all the other games out there looking for their time to shine. There are a number of options to choose from on this front, but of course I’m going to recommend our own Terminals.io Calendar
. We keep it regularly updated and carefully curated with all the release dates, events, and holidays you might want to consider when picking a date.
Published August, 25 2022
Last updated August, 25 2022