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Scott Steinberg: Delay of Game

'Tis the season of slippage...

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Apparently this year, though, he just doesn't like you very much. After all, with so many high-profile titles from BioShock 2 to Splinter Cell: Conviction and Heavy Rain delayed until 2010, you'd be forgiven for wondering if today's gamers currently have much of a holiday season left to look forward to. Still, in many ways, this is good news for our industry, with quite a few enthusiasts already struggling to scrape by, let alone afford a copy of Modern Warfare 2 or New Super Mario Bros. Even more pointedly though, it's also helping to even out the annual game release calendar, ensuring that even traditionally slow months are soon going to be filled with pleasant surprises going forward.

All I can say is that it's about time. As early as 2004 experts were bemoaning the "Murderer's Row" phenomenon which occurs each holiday season (not that they hadn't noticed decades before - things simply came to a head that year as Halo 2, Doom 3, Half-Life 2, Gran Turismo 4, GTA: San Andreas and a handful of other heavyweights helped suck the life out of virtually every other rival's balance sheet). Essentially, the bulk of the year's hottest releases are crammed into its last three months to take advantage of the upcoming holidays and heavily increased spending they prompt. But let's face it. Given limited free time and budget, there are only so many full-price titles everyday fans can afford to cram down their stocking, even when flush with Christmas or Chanukah cash. And that goes double in these troubled times, when a lump of coal's looked at less as a booby prize, and more a handy source of fuel that it would be a waste to simply toss out.

Thankfully, rather than wrestle for attention with blockbuster franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Metal Gear Solid, publishers like Capcom realized early on that you could do just as well, if not better, by delaying games to the infinitely quieter January-March corridor, where they face less competition. But it's only now, with economic realities really beginning to sink in, that companies across the board are also waking up to the fact that launching new IP or less-recognizable, but still just as entertaining games, can be a viable prospect year-round. For example: See titles like The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Dawn of Discovery, which all helped breath life back into the traditionally so-quiet-you-could-hear-a-pin-drop summer months. And as mobile and digital distribution continue to pick up steam (sorry, Valve fans, no pun intended), these effects will only become more pronounced, with more gems such as Trials HD and Shadow Complex continuing to fill out each season's empty spaces.

Therefore, while I'm just as stoked to play Dark Void or Bayonetta as the next man, I don't mind a little change of schedule. Chances are there will be plenty of time to pencil in overdue outings such as these down the road - and at a more convenient time than the especially hectic run up to December as well. Even if not, it's hard to say for certain if it would be as much of a loss as in the past anyhow, since even the hoariest old classics can enjoy a second, third or fifteenth lease on life at various later dates via digital download. As such, the likelihood of us all missing out on top titles because the timing just wasn't right is less than ever, ensuring that, as the saying goes, good things truly can come to those who wait.

Video game expert and TV/radio host Scott Steinberg is the author of Get Rich Playing Games and the creator of game industry documentary series Players Only. A celebrated gadget guru and technology expert, he frequently appears as a technology and video game analyst on broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and CNN, and has contributed to 400+ outlets from The New York Times to Playboy and Rolling Stone. For more of his insights, visit www.scottsteinberg.com.