2020 release schedule

COVID-19 is packing releases into H2 – alongside new console launches – making for a titanic fight for consumer attention post-lockdown

Sony today has announced that it will be releasing its upcoming pair of exclusive titles in the summer. The Last of Us Part II will arrive on June 19th and Ghost of Tsushima on July 17th. And they will mark the beginning of a long and busy period for the industry.

The dates are not a huge surprise in and of themselves, but their reveal brings into focus an increasingly large problem that the industry is going to have this year. Namely trying to get through a pretty packed launch schedule, with the ongoing uncertainty of coronavirus, plus added curveball of new console releases.

In short, that’s a lot of product and a lot of marketing spend, trying to find potentially elusive eyeballs, in a compressed period of time.

Coming back to Sony’s date announcements, we’re only seven weeks away from the Last of Us part II now. In normal circumstances that would be an age, but with COVID-19 restrictions still in place, there are a number of unknowns going into the launch – such as whether retail stores will be open and even if they are, whether consumers will be choosing to visit them. (And also the elephant in the room, how you go about marketing a post-apocalyptic game during the closest thing we’ve seen in a hundred years to the apocalypse.)

Under normal circumstances one or both of those games would most likely be shifted back to the autumn or winter. But with Sony’s current strategy seeming to be, ‘release these exclusives now on PS4 and then bang the drum for PS5 later’, that’s not really an option. It needs to get these games out the door sooner rather than later.

“In short, that’s a lot of product and a lot of marketing spend, trying to find potentially elusive eyeballs, in a compressed period of time.”

All of which means the back half of this year is looking very busy indeed, so busy in fact that if you have anything short of a goliath title then space is incredibly limited from even before summer is over.

Cyberpunk: 2077 of course moved back to September already, where it’s currently joined by Square Enix’s Marvel Avengers game. Then we have the wildcard that is Ubisoft this year, which has five major titles to release by April 2021, none of which are dated, many of which aren’t fully titled, but we are expecting the delayed Watch Dogs: Legion before Christmas (as it’s hard to see how Ubisoft will fit all those titles into the new year). Then there’s a Call of Duty title of course (rumoured to be Vietnam-based). And EA will of course have FIFA 2020, if anyone remembers what ‘football’ is by then of course.

And then to top all that off, there are two brand new consoles to sell through to consumers during the period. Alongside presumably at least some kind of PS5 exclusive/headline title, maybe Gearbox’s Godfall, and of course the Xbox exclusive Halo: Infinite (coming to all current Xbox consoles plus the Xbox Series X).

It’s starting to look like the furloughing of WWE 2K 2021 might actually be a silver lining in a very stormy fight for consumer attention and money. With a number of marketing options not currenly performing as usual, such as events and outdoor, there will be increased competition for the best online space. And even as lockdown starts to ease, the pent up desire from many to get out-and-about could impact gaming time, which would then take a correctional dip in the autumn.

Looking at all that, Nintendo’s current barren release schedule actually looks rather canny. The rumoured Mario remasters will do brilliantly for the company, and it can hold its own next big release, Breath of the Wild 2, for 2021.

As a whole the industry will do well out of all this, but someone, somewhere will see a potentially big hit squeezed out of the running by the sheer number of other large announcements. So plan carefully, be flexible, and don’t be afraid to pivot or delay if you can’t find the space to launch effectively.

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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