Is Q1 the new Q4?

Sure, this means that retailer tills and publisher balance sheets have to wait until they can cash in on surefire hits like Bioshock 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction, Red Steel 2 or God of War 3.

But there’s still a huge number of juggernaut titles on their way this year, and that’s without mentioning that Activision game.

FIFA 10, Assassin’s Creed II, The Beatles: Rock Band, Halo: ODST and many others are sure to please consumers. And the retailers selling them.

And a lighter release schedule means that some new IP and more opportunistic publishers might get their moment in the spotlight this winter.

Games like Bethesda’s new Wet and Wheelspin, 2K’s promising Borderlands, and EA’s Brutal Legend now have breathing room to compete.

Of course, it also puts more pressure on those new IPs; the potential blow of failure is no longer cushioned by the guaranteed hits. And there will be no scope for those ‘it was too crowded a market’ excuses this year.

But ultimately, this Christmas will be just as important as any other. Because even if the pressure on range has decreased, the pressure to part customers from their cash hasn’t eased up one bit.

The side effect of having a quieter Q4 means that currently Q1 2009 is – in theory, at least – pretty packed with important releases.

And, in the same way that moving those titles away from the holiday season creates opportunities for new IPs this side of Christmas, it places pressure on those now positioned to do well after it.

This probably won’t harm the original games with very good prospects – such as THQ’s Darksiders and Disney’s Split/Second – that were designed to take advantage of this time and were hyped accordingly.

Instead, publishers now face decisions on whether they take a gamble and see if March and Easter-time doesn’t become ‘the new Christmas’.

Those looking for inspiration might want to take a look at Capcom’s strategy. This year it launched three major franchise episodes – Resident Evil 5, Street Fighter IV and the latest Monster Hunter – at atypical seasons, and has the chart figures and market share to prove it knows what it’s doing.

Here’s hoping that there’s no ironic twist and those same big hitters such as Bioshock 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction, Red Steel 2 or God of War 3 end up cannibalising each other’s sales when they arrive next year.

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