North American gamers have historically gotten the majority of games days before European gamers and with the Internet, this practise has become more prominent and discussed. Why do Publishers release games staggered across the globe rather than a global launch and will it change as digital games becomes the majority of game purchases?
Some games do launch globally on the same day but lets look at the majority of releases where most games on PC and consoles follow a staggered release like so (all times are local and release in order top to bottom):
- Tuesday midnight in Japan
- Tuesday midnight in North America usually following the East Coast timezone
- Thursday midnight in Europe following the Central European timezone
- Friday midnight in Australia
- Friday midnight in the UK
Of course this changes depending on Publisher and retailer agreements but most look similar to this. Japan gets games first purely because of their timezone, then North America, Europe, Australia and finally the UK.
The reason for doing staggered releases around the globe are two fold.
It is the way retailers like it
Yep, the first one is because that is the way the retailers like it. Their logistics and policies are set up to work to the days we have currently. A retailer could get games a week earlier to be ready for a global launch and that is what occurs under those circumstances. However, retailers aren’t known for keeping their street dates and will see some copies make their way out earlier than intended. That can lead to problems for the developers who can be completing final checks on their systems ahead of release date but also to platform holders and gamers themselves. It is not unheard of for gamers to get banned from the game they bought because they played it early, luckily this issue is few and far between.
Historically, in the UK for example. Movies release on a Monday, Music releases on Tuesday and Video Games on a Friday. So the staggered launch helps retailers like HMV which sell all media formats to get stock out on the shop floor and give each release the promised advertising time.
It helps the developers
The second reason is because it makes sense for the developers. Bringing everyone into game at once can put a lot of stress on a relatively untested system. No where during development can they reproduce actual gamers in the numbers they will come in. They replicate players in the form of load tests which are scripts that try to replicate what a player does by monitoring what QA team members do and scripting the behaviour with variations. However, no matter how good the load testing it is never enough to fully understand what real players are going to do when they load up the game.
Even during a Beta like Destiny recently held, the number of players that download a Beta is a lot lower than the number of people that will get the game at launch, so a lot of it is around accurate load test scripts, over scaled capacity on the online systems and good release readiness planning.
The staggered release around the world isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the time between North America getting their hands on the game the developer has had time to see whether they need to add additional server capacity or even discover a critical issue they need to fix in an emergency patch. This means that when it gets to Europe, Australia and the UK the game has the potential to have any nasty issues already resolved.
While this does seem unfair to Europeans, Australians and for gamers in the UK there are some developers that release games in Europe and the UK the week before it reaches North America, Codemasters is one such developer that frequently does this. Again, this release structure allows them to monitor their online systems and gather player data looking out for major game issues before it becomes available globally.
In the future where games are digital and retailers have transitioned, will all games become global releases? It is unlikely that will happen because of the additional benefit it has for developers to monitor their systems as the load increases with each new market that comes online. This alone is a driving factor in keeping launches staggered.