Timing is the great unacknowledged dark art of games publishing. A difference of weeks, even days can equate to thousands of additional boxes shifted. Just look at Medal of Honor: Warfighter, for instance. It's a fairly shambolic military shooter which can't hold a cigarette lighter to the likes of Battlefield 3, but in releasing a couple of weeks before Black Ops 2 - and thus, leveraging annual Call of Duty fever - EA has scraped the semblance of a victory from the jaws of defeat. The game topped UK charts in launch week, despite almost universal reviewer disdain. It probably won't pull that off again, and the publisher has already noted that sales are "below expectations", but it's better than Warfighter deserves.
When it comes to release timing, there are some depressing rules of thumb. You don't launch a game in the mid-winter or summer, not unless you've got some morbid aversion to fame and fortune. You don't hit the shelves alongside FIFA, Call of Duty or GTA, not unless you enjoy the smell of your own, crisping entrails. And most depressingly of all, you don't pump out a new IP at the close of a console generation. We've heard the last one a lot lately, care of people like EA's Frank Gibeau and Ubisoft's Yves Guillemot. They're not really speaking to us, mind you. They're speaking to shareholders troubled by the sense of consumer ennui that now taints many of the bigger established brands.
Fortunately, there's also mounting evidence that you can, in fact, make a living off a new IP in the twilight of a console generation, and further that the old "October-November or bust" trend is on the wane. It's probably premature to hail the wonderful Dishonored as a commercial triumph - though the game has sold strongly since release, hanging on at third in the most recent UK charts despite competition from the likes of the ultra-populist Just Dance 4 and the dependably recognisable Resident Evil 6. But it's hardly jumping the gun to celebrate the heavily under-marketed Dragon's Dogma, which has "exceeded expectations" (presumably including Capcom's 1.5 million sales projection in May) and contributed to an overall half-year profit rise of 55 per cent.
Sadly, United Front's Sleeping Dogs doesn't appear to have cut the mustard to quite the same degree - the game enjoyed great success in the UK but didn't break 300,000 sales in the US, and has reportedly failed to meet Square Enix's projections. It's demonstrably no flop, but it hasn't set the world alight either. Producer Dan Sochan was bullish about the game's fortunes when we discussed the question of new IP and generational change-over last week. "We've always heard for years that you don't want to launch a new console IP at the end of a life cycle," he told OXM. "And I'm sure there must be some strong facts and figures supporting that, but you're right - it's worked very well for us timing-wise. Dishonored's another fantastic game."