November has somehow become this year's gaming Christmas. It's the release date for Cyberpunk 2077, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, the Fortnite The Last Laugh Bundle, and - most likely - the new PS5 and Xbox Series X. But how did November end up the pivotal time for game releases? New cell phones and laptops launch all year round, new movies and music can drop at any time, but for games, you can always expect some huge hits in November. We spoke to retail experts NPD about why, and the answer might be a surprise for anyone who sobbed their way through the recent trauma of The Last of Us 2.
"This goes way back to the early days of gaming when video games were seen more as kids toys than anything else, and the holiday gifting season was critical in driving sales," explains Mat Piscatella, NPD's executive of games.
November is the time when people are traditionally doing their Christmas shopping, and getting their last paycheck before December 25. Microsoft has been launching consoles in November since the original Xbox in 2006, and Sony has matched its rhythm. One company that has always marched to its own drum, and is continuing to do so, is Nintendo.
"We have seen video game hardware launches buck the fourth-quarter release trend to great success," points out Piscatella. "A couple US release dates outside the traditional Q4 window that stand out include the Nintendo 3DS (March 2011) and of course the Nintendo Switch (March 2017)."
According to Piscatella, we could be starting to see a change, even if 2020 is sticking to the November release rumpus. "The holiday window, and November in particular, continue to be very important (about 12% of total US video game industry sales occurred during the November month in 2019), but it's not quite as critical as it may have been in the past."
Earlier this year, there were rumors and fan fears that the impact of COVID might mean a delay in the actual console releases. While Sony and Microsoft might still surprise us, both seem currently committed to that November / Holiday 2020 launch. Sadly, the same can't be said for some of the biggest games, like Halo Infinite.
"Everything has been impacted, from where developers are working to how they are working together to how retailers are planning to how financial goals are being planned to how consumers are engaging with the games themselves," says Piscatalla.
"Will the pandemic impact the launch of games this holiday? Sure. Already seeing that in some of the delays that have been announced, and it is reasonable to expect more delays to come."
Piscatalla thinks it's "less likely" that the consoles will be delayed, but isn't ruling it out. He makes a point that is handy for everything from booking vacations to trying to meet a work deadline under the cloud of COVID. "Given that just about everything is so uncertain right now it is all about flexibility and never getting too comfortable with any one particular set of plans."
It's hard to see beyond 2020 at the moment, and while we still wait on prices and exact release dates for PS5 and Xbox Series X, hard to start wondering what retail will look like for the PS6 or Xbox Series Y, but Piscatalla thinks we could see some big changes to your gaming calendar by then.
"Nintendo has already proven it sees strong selling potential for new hardware outside of the holiday window, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see more," he says.
"I also think we're going to see more frequent iteration in the coming console generation from Microsoft and Sony (think PS4 Pro and Xbox One X but at a more rapid cadence, perhaps every two years) so perhaps we'll see new hardware SKUs start popping up during quarters other than Q4. Demand for gaming hardware and great games has been proven throughout the calendar year, and having more open windows for a product's release could be very appealing."
Santa might still be the biggest supplier of gaming consoles this year, but he could have competition the next time a console roles around. Until then, we promise to leave out extra milk and cookies if the big man in red can hook us up this year.
Need to make your wishlist for November? Here are all the upcoming games for 2020