What makes me think about these things right now is both that curious monkey tale and the simple fact that we’re about to be inundated with big games. This fall and winter are shaping up as the busiest seasons in computer gaming in recent memory. Jedi Academy, Temple of Elemental Evil, and Homeworld 2 have just hit stores. Medal of Honor: Breakthrough arrives next week, along with NHL 2004 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004. X-Com wannabe UFO Aftermath will be out at the end of the month. Halo, an Age of Mythology expansion pack, and Etherlords II show up the following week.
Then comes Max Payne II, Commandos III, XIII, Railroad Tycoon III, NBA Live 2004, Hidden & Dangerous 2, Lords of EverQuest, and add-ons for RollerCoaster Tycoon II and Dark Age of Camelot in a two-week span in October. November features Lords of the Realm III, FIFA 2004, Final Fantasy XI, Gothic II, Call of Duty, Unreal Tournament 2004, Knights of the Old Republic, and Deus Ex: Invisible War. I’m afraid to even look at the December schedule, though you can expect Half-Life II before Christmas—maybe a lot sooner if the never-say-die rumors about September 30 prove to have a kernel of truth to them.
Whew. Anyone who loves games will want to play at least a dozen of these big titles between now and the day we celebrate the birth of Santa. But who will have the time for them all? Of that massive list I just typed, there are seven or eight that are must-plays for me, yet I can’t see where I’ll come up with the time to actually play them the way that the developers intended them to be played. Meaning to completion. It just ain’t gonna happen. Even if I were somehow able to get rid of all other commitments in my life for the next three months, I still wouldn’t be able to play these games. There aren’t enough hours in a day. And I’d have to come up for air and food sometime.
But I will buy them all. I’ll snap up everything, even second-tier jobs like UFO Aftermath and Hidden & Dangerous II, just because one of the lesser lights might turn into the surprise hit of the year. And I’ll make sure that each and every one is ensconced on my hard drive. That all are represented by colorful icons on the main Windows desktop, even if I’ve no plans to click on them anytime soon, even if the extent of my interaction with them is watching the opening cinematics and thinking how cool it will be to actually play the game beyond.
And so will you. Developers and publishers know that this is the silly season, that we’re going to cram as many games into our budgets as MasterCard allows for the simple fact that they’re new, they’re hot, and we want ’em. Yeah, it would make more sense to hold off, to buy only what we can play now and save the rest for a bargain bin somewhere down the road. That ain’t gonna happen. Buying hot games after the buzz has died down is akin to watching a tape-delayed Super Bowl, or catching a summer blockbuster on DVD in October. A big part of the fun is being right there when it happens, when everyone is sharing is experience. That’s lost six months down the road, when the cool people on message boards have moved on to the latest and greatest.
Which really gives me pause for thought. At least the monkey’s desire for immediate gratification got him some orgasms. We’re getting brightly colored boxes, the chore of installing software, a few hours of killing bad guys, and massive bills at the end of the holidays. Yet somehow I still wouldn’t trade places with that monkey. At least, not until I finish—er, play—Half-Life II.