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Summer is For PC Gaming
In many ways we often compare the video game industry to the film industry – both are large entertainment mediums with lots of genres, successes and failures, large publishers and independents. But whereas the film industry invented the concept of the Summer Blockbuster – the season of hugely budgeted tent-pole films for major studios, the Summer is generally considered a relatively quiet, slow month for gaming.
Games still adhere closely to retail marketing – which means most major releases drop in the Fall where they can be snatched up by holiday shoppers. In the Spring we get games that maybe weren’t quite ready or willing to compete for the prime holiday rush, or just wanted a nice release window all to themselves. Excitement ramps back up for E3, but in the waning months afterward things get truly dry as everyone starts talking about their backlogs and the horizon of PAX and the aforementioned holiday releases.
Well, stop it. Turns out those boring Summer months are full of great games, at least for the noble PC gamer. Indie studios are increasingly looking at Summer as prime time to maximize their coverage and visibility while many hopeful Kickstarter projects bide their time until these supposed slower months to launch their campaigns. Steam’s Early Access program has taken off in full force, and Summer has become the perfect time to dive into an unfinished game (essentially paying for beta access) if you want to see the latter stages of game development in all its ugly glory. Summer has become the secret weapon for PC gamers.
Steam Summer Sale
The crowning jewel of Summer, the Steam Summer Sale is the first of its kind each year. In previous years the Summer Sale ran in mid July, but earlier this year the event was bumped up a month to June, making it easier than ever to play through newly acquired “old” games while taking advantage of the slowed trickle of newer releases.
While Valve continues to add holiday-themed sales throughout the Fall (I believe we now have Halloween and Thanksgiving/Fall sales in addition to the standard Holiday sale), the Summer Sale is the first time you’ll be able to clean up on games released during the first half of the year (often seeing them deeply discounted for the first time) as well as those you’ve had your money-saving eyes on from years past.
The Steam Sales are also just fun events in of themselves, and though Valve’s attempts to create meta games and contests have mixed results, I love that they keep trying new ways to make the whole thing a fun, social experience. My favorite part of any Steam Sale is watching my activity feed and friends list for the sheer variety of games all my friends have acquired and earned achievements for.
Of course Steam isn’t the only fish in the sea (though it’s certainly the biggest). If there are classic games you still lack (or prefer to buy your indies DRM-free) GoG.com has taken a cue from Steam with their Summer sales. Acting as the Sam’s Club or Big Lots of the internet, GoG effectively utilizes bundles to sell your more games at a discounted price. These bundles can be organized by publisher, theme, genre or whatever they feel like. They also run a popular timed sale event with limited availability – a game lasts longer on sale the more people buy, but only until the “limited quantity” runs out. It might seem silly when everything’s digital but it’s an effective marketing tool for a sale, and a fun way to keep people constantly checking back.
These days there are even more options to acquire PC games (especially indie games), like Desura and Gamer’s Gate (the latter is holding a Summer Sale right now). Sure you could smugly throw the all these games onto your backlog pile while bemoaning the lack of new games, but you’re too smart for that. You dive right into your backlog and tackle those games you’ve missed thanks to the wonderful time Summer has granted you, which leads directly to my next point.
My Backlog and Me
You are not your backlog. Your backlog is not a pile of shame. Your backlog is in fact your best friend. It’s not needy, it’s perfectly content to wait for you, as long as it has to, and it’ll always be there for you when you need it.
These slow Summer months? They are just begging for some backlog attention. Nobody has a backlog like the PC gamer; with all the sales I mentioned above and the ease of acquisition, a PC gamer without a backlog is like a mule without a spinning wheel. Embrace your backlog and dive in. You probably just acquired a bunch of games during these sales – play them!
There are many fun ways you can organize and motivate yourself (and your friends) to play through these games, as I know staring at a gigantic Steam library looking for your next game can be a daunting task. You and a friend can pick out games for each other along with a reasonable deadline. Loser has to buy the other a small indie game (further adding to the backlog). You could live stream your backlog adventures, tweet about them, blog about them, and use sites like Backloggery or Darkadia to keep you organized. Play newer releases that you’re finally getting around to, or revisit gaming’s classics that you always wanted to try – as I did earlier this Summer with Baldur’s Gate II. Whatever your method, know that if you have a backlog, you’re never out of games.
Kickstarter and Early Access
If you don’t keep up with our Kickstarter Monthly Round-Up, you really should. We highlight several of the most interesting projects on the popular crowd-funding site. There are more Kickstarter projects than ever before, even as the original multi-million dollar success stories from 2012 finally begin releasing. Many projects quietly suffer failure only to return months later with a snazzy new campaign to reach success. For many campaigns timing is everything and the slower gaming news cycle between E3 and PAX Prime is starting to look like prime real estate for launching a hopeful campaign. It’s certainly proven well for the likes of Timespinner, InSomnia and Hard West. Even if you don’t like giving money to Kickstarter projects it’s an interesting look at game development and the state of independent games.
Together with crowd-funding avenues like Kickstarter, Steam’s Early Access program is really changing the landscape of independent game development. On the one hand it allows developers to start taking in money much sooner than usual by charging to allow entry into an admittedly unfinished game (often starting in an early Beta phase). This concept works especially well with more mechanics-driven games that are less concerned with story spoilers and more interested in player feedback on game mechanics.
On the other hand you’re now exposed to the grimy, “how the sausage is made” side of game development. In some cases this can be an intriguing look at the evolution of game design, and the intersection between player feedback and overall game balancing. In other cases players deal with buggy games and silent developers. Early Access, like Kickstarter, is very much a buyer beware system.
I’ve played many indie games that have used it and thus far my experience has been largely positive, but I certainly pick and choose very carefully – such as Amplitude Studios’ Dungeon of the Endless and Endless Legend. Early Access’ ties to Summer gaming specifically are a bit nebulous, but like many indie Kickstarter developers, Summer is a great time to get noticed in the marketplace and news sites. If you’re particularly excited about an upcoming game and don’t mind some bugs or missing features, Early Access can definitely be a fun way to while away those hot Summer days.
New PC Game Releases
Much of this article has been about what to play and discover with the dearth of new releases, but the truth is that there are plenty of great new games that get released every Summer – for PC. Let’s look at some of the bigger releases between E3 and PAX (with links to our reviews where applicable):
The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 4
The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 5
August is a bit shaky with Wasteland 2 being pushed back to September, but there’s still a wide variety of indie games being released in the Summer, from retro-style adventures and platformers to new episodic stories from Telltale Games and even a gigantic isometric RPG that’s in my personal running for Game of the Year.
Summer may not quite be a crazy explosive month for the gaming industry but that doesn’t mean it’s totally dead. Instead of longing for those huge holiday releases, enjoy the time you have each Summer to dig into your favorite hobby, whether that’s embracing your backlog (some of which are probably last year’s holiday releases), becoming addicted to Kickstater, or trying out new indie games you never knew you loved. With PAX now in full swing, signaling the unofficial end of the Summer drought, you may just miss those halcyon Summer days basking in the sunny glow of your PC monitor.