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Will the November 2011 release crush hurt gaming?

Opinion: John Dean thinks games publishers are taking massive risks with our cash...

2011 is without a doubt one of the greatest years that gaming's ever seen. Anyone with a niche interest has likely found something wonderful to tickle their fancy already, and some of the year's biggest hitters haven't even arrived.

From the perspective of someone who loves playing games, it's impossible to complain about the quantity of excellent games being released. From the perspective of someone who's keen on playing games in years to come though, things aren't looking good at all.

We've been here before - and it wasn't pretty last time. The Christmas of 2008 was a harsh lesson for the games industry. Whilst next-gen gamers fawned over titles like Call of Duty: World at War, Left 4 Dead, and Gears of War 2 - countless other great games were abandoned to die a swift and cheerless bargain-bin death.

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At the time it was claimed that these commercial failures for the result of the then-new 'global recession' - but anyone who loves games will know the truth: The reason that games like Dead Space and Mirror's Edge flopped so spectacularly wasn't because gamers were skint, it was simply because we didn't have time to play them.

2009 saw the beginnings of a different story: Politely ducking out from a gamble most publishers knew they couldn't win, a massive number of titles got pushed back to early 2010 at the very last minute - hoping to replicate Capcom's successes with Street Fighter IV's unconventional February release date.

Those shoved into the post-Christmas slot weren't entirely safe from becoming casualties of a new mini-crush, but games like Bayonetta and Mass Effect 2 proved that it wasn't a disastrous idea.

Just as it seemed like the industry had slapped some semblance of sanity into itself, 2011's looming line-up appears to remind us that the mistake of the past are so quickly forgotten. With terrifying retail juggernauts like Modern Warfare 3 and Skyrim raising their fists and storming into battle, it's upsetting to see publishers treating games like Saints Row 3, Need for Speed: The Run and Assassin's Creed: Revelations as cannon fodder in a war that nobody can win.

Marketing departments might sometimes be ruthless, but they're certainly not daft: Cold hard numbers pump through their veins, which makes 2011's crush of gaming content all the more disturbing. With the sheer weight of hyperbole thrown around internally at gaming firms, it's certainly possible that many have naively started to believe their own hype - in which case they're in for a nasty shock once the numbers roll in a week after launch.

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We'd love to believe that this potential disaster is the result of nothing more than a bit of old-fashioned idiocy, but we've got a nagging suspicion that the reality might be far worse: Publishers aren't pulling their titles out of this year's crush because they simply can't afford to.

With a number of games publishers having already experienced disappointing sales this summer, it's possible that they simply need to make a quick buck before the end of the financial quarter. With the Western recession looking just about ready to deliver the US with a devastating blow, American-based companies unable to keep investors confident in the short-term may be about to face serious trouble.

Watching our industry's big players go all-in on a gamble isn't exactly a new phenomenon, but this year's stakes feel dangerously high. 2011's wave of commiserations might not just be restricted to games: If things go really badly, you can expect to be saying goodbye to an entire publisher before the end of 2012.

2011 might not be the year that triple-A gaming gets entirely shafted - but it's definitely time for publishers to take a good look at their overall strategy.

Until we've reached a point where new console games don't demand forty quid for a plastic disc in a box, publishers need to focus their efforts on making fewer, better games.

Christmas might be the only time when sales really start to spike - but we're sure there must be another way: There are millions of gamers around the world, and despite all of us facing difficulties with the time and money required to keep enjoying our hobby, one of the few things that unites us is our ability to find a way to make things work - no matter how tricky things might seem.

The past few years have been rough for everyone, but now it's time for publishers to start learning a lesson or two from the industry's consumers: If you're passionate enough about what you're doing - you'll somehow discover a method to make it work.

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