Cristmas is a time for games. Lots of games. It's the point in the year where the steady patter of new boxes hitting shelves turns into a hammering sleet of high-profile sequels and gun-waving action heroes.
But the run up to this Christmas has been different, and the hail of amazing games has hardened into a belting meteor storm: Batman Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Assassin's Creed Revelations, Saints Row: The Third, Resistance 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Uncharted 3, Battlefield 3... the hits (not to mention the threes) just kept on coming. And while you may be lucky enough to get one or two under your tree, even the richest of us couldn't buy enough time to play them all.
That shouldn't matter, of course. They'll still be around next year, right? They may even be cheaper by then, with any DLC included free and the early problems well and truly patched. Except we all know this is only part of the story. Nothing ages faster than a hot new game, with spoilers flying, negative criticism - warranted or not - sapping your enthusiasm, and the passion of the community fading. Where once you'd have been an adventurer, you become a tourist, merely retreading footsteps.
The spectre of the others you could be playing instead is always there
Even if you do get a hot new game at launch, the spectre of the others you could be playing instead is always there, hovering over the action. Any frustrations - overfamiliarity, new mechanics you don't immediately click with, minor quibbles with difficulty or story or level design - become an excuse to jump ship and never return. Why persevere when you could be playing something else? Valve's achievement system, for instance, shows that only 48% of players completed the original Portal - a four-hour game. Too much choice! Too many other things to play, including Half-Life 2, Episode 1 and 2 and Team Fortress 2 in the The Orange Box alone...
But let's assume you're better than that. Pop quiz. When is a game over? When the credits roll? Wrong. How often do you find yourself putting in the effort to sample the other difficulties, pick up the side-quests you missed or simply admire the artistry? Even if you can hold up a 100% defeated copy of Dark Souls, most players either can't or don't bother.
It's almost a relief when the credits roll after one gaming session, since it means we can move on with a clear conscience. A decade ago, the idea of a game only lasting ten hours was roundly mocked. Now, the idea of repeatedly sitting down and playing something for days or even months almost seems a chore. Going back for a no-kill run? Who has the time for that? New game! Quick! Attack the backlog before it achieves sentience!
If we feel buried under new games we 'have' to play now, it's nothing compared to the future. Today, Christmas is the only real bottleneck for great games. Yet more and more publishers are accepting that this isn't the only time of the year a highly-anticipated game will sell - and there's much to be said for owning the world's enthusiasm.
February is now officially the month of 'games that would have had to be stuck together with chewing gum to make Xmas,' with Easter the next battlefield of choice. Only the summer months remain left out, based on the bizarre belief that the sun comes out and everybody goes outside. But of course they're not outside, as it's pouring black rain sideways.
Next year, the pressure will balloon. Both Sony and Microsoft are gearing up for PC-style free-to-play gaming, while our phones belch evermore polished games at pocket-money prices. The instant transactions of digital distribution and streaming will also become more established, meaning new games at the prod of a button.
We'll never have had more options, but will we - can we - play them all properly? Truly appreciate how good we have it? Today's gamers will witness the best games ever built, only to channel surf through them like some bored viewer stuck at home imagining the party they're sure they must be missing. n
Order PSM3 here and have it delivered straight to your door