It’s easy to feel like videogames go into a kind of hibernation during the first few months of the year. During the winter the release line-up typically becomes depressingly sparse and news regarding major releases trickles in at a snail’s pace. There’s good reason for this. Publishers work hard to stack the autumn months with their biggest games, hoping to capitalize on the holiday shopping blitz and generate the kind of buzz that will leave their titles fresh in the minds of critics and editors preparing their game of the year lists. And after all of that activity there usually isn’t much left to fill the void left between the end of December and the spring months, which offers the next financially viable release window for bigger titles.
All of this can make it seem like the beginning of a new year is a bad time for games. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case. Sure, none of the blockbusters will hit shelves for a little while longer, but there are plenty of ways to find great titles to play that can easily fill this gap.
Players who are able to resist the urge to take part in the autumn release discussions — to remove themselves from the annual flurry of excitement surrounding the biggest games of the year — can benefit enormously by exercising a bit of patience and waiting for the now inevitable price drops. These discounts have now become predictable, I suspect, due to Steam’s now traditional holiday sales schedule, an event of enough significance that it makes itself felt even beyond the world of PC games. Those who have a decent enough computer can pick up loads of titles, from major and independent studios alike, directly from Steam at enormous discounts. Fortunately, the limited-time digital discounts made popular through Valve‘s storefront have also bled into console e-shops, too. The PlayStation Network certainly followed suit with an end-of-2013 sale spanning a huge part of its catalogue, while even Nintendo, often a dinosaur in matters of price adjustment, put up modest discounts on a number of its eShop titles. Beyond this, the long-running brick and mortar holiday sales that likely inspired Steam’s digital mode in the first place, continue to offer an affordable avenue for buying games on the cheap during the slow winter months.
For those willing to step outside of the mainstream for a while, the early part of a new year also offers the perfect opportunity to try out some of the indie games that can be more easily forgotten if released around the same time as the attention-swallowing major titles. Without the big games taking up most of a player’s time (and, of course, money) the stranger or just plain smaller titles offer not only a welcome change of pace, but an ideal way to diversify gameplay experiences as well. Kentucky Route Zero, an episodic adventure with excellent writing and a stunning visual style, was one of the best games I played in 2013 and also one I may have missed if I was tied up with something else. This year, games like tactics-focused The Banner Saga could fit that same bill. When a new Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty isn’t busy taking up all of a player’s attention, they’re much more likely to want to try new things.
I’m as excited as the next person for titles like Infamous: Second Son, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Titanfall, and Watch Dogs to come out, but I’m also willing to use the time spent waiting for them to be released by catching up with missed titles and experimenting with those I may have otherwise passed over. The videogame industry, with its emphasis on constantly offering bigger worlds, better graphics, and new technology, can make players forget that the latest release isn’t always the best one. This kind of mentality informs the way we look at slow release periods like the beginning of the year, but it shouldn’t. Instead, players should enjoy the gap between avalanches of major games by checking out what they’ve missed or broadening their gameplay palettes by trying new types of experiences.