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The biggest video game day of the summer didn’t need a major release

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Huge updates arrive for some of gaming’s most popular draws

Hammond (aka Wrecking Ball) points from his mech in a screenshot of Overwatch.
Wrecking Ball in Overwatch
Blizzard Entertainment

Like a burst fire hydrant on a sticky sidewalk, summer’s biggest gaming day is upon us. And yet, weirdly, there isn’t a big new game release to be seen.

Major updates arrived today for Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto 5, No Man’s Sky and Overwatch, all of which are hugely popular game worlds (but games that are one to four years old as of today). Although summer is the dog end of the gaming calendar, it’s a sign of the times that major gaming events are now just as likely to be updates and patches, as mega-marketed blockbuster releases.

Here’s the evidence:

  • A huge Fortnite birthday patch dropped today offering a beefy update that includes major changes to the power of buildings and weapons, as well as the return of playground mode. Fortnite is the biggest game in the world right now, and is essentially the summer activity for millions of players.
  • Also out today, GTA Online: After Hours is a major update for Grand Theft Auto Online, the sprawling multiplayer mode for Grand Theft Auto 5, a game that’s sold more than 80 million copies and is touted as the most profitable entertainment product of all time. After Hours lets players operate a “top shelf” nightclub, which they can co-run with Tony Prince, aka “Gay Tony.”
  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain’s multiplayer mode got an update, its first in a year. New weapons, gadgets and difficulty missions have been added as well as the potential to play as the sniper Quiet.
  • No Man’s Sky Next represents the biggest update ever to a game that’s been hogging headlines for years, from its uber-hyped introduction to its disappointing launch. It’s the latest addition to a welcome change in which game developers realize their thwarted ambitions, after a game’s launch. Developer Hello Games has transformed its space-faring adventure into something akin to a whole new world. (No Man’s Sky is out today for the first time on Xbox One, as close as we come to a major new game release today.)
  • An eye-catching new hero for Overwatch arrived today. Wrecking Ball is a mech piloted by a chubby little hamster called Hammond. Shooter Overwatch just celebrated its two-year anniversary and has more than 40 million players.

To be sure, there are some game releases today, including indie platformer Semblance for Nintendo Switch and PC, PlayStation VR space shooter Detached and compilation Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1&2. But July as an entirety is generally a quiet month as publishers gird their loins for the traditionally more lucrative fall season.

The timing of these major summer updates demonstrate the ability publishers now have to create new reasons to bring players into their worlds, at a time in the year when there are plenty of other activities on offer, from blockbuster movies to days at the beach.