Today, Oct. 27, 2017, threatens to do a real number on America's collective wallet. It will be, by far, the biggest launch date for video games for the year 2017 — if not in terms of quantity of releases, then certainly with regard to the significance and anticipation attached to the titles dropping at the end of the week.
We have Super Mario Odyssey, Mario's first proper 3D adventure since 2009's Super Mario Galaxy 2 and the franchise's first fully-open sandbox title since 2002's uneven Super Mario Sunshine. Meanwhile, Bethesda delivers Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, a game that merits attention for two reasons: First, that it continues MachineGames’ remarkable effort to keep the world's oldest first-person shooter franchise fresh and vital. On top of that, its marketing and subtext lean into the disgust most people feel about recent attempts by white supremacist factions to push their ideology into the mainstream. And then there's Assassin's Creed Origins, the first new entry in the series following its much-needed furlough … and the first to truly explore Assassin's Creed’s deep historic roots by including a non-combat-focused tourist mode through ancient Egypt.
It's pretty remarkable to have three games attached to such massive franchises arrive on the same day. For one thing, games typically launch on Tuesdays; Fridays have belonged to Nintendo for years, so you rarely see a tentpole Nintendo release hit the same day as big titles from other publishers. Oct. 27 is remarkable for that reason alone.
But is it the biggest release date in video game history? Not quite, but a quick survey through the past 25 years of launch hype and bank-bursting preorder lineups puts it up near the top of the list.
Big launch days are newer than you’d think
The idea of fixed launch dates for games is something of a recent invention, at least in the U.S. Throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s, American retailers categorized video games as toys, and toy distribution channels tended to play release dates fairly loose -- outside of rare events like the launch of a new Star Wars toy lineup to coincide with a movie. It wasn't until major chains like Walmart and Target began grouping video games in the electronics department with other media (e.g. CDs and videos) that we began to see them treated with the same singular launch date treatment as films and music.
That wasn't the case in Japan, though. Nintendo and Sega historians can give you specific launch dates for games stretching all the way back to the debut of the Japanese version of the NES, the Family Computer. (July 15, 1983, if you were wondering.) In fact, Famicom releases sometimes made international headlines; the Japanese release of Dragon Quest 3 on Feb. 10, 1988, created such a stir that American magazines featured photos of customers — many of whom skipped work or school — lining up around the block to get their hands on a copy. There were also rumors that the Japanese government passed a law preventing Dragon Quest games from debuting on school days (a falsehood, as it happens; publisher Enix voluntarily choose to restrict its launches to weekends out of a sense of civic responsibility).
Over here, we didn't see game launch dates as events until Sega of America took a page from its overseas branch to promote Sonic the Hedgehog 2. That game debuted on Nov. 24, 1992, a date the publisher declared to be "Sonic Tuesday" (or rather, "Sonic 2sday"). That tactic panned out for Sega, and America's innocence was lost … as we realized less than a year later, when Midway shamelessly copied Sega’s tactic to promote the console launch of arcade smash Mortal Kombat on Sept. 13, 1993: “Mortal Monday.” Sadly, Nintendo still hasn't officially declared a “Waluigi Wednesday” as of this writing.
With the idea of nationwide releases dates in place, first-party publishers decided to raise the stakes by pegging the debut of new consoles to firm dates. Sony made ripples by announcing a fixed date for the PlayStation's arrival in September 1995 — and perhaps not coincidentally, the system fared far better than Sega's Saturn, which arrived without warning in a surprise limited launch during E3 1995. Nintendo ratcheted up the hype even more the following year with the Nintendo 64 launch. N64 arrived in the U.S. with only two games available for purchase, but given that one of those games was the groundbreaking Super Mario 64, Sept. 26, 1996 became one for the record books.
Still, that paled in comparison to Sega's decision to pull out the stops for the Dreamcast launch. In contrast to the bungled stealth debut that caused Saturn to trip over its own feet right at the starting blocks, the Dreamcast appeared as a vibrant splash of orange on the calendar. Sept. 9, 1999 — that is, 9-9-99 — was the biggest launch date America had ever seen to that point as Dreamcast arrived with no less than 17 games in tow.
While they weren't all winners, the console boasted at least half a dozen genuine greats: Soulcalibur, Sonic Adventure, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Power Stone and no less than two NFL-licensed football games. And for those who didn't immediately throw away their PlayStation consoles the instant a next-generation system arrived, 9-9-99 also brought the U.S. release of Final Fantasy 8, the hotly anticipated follow-up to the most successful role-playing game to that point.
Sony had no choice but to up the ante for the PlayStation 2 launch on Oct. 26, 2000. The PS2 commanded more hype than any other console to that point, and it shipped with an impossible 30 games on day one. None of its games hit with the megaton impact of Soulcalibur, but nevertheless the PS2 offered an impressive range of content at launch. Fans of every genre found themselves catered to: Sports fans had SSX and Madden NFL 2001; racing fans had Ridge Racer 5; FPS maniacs had TimeSplitters and Unreal Tournament; fighting nuts had new versions of Street Fighter EX, Dead or Alive and Tekken to choose from; and there were even offbeat RPGs like Evergrace and completely genre-defying works like Fantavision.
Between Dreamcast and PS2, the idea of indescribably enormous launch lineups for new consoles became more or less a given, but it’s become increasingly rare to see truly medium-defining works along the lines of Super Mario 64 or Soulcalibur at a system's launch. The Wii's American launch date (Nov. 19, 2006) deserves mention less for the inclusion of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess — a game held over from GameCube — than for the debut of Virtual Console.
Likewise, Xbox One’s launch (Nov. 22, 2013) stands out not because of the new console’s exclusives but rather because Microsoft’s competitors delivered several high-impact games on the same day. Sony had Tearaway, arguably the last meaningful first-party release for Vita, and Nintendo graced two of its biggest core franchises with two instant classics: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Super Mario 3D World.
Remember these huge launch days?
Ultimately, console launch dates feel a bit like cheating in this sort of survey. Obviously those days exact a terrible toll on our finances — in addition to new hardware and accessories, we also have to fork over cash for a small library of new games to run on the system. But what about days where software alone hits with maximum impact? We've seen several of those dates over the past decade or so, some of which easily eclipse this Friday.
Arguably the first truly massive U.S. game launch date to happen independent of a hardware debut transpired in 2005 on Oct. 25. That day saw the arrival of more than half a dozen marquee releases: Driver 3, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, Call of Duty 2, Civilization 4, Soulcalibur 3 and Lego Star Wars. We wouldn't see the likes of that for another year, when Oct. 17, 2006 gave us Age of Empires 3, Rockstar's Bully, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Battlefield 2142, Sid Meier's Railroads and The Sims 2: Pets.
Interestingly, while 2007 may have been the most important year on record for new releases since 1998, no single date that year was bogged down with multiple blockbusters. Publishers managed to space things out somewhat evenly, with Mass Effect, BioShock, Assassin's Creed, Super Mario Galaxy, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Valve's The Orange Box all arriving at a nice, even pace to give everyone a chance to save up and soak in each game.
The industry would abandon that sort of consideration in 2010, which had not one but two absolutely brutal shopping days for fans of the medium. First was March 16, a rare instance of a massive release day outside of the fall holiday shopping season; that date gave us a few major twitch-action titles like God of War 3 and Metro 2033 as well as some sprawling, top-flight RPGs and strategy games: Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, Dragon Age: Origins — Awakening, and both Resonance of Fate and Infinite Space from SEGA. Half a year later, Oct. 26, 2010 would hit us with the second round of this double-barrel blast: Fable 3, Lego Universe, Rock Band 3, The Sims 3 and Red Dead Redemption — Undead Nightmare all dropped that day.
Or how about Nov. 15, 2011? That date witnessed the birth of a massive roster of greats, including Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition, Rayman Origins, the mischievous Saints Row The Third and Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. And let's not forget Nov. 10, 2015, which gave us the juggernaut that was Fallout 4, the Xbox-exclusive launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider and StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void.
All of these dates are worthy contenders. And yet, for true budgetary despair, it’s quite possible we'll never again see the likes of November 2014. Until now we've been targeting single release dates, but what makes that month stand out is the fact that it presented us with two impossibly enormous launch dates one week apart: Nov. 11 and Nov. 18. In the space of seven days, our finances and our free time buckled under the strain of nearly a dozen massive, high-profile games, including two different Assassin's Creeds, two Sonic games, and two variants on Grand Theft Auto. And those are just the big games, not even the handheld or indie creations.
Consider: On Nov. 11, 2014, retailers opened their registers for Assassin's Creed: Unity (for “next-gen” systems) and Assassin's Creed: Rogue (for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 holdouts). Video game tie-ins for Sega’s Sonic Boom series launched on both Wii U and 3DS. Microsoft shipped the juggernaut compilation Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Then there was Lego Batman 3 for the family, and Five Nights at Freddy's 2 for the shrieking jump-scare fanatics in the audience.
A mere week later, Rockstar shipped Grand Theft Auto Online and Grand Theft Auto 5 together in a single package, while Ubisoft delivered its third open-world title in the space of a week with Far Cry 4. Electronic Arts and BioWare redefined Dragon Age with the launch of the series’ third game, Inquisition. And finally, LittleBigPlanet 3 rounded things out. All this, in one painful week's time.
In that light, Oct. 27, 2017 doesn't seem quite so unmanageable, you know?
Correction: Red Dead Redemption launched in May 2010, while its expansion pack, Undead Nightmare, launched in October. The text has been corrected to reflect this.