Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Game Sales Down - So What?

The only Hollywood blog that I follow, The Wrap, posted an interesting story yesterday about the troubled game industry. First off, it is always interesting to me when "secular" (i.e. not game-related) blogs post about the gaming business. On the one hand, it generally means that a story has real teeth when the non-gamers take notice. (Probably true here.) And also, it often reflects the somewhat out-of-touch perceptions of the mainstram press...which can generally be interpereted as a more realistic Joe Consumer point-of-view. (Definitely true here.) As usual, it would be wise for the myopic "enthusiast media" to take a look at what people are really thinking about games.

Based on this piece, the perception is not good. Game hardware and software sales are down, down, down. But is this really a surprise? Take hardware. If we haven't reached peak penetration on this generation of consoles, we've gotta be reaching it soon. How many more people who don't have a Wii can be expected to buy one? Even if it is still a sizable number, that number has to realistically decrease every year. Same is true for the other two consoles, but perhaps not as much since their penetration numbers are smaller compared to the Wii's. As for software, well, I have my own theory. Today's games have an incredibly long shelf life compared to games of generations past. Think about it: everyone who bought "Modern Warfare 2" will be playing the multiplayer for months, if not years, after the purchase. How much time could they possibly have for a 40-hour RPG like "Dragon Age" or "Mass Effect 2"? Sure, teenagers might have the time, but they have less cash to throw around. Personally, I would love to play all these games, but as the time investment required gets higher and higher, I can't be reasonably expected to commit. And I can't be the only one. Thus: sagging sales.

The article also specifically mentions music game sales. Is it any surprise that these are down? I mean, how saturated can the market get? I love Guitar Hero, but I can't keep up with everything they put out for that franchise. And talk about shelf life...you can buy downloads for your music games to keep them fresh for a long time after you buy them. And downloadable content isn't the only stuff doing well, mobile game sales and social games are also up. Yeah, because those markets are still growing. So where is the surprise here? Couple all of the above with a shitty economy, and color me unsurprised.

The Wrap then goes on to show its true colors by mentioning Microsoft's Natal and Sony's Arc Motion Controller, as if these things are going to revitalize the industry. They might make some ripples, but there is NO WAY that these devices are going to spike hardware and software sales, unless Microsoft or Sony can come up with their own versions of Wii Sports (good fucking luck). To make matters even more silly, the Wrap comments, "each of these innovations could seem downright quaint once Brain-Computer Interface Technology goes mainstream." When? In the future with jetcars and food in pill form? Thanks, but I think controllers are going to be pretty popular for a while longer.

In summary, I think the gaming industry probably needs to come up with must-have experiences that innovate without demanding every minute of a gamer's leisure time. From the players' point of view, they are getting amazing experiences that keep going and going like the Energizer Bunny. As a result, we might see a shrinking pool of games...and maybe even higher prices? Who knows? Ironically enough, it appears that it is the companies themselves who have shot themselves in the proverbial foot.

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