The Year 2011: A Vintage for Gaming

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And can anyone really afford it if it is?

The mad rush for the Christmas market is in full swing, with back-to-back releases of AAA titles. There are so many good games to play at the moment that 2011 is easily shaping up to be a vintage year. It’s all good for the gamer, but I can’t help thinking it’s too much in too short a space of time, when consumer budgets are already under considerable strain.

This autumn has given us a stellar line-up and we’re just barley into November, the traditional month for the real big hitters. In the last month or so, we’ve seen Deus Ex, Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3 and Batman Arkham City. And that’s not even counting little gems like Child of Eden and El Shaddai.

Moving into November and the schedule is stuffed to the rafters. Todd often rages about games shifting their release dates to avoid direct competition with the likes of Call of Duty, but I really welcome New Year and spring releases. Just a few years ago Mass Effect 2 opted for the post-Christmas release strategy and other titles have cropped up either side of the November crush.

The world’s in a bit of a financial mess at the moment, so job uncertainty, rising fuel and living costs and the big pay freeze means our disposable incomes aren’t what they once were. Many industries are responding to the downturn by trying to woo customers with great deals. Meanwhile, the games industry seems hell bent on getting us to shell out for two or three games a month in a two month period.

The current generation of consoles has brought with it a premium price on games. Where they were once around £30 here in the UK, they now stand at £39.99. I paid £42.99 for Arkham City – I’m not sure what the extra financial rinse was all about there, other than "because we can."

In contrast, Heavy Rain creator Quantic Dream recently stated that pre-owned sales cost them $13 million in revenue. I’m not sure how accurate that figure is, but at £40 a pop, can you really blame gamers for waiting to purchase a used game? Quantic’s co-founder Guillaume de Fondaumiere has called for the industry to look at the price of games and I agree, but don’t think a price drop will spell the end of the pre-owned market. However, if prices don’t level off now, I dread to think what they’re going to look like come the next generation – which doesn’t seem to be too far off.

Looking ahead into November, Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed are slap bang in the same week. If you bought both games, that would be £80. And with the life-eater that is Skyrim, you wouldn’t get time to play Assassin’s anyway, not to mention the cost and right before Christmas. The fact is, most people can only afford one, so it becomes a toss of a coin and one publisher loses out.

I seriously don’t know how gamers afford this wonderful hobby of ours. Without trade-in deals and pre-owned games, you could easily spend around £80 a month on big games between September and January. That’s my entire comic-buying, movie-going budget blown in one half of the year.

Unlike Todd, I don’t bemoan slipped dates, in favour of an even release schedule. Not only does it mean I get to buy more games, it means I get to spend time with them and play them all. The current system sees me rushing through them in order to cough up more cash for the next big thing. Then, come April (and the end of the financial year) the release schedule is like a ghost town.

It just doesn’t make sense.

Publishers need to take a long, hard look at the escalating price of games and this crazy Christmas rush. At a time when consumer spending is down, the games industry can’t afford to ignore gamers. Nobody wants to miss out on the big games of the year, but there’s only so much time and even less money floating around these days, so publishers need to consider how to tackle these challenges.

Surely there’s a better way than this…

Most played: Batman Arkham City

Most wanted: Assassin’s Creed

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