Fresh data this week suggests the worst: selling video games in the UK during 2012 was a storm of recession and poor momentum.
Total software sales were down 17.6 per cent overall. Modest gains in digital sales, up 7.7 per cent to £552m, was not enough to cover the 26.4 per cent drop in boxed games sales. If this is the build-up to the digital tipping point, then those raw numbers look a lot like the wobble before retail’s collapse.
But as revealing as hard maths can be, I think 2012 really did offer up some of the most important if subtle shifts in how games can be sold, even if we didn’t sell as many games as we’d have liked.
The big change is this: everyone is a games retailer these days.Being a games retailer is no longer the advantageous position afforded to a High Street specialist, local indie or niche site.
Although the number of actual outlets for discs is shrinking, I see alternate routes to market, new avenues for games brands, and even more digital marketplaces than ever. I see retail, capital-R Retail, stretching further into games than ever.
Every device – your phone, your ebook, your TV – is trying to sell you games. Every media outlet is trying to sell you games. Even games themselves are retailers, thanks to the in-app purchases and the like.
There were examples throughout 2012 that bear this theory out.
The Walking Dead, one of the year’s most acclaimed digital games, worked by exploiting the episodic model with dramatic hooks that drive you to buy the next instalment.
Steam’s Big Picture mode uses a PC to turn your home TV into the most easy-to-use digital shop, one for ‘proper’ games where it’s so, so easy to buy them.
Nintendo embraced downloads, completing an awakening of digital selling amongst the format holders and showing that the momentum which could once be ignored is now unavoidable.
Windows 8, although dubbed a failure by some, rebooted the Microsoft OS with lots of highly visible, if controversial, e-commerce elements at the fore.
The irony across all of this, of course, is that in the UK we are actually consuming more variety of games than ever but paying for less. So 2013’s big challenge, then, is not how we keep selling things – but how we sell things better.
And if you’re the Editor-in-Chief of a publication whose full name is the Market for Computer and Video Games, this means we have an exciting year ahead.