The road to XBOX ONE. Follow the journey

Good start to 2010

Then, next week, Army of Two: The 40th Day arrives. Resident Evil Archives hits just a week after. Mass Effect 2 seven days later, and MAG another week on. Then a little over seven days later there’s BioShock 2, with Dante’s Inferno close behind. Then there’s Splinter Cell: Conviction. Then Heavy Rain. Then Final Fantasy XIII, then…

You get the point.

We’ve talked before about ‘the Q1 logjam’, but today the industry is at ground zero.

Can this more generous spread of titles – or what some say is too many new releases – address the traditional Q1 imbalance where no games come out?

Who knows – the success of the above games depends on their quality, marketing support and share at retail. And perhaps it doesn’t matter.

The UK software market for bricks and mortar sales enjoyed its second-biggest year ever for sales in 2009 – and that’s despite there being less publishers on the market, the recession, and the Call of Duty giant eating a chunk of the Q4 revenues.

Even in a fallow year, the industry can hold its own. If the UK market can survive that, it can survive anything.

BUT HARD WORK STILL TO COME

But while strong software sales are good news for publishers, retail relies on the whole package – that includes hardware sales.

And for 2009, early estimates (we go to press before any official data is released) show that console sales did slow considerably last year.

Nintendo had already forewarned that industry champ the Wii would take a sales dip. But in the UK the DSi also didn’t pick up the slack for DS Lite either (admittedly it was only on the market for nine months of the year), nor did the PSPgo transform the PSP category. 360 mostly held its own, and it was only the PS3 that stayed on track year-on-year.

Now I wouldn’t say for one second this is taking the format-holders by surprise. Consoles are still selling, it’s just that last year sales weren’t at the same pace as in 2008.

But historically it’s at this point that talk of new replacement devices pick up speed – and that doesn’t seem to be the case in 2010. So does it pose a problem for the games industry that there are no major new consoles on the horizon?

Does a slow down in the hardware cycle – or at least a longer turn around between formats – create a raft of new opportunities for the games industry? Online services are stable, new interface innovations are looming, and the addressable audience grows by the week.

An MCV investigation might have an answer to some of those questions next week – but it might not be until the end of 2010 that we get the real results to this latest industry experiment.

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