Defries: Is retail dumbing down?

It may seem unfair to select in isolation a comment from your recent editorial column, doing so allows me to get on my soapbox and have a good old moan.

While I share your congratulations to Codemasters on their recent performance, your column remarked variety at retail is to be cherished”.

I would propose that exactly the opposite sentiment is prevalent. Where, at retail, new content and variety is frowned upon as being ‘too marginal’, ‘unproven commercially’ and ‘not what the consumer wants’.

My axe to grind: Rising Star Games is set to launch ‘Muramasa; The Demon Blade’ for Nintendo Wii – a title which has performed well both critically and commercially in Japan and the USA.

Critical reception
Current Metacritic average – 80 , A-
Eurogamer, 7/10
Famitsu , 34 out of 40
Game Informer , 7.75/10
GamePro , 4.5/5
GameTrailers , 8.3/10
IGN , 8.9/10
Nintendo Power, 8/10
Play Magazine , 10/10

Sales reception
‘Muramasa’ sold almost 30K units week one in Japan (putting it in at number two, all-formats) and 52,000 week one US (beating Dead Space Extraction).

Here in the UK, the game will NOT be available to buy in the majority of video game retail outlets. Evidently this is not because of game quality (as proven above), not because it is delayed or late and not because of absence of pre awareness public relations. It is because retail is becoming increasingly choosy and actively reducing the variety that is offered to consumers – if it is not first-party, a sequel or supported by a multi-million pound advertising spend, they are just not interested.

The irony is, of course, these stores will happily accept ‘Muramasa’ as part of a trade-in deal and the game will retail for half the price of its first launch with weeks.

Is this a dumbing-down of the medium? When the industry and its consumers cry out for originality and innovation, it is a great pity for these wonderful Japanese games that there is little support in the retail market for them and that formulaic sequels and ‘me-too’ titles are preferred; consequently the consumer has little or no exposure to a rich and different gaming experience.

I share your sentiment that is is heart rending to see the decline of the number of companies in the games business; for publishers the route to market has always been through retail, but if that pipe continues to narrow what choice do we have – online only?

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