Fewer games, higher prices this Xmas

The ghost of unprofitable Christmas past will hit consumers this Q4 – as retailers keep software prices high and publishers shunt more triple-A titles than ever to next year.

A swathe of massive games – including 2K’s Bioshock 2 and Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Conviction – have had their release dates uprooted to Q1 2010, as publishers avoid doing battle with Activision’s Modern Warfare 2.

That leaves the door open for unfancied titles to stake a claim in the Christmas top ten – doing battle with the likes of FIFA, PES, The Beatles: Rock Band, Need For Speed, Modern Warfare 2 and GTA: Episodes From Liberty City – and sets up a mouth-watering scrap for 2010.

But with retail being forced to stick close to RRPs in the recession, it spells bad news for consumers – who have grown accustomed to an avalanche of huge new games in Q4 and widespread price cutting.

Last Christmas was a veritable bloodbath at retail, with far too many triple-A rated titles competing for consumer cash,” Bethesda MD Sean Brennan told MCV.

Retail prices were trashed to a level that made a mockery of the development costs. This year the recession will mean there will no doubt be less money available, as this industry does not exist in a vacuum as we like to sometimes believe. So publishers and retailers will generate greater value with post-Xmas launches. The only real losers are consumers who will not benefit as much from cheapened product. It also makes the market less seasonal, which can only be positive.”

Other key industry players have praised the new
trend – which will help ensure that top games won’t get ‘lost’ in the Christmas sales frenzy.

If you take a longer-term view, this will have no negative impact on the market,” commented Activision UK MD Andrew Brown.

There are still a large number of titles coming to market this year, but there is a limit to the ability of retailers to give stand-out to every launch. Also, moving some titles out of 2009 will give them more exposure when they do come to market.”

EA CEO John Riccitiello said: "Given some recent competitor title shifts, we believe the back half of the year is less competitive than originally expected, creating opportunity for EA."

Eidos life president Ian Livingstone commented: Blockbusters are not Christmas dependent. It makes sense to spread the big titles out over the year.”

UK MD of Ubisoft Rob Cooper said: It’s clear that the video games industry learned a lot from last Christmas which had an incredibly heavy release schedule and certain quality titles suffered from that. It’s a question of adapting to this year’s circumstances. We think that we’ve made the right decision for our titles and for our business by choosing to move certain key games out of the holiday period. Rather than projecting a loss of sales, we’re anticipating this will benefit our overall performance.”

President of Sega West Mike Hayes added:

Is the moving of games to Q1 next year a good or bad thing? I guess the answer lies on which side of the fence you stand! For those of us that have key titles in calendar Q4 then this is good news for our sales. But then again for those of us that have big titles in the first quarter of 2010 then these moves could be quite risky. At the end of the day we can only launch when titles are ready and there are by far and away enough releases before Christmas to create a buoyant market.”

And Codemasters CEO Rod Cousens told MCV:

Q4 is a congested period, which has resulted in wastage amongst quality products in the past – which may have fared better outside of the window. This year will still offer compelling and exciting content to draw on the consumer wallet and make for year-on-year growth. There are a number of ‘tentpole’ products which remain on track to bring Christmas cheer for some.”

The list of games previously due for a 2009 release that have been moved to next year points to a bumper 2010:

Alan Wake – Microsoft
Aliens: Colonial Marines – Sega
Bayonetta – Sega
Bioshock 2 – 2K Games
Dark Void – Capcom
Heavy Rain – Sony
MAG – Sony
Red Dead Redemption – Rockstar
Red Steel 2 – Ubisoft
Singularity – Activision
Splinter Cell: Conviction – Ubisoft
Starcraft 2 – Blizzard

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