Here we go again…

(a) An atrocious novelty record reaching inexplicable heights in the charts;

(b) Vaguely sinister old men in costume inviting kids they don’t know to sit on their knees;

(c) Continual reminders that ‘there are only X amount of shopping days until Christmas’, creating widespread panic for parents in a desperate hunt for the festive must-have.

And in the games industry, regular as clockwork, we start talking seriously about Christmas in September, wonder at the sheer number of new releases hitting retail, and fear for widespread price cutting and its effect on margins.

It would all be pretty tedious if it there wasn’t millions of pounds at stake – and this Christmas represents, once again, the chance to trump last year’s record retail haul.

But as familiar as these concerns feel, every year does manage to present different challenges. And the underlying theme for this year?

Well, the blanket coverage of the UK’s financial health – or lack of it – has spurred on countless ‘how to beat the credit crunch’ features across every conceivable media outlet of late. But it seems that there’s an easy way of defying all the gloom – work in the games industry.

People are increasingly staying at home to play games rather than going out, and at retail, it’s clear that music is doomed and the DVD market is gradually eating itself.

With a tempting selection of hardware, core games pushing the boundaries and casual gaming an increasingly powerful force, there are more opportunities than ever to rake in the cash.

And yet, in terms of maximising margins, we’re seeing the beginnings of what could be another year of missed opportunities.

It’s a sign of a healthily competitive market, of course, to have this many retailers battling it out over the consumer pound. But we’ve also reached the point where in many cases indies are spending more time strolling into Tesco, Asda or Morrisons to claim their new release stock than on the phone to their distributors.

It’s easy to demonise supermarkets for their price cutting, loss leading strategies, but faced with the buying power and marketing spend that these superpowers have, you’d be a fool not to take full advantage. And they’re ready to do it again.

As the pressure mounts, something’s going to give. Prices will be slashed, street dates will be broken and games will get lost in the battle for chart supremacy.

Still looking forward to Christmas?

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