OPINION: DVD hits £700m so far in 2012, highlighting the challenge for games retail

DVD and Blu-ray have already made more than 700m for UK retail this year.

That entertainment sector is tracking ahead of last year, with 90.3m discs sold. And it is outstripping year-to-date sales of video games both in terms of units and value.

With plenty of high-profile releases still on the way, sales are expected to increase many times over. And yet, games retail just struggled through its worst week on record, market value dropped this week to another all-time low of 7.38m.

While digital delivery is of course a transformative force for games, the overall shrink of the physical software market is alarming.

A lot of the excitement is around what the new era will give us, but it’s coming almost prematurely, and I’d wager many are not ready.

The retail market, for a start, is just about to climb out of a crushingly awful lowest-point-yet trading slump that is worthy of examination.

Boxed games revenues and unit figures this year are not flat as many analysts and pundits told us they would be. They are significantly down, deteriorating faster than expected – surely faster than companies hoping to make the transition can adeptly adapt.

Our surprisingly-well-timed DVD & Blu-ray special this week rams that home and raises questions about the cultural worth of games.

Big themes to throw around, I know – but look at the numbers.

Although films are priced much lower, that entertainment category can sell around 2m units a week. Interactive entertainment can only muster 345,000. It can barely scrape 7m on the eve of Q4.

Look around some supermarkets, and you can see shelves still dedicated to Blu-ray, DVD racks by the tills… and stagnating space for games.

While that reflects the sparseness of the release slate (which reverses this week with PES, then FIFA, then Resi and so on) it also highlights the lasting mainstream permanence games have yet to achieve.

Yes, film is older, and everyone’s got a TV and a DVD player, while not everyone owns a games console. But take the DVD numbers, and add that to the cinema Box Office receipts, and the gulf between games and film is massive.

No wonder, then, in a fallow year for boxed content we have lost so much ground so quickly.

Ultimately games need multiple ‘Wii generations’, not just one cycle, to cement games as an enduring pastime. That’s why the Wii U promise is enticing to retailers.

We need to keep reaching for a wider audience, not just core gamers who prove fickle; they may keep the industry honest, but they don’t keep it buoyant.

So ubiquity will come in time, and hopefully it can bring a more reliable, stable revenue base with it. Although with the speed at which games are migrating to the web, it likely will all take a different form to the one we’re so used to.

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