Last week saw the release of information noting a record year for game sales in 2005. This week securities firms are recommending caution as they predict dramatic slowdowns for 2006. Even with the solid numbers last year, PC game sales have fallen off and many keep wondering why.
I bought substantially fewer PC games in 2005 than ever before and I am very much a PC gamer. I do own various console systems but those are now mainly used by my son. So why did I buy fewer games in 2005? Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I don’t think that’s it. I’ve been speaking with various friends who also noted the same trend and, when we compared notes, one simple reality kept coming up. We just didn’t run into PC games the way we used to.
You see, for many of us older gamers our game buying isn’t a predetermined action. We buy a lot of games on impulse. Our wives are heading to the mall and we tag along. While she heads off to find that ever-ellusive dress, we long ago realized it’s less painful to window shop on our own. Many of us head right over to Electronics Boutique or GameStop (now, sadly, the same company) to look over the inventory. Unfortunately, over the last year or so the selection of PC games available at these stores has dropped to a mere trickle.
I used to go there and find an entire wall of literally hundreds of PC games. Every new release was there, in quanity, along with most every other release going back more than a year. The other day I stopped by the mall and headed to Electronics Boutique. It took me a bit to even find the PC games. When I did, what I found was quite distressing. A single end-cap held one copy each of roughly eight of the latest PC games to be released. On the inside of the shelf was an array of both older “new” games and used games. That was it. I couldn’t find any Warcraft game. There was no sign of Doom 3 or Quake 4, Flight Simulator had apparently left the gate, the only Civilization was a used copy of Civ III and the only sign of The Sims was a single copy of an older expansion.
Given that selection, the odds of my buying something on impulse was dramatically reduced. In fact, the reality of such a poor selection has kept me from even venturing into these stores over the last several months. I generally go in now just to see how bad it’s gotten. Most GameStop’s I visit carry no PC games at all. I keep wondering how PC game developers expect me to find and buy their games. Sure I can go online to buy them but that takes interest and predetermination. I have to want to buy the game and to want it enough to order it, pay for shipping and then wait days for it to arrive. Good luck. I can also head off to CompUSA or Best Buy to find a somewhat better selection but those stores aren’t convenient on a number of fronts. They require a dedicated trip and that goes back to purpose. In addition, I often get easily annoyed at both of those stores. The main reason is that I rarely can escape one quickly after deciding on a purchase. They usually have far too few registers open and long, slow lines. At least one person in line is returning something and someone else is going to buy an extended warranty or get a complicated mail-in rebate form which will come with several questions about it.
Even when I went to Electronics Boutique to buy a specific game, a well-stocked shelf often resulted in my walking out with another game or two beside the one I went in to get. So much for those sales. I keep trying but I can’t mimic those purchases online. I just can’t get a real sense of the stock there. If I just “window shop” at an online store, I can easily see the top 10 games or the most recent releases, but that’s not much better than the small end cap I encounter in the store. It takes several pages of data to get through a minimum of titles and mainly you’re just looking at textual titles. There’s nothing there to jump out at you. When there are pictures they’re often initially presented as small, dark unimpressive thumbnails. I can’t just see a representation of a store shelf and scan the box covers and then look at the box and inside covers.
So, in the end, I expect my PC game purchases will continue to decline. Worse, I’m going to need to find a new place to fill the void while my wife continues to hunt for that ellusive dress.