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Video games the one entertainment option growing this holiday season

Games were the focus at a Best Buy in Boise on Black Friday. Get used to it.

AP

Games were the focus at a Best Buy in Boise on Black Friday. Get used to it.

While everyone is suffering from the global recession, it's good to know the ranks of gamers are still growing.

A story in the Financial Times points out that U.S. console sales were up 25 percent over last year on Black Friday, according to NPD. Software sales were also up, pulling in a 35 percent increase on the year, dispelling earlier fears that while boxes might move, games might not.

"We're forecasting it will be better than last year this holiday season," Wedbush Morgan analyst Edward Woo told the Financial Times.

The gaming market has already declared that trend. In Europe, Xbox 360 consoles sales are 124 percent better than 2007, thanks to a precipitous price drop for that console to as low as $199, for which Microsoft credits cheaper components.

This, of course, is all due to the fact that people are buckling down and not going out every night, opting instead to save money by looking toward home entertainment options. When you figure that even a game that costs $60 can provide anywhere from 10 to 100 hours of entertainment on its own (think Fallout 3's massive open world, or Wii Sports' party-fostering gameplay), that 360 or PlayStation 3 is looking like a good investment. Try taking a family of four to see three movies this month at $10 per two-hour show and see how light your wallet feels.

"The credit crunch is a fact for folks in the U.S. and Europe, so people are being much more cautious," Aaron Greenberg, head of product management in Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment branch, told the Financial Times. "Consumers are staying in and spending more money on being entertained at home."

The overall implications of this recession-driven spending spree is great news for those of us who are already plugged in. With more than 75 million latest-gen consoles in homes, some of the longer-view goals of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo can finally come into play.

Microsoft can use its new Xbox Live Experience to drive the 360's ultimate goal of being a home media center that connects your PC to your television, allows you to watch Netflix downloads and keeps you in touch with anyone who has a gamertag, Messenger ID or inbox.

The PS3's long-awaited social network/front-end system, Home, launches an open beta trial today, so even though Sony is in third place in sales, it can finally claim a unique interactive experience to go along with a superior technical product. Money magazine named the 80GB PS3 its best buy among on-the-market Blu-Ray players, and has replaced the regular DVD player in my house.

And Nintendo, which managed to ship more units last week (800,000) than in all of October, will continue to pull in more people who never thought of themselves as gamers. Think Wii Fit or Wii Music is a fad? Even Nana will give them a spin with the grandkids. How's that for cross-generational appeal?

"Fortunately for us a lot of shoppers put our products at the top of their list," Nintendo president Satoru Iwata told Reuters. They put the DS on their lists, too, since there also was a 20 percent increase in the sale of the handheld over 2007.

All is not peaches and cream, however, since Electronic Arts announced 600 job cuts and the cancellation of some lesser-known titles, and Sony's electronics division is losing 8,000 positions, some of which are likely to come from the PlayStation team.

But such strong sales lately mean more gamers in the fold, which means better console longevity and more software choices to fill the niches created by such a large audience. This proves gaming is a serious medium that requires as much attention as "traditional" entertainment like movies, music and books — all of which are continually posting losses.

Economists, industry analysts, educational institutions, parenting associations and yes, the media would do well to note the implications of this surge long after this recession is over. It's obvious more than ever that video games aren't going anywhere.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

Video games the one entertainment option growing this holiday season 12/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 7:36pm]

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