Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Credit Crunch Games

So despite the fact that most economists realise that talk of recessions can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies, it’s hard to avoid the constant discussion of the ‘global economic downturn’ or whatever it’s called this week. Obviously, given my line of business, I’m forced to ask myself “how does this affect games sales?”

Some people would suggest it could be very bad. Games are a leisure activity, and thus are easily cut back. you will stop buying games before you stop buying food, or paying the rent. This would suggest that the wise man would make cheaper games, in order to make the potential buyer think he is getting a bargain, or that the game is so cheap the price isn’t worth worrying about.

I think it might be the opposite. It could be that tough economic times are good for games. Not *all* games, but mine, and here’s why:

1) Games in general are a VERY cost-effective leisure activity. Assume a $22.95 game like Democracy 2. That’s probably a similar cost to buying a DVD which lasts 2 hours, 3 with the extras. Call it 5 if you watch it twice. A decent game will last much longer than that, so in terms of cost-per-hour of leisure, the game pretty much beats the DVD. Compare them to the hourly cost of drinking in a bar, the movies, restaurants, the theater, or pretty much anything but books and TV, and gaming wins out big time.

2) The games I make are simulation/strategy, which tend to have a lot of playtime, and replay value. They aren’t fixed length games with one-shot puzzles, like the hidden object games, or on-rails one-time hollywood style rides such as COD 4. Even if in practice you choose not to keep replaying, the option is there. It’s perceived value that affects sales, and the perceived play time and thus value of my games is high.

3) The credit crunch is terrible for the overpriced PS3, and bad for the XBox, Wii, DS and any blockbuster PC game that requires that you upgrade your hardware. On the flipside, this means there are a lot of gamers who have got used to buying a new console or video card every year who have decided not to do so this time. In other words, there are a lot of people who want low-system-requirement games to play, in order to make full use of existing hardware investments.

Thats ME!

My games are unusual in that they aren’t designed for absolute base level minimum spec. I assume a hardware accelerated video card and 1024 res monitor. I also assume some graphical punch, so I do a lot of overlays and blending, and some particle stuff. In other words, I try to make my games look as good as they can, whilst staying out of the 3D arms race.

Who knows how it will play out? Sales for the last two weeks have been really bad, so maybe I’m just trying to cheer myself up, but I think my logic at leasts makes some sense. What do you think?

4 thoughts on Credit Crunch Games

  1. I had heard the argument that entertainment is always a good sell no matter how good or bad the economy is, so your logic makes sense in general. Does it work specifically for the reasons you stated? I don’t know.

    You say that sales are down for the past few weeks, but maybe that’s just how the summer sales are? I wouldn’t know your sales history for summers, but as I understand it, video game sales are usually lackluster during this time.

    I guess we’ll see.

  2. It is certainly the conventional wisdom that games hold up pretty well in an economic downturn, for a lot of the reasons you’ve stated. I personally think your reasoning is pretty sound, I imagine you’ll hold up just fine.

    It reminds me of the situation Marks and Spencers now find themselves in, after a good few years of loving life at the posh end of the food market where the margins are best, one credit crunch and food price crisis later and suddenly it looks a lot smarter to be down at the other end of the market, where Asda and (even lower) Lidl hang out.

    Not that I’m saying you’re Lidl, of course :) But in a downturn it is undeniably better to be at the budget end of any market, games are no exception I’m sure.

  3. I’d second (well actually “fourth”…or possibly even “fifth”) this “games survive recession” thing; it’s certainly a maxim that most people in the mainstream industry believe in.

    Having said that, we’re in a culture of somewhat more disposable impulse-purchase mass-market games now, so there is a possibility that if the wider market perceives games differently, the old wisdom may longer hold true.

    That should be proved by the data that emerges over the next few months, I suppose.

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