Recent economic trends—notably rapid increases in fuel prices and associated price hikes in the general cost of living—should be something that the console video game industry starts taking seriously. Everything is getting more expensive at a most inopportune time for the domestic economy, and with the decline of disposable income, it's only a matter of time before pain is once again felt by the console gaming industry. Consumers are going to be forced to make tough choices in the coming weeks and months, and spending money is getting more scarce as we enter the second quarter of 2011. Many tax returns have already been spent, eliminating one way to fund sizable entertainment purchases.
We've been through this before; most notably during the gas price hikes of 2008. Back then, the industry was thought to be "recession-proof"… and yet developers were shuttered, publishers announced layoffs, and sales inevitably tumbled. Less than three years later, fuel prices are poised to not only eclipse the $4 per gallon barrier—but far exceed it. In fact, some localities are already dealing with prices above $4.50. Prices have jumped 20 cents per gallon in the last two weeks, and with oil prices poised to make a run at $115 this week and continue to rise, the trickle-down effect of these increases will be felt by consumers in a number of areas. Food prices are rising. Utility costs are likely to rise, especially heading into the summer months. Other costs of living are certain to be affected as well, and consumers will have to account for all of these increases while managing paychecks that aren't reflecting these trends.
This means that consumers, as they did back in 2008, will be forced to make sacrifices. There's no doubt that video games will be one of the major areas of decline. Software prices continue to be high, especially for being so far into the console generation. Hardware pricing has stalled, at least until probably June when Nintendo and Sony are expected to announce their price cuts, and the $250 price point of the 3DS is leading to a lot of caution now that the launch window is closing. Console game prices remain high, unlike iPhone/Android software, which is far more enticing for tight budgets.
It's almost as if the console video gaming industry honestly believes that consumers can't live without their video game fix. It's a bad attitude to have, and it won't be long before even more damage is done to a business that was invincible five years ago. People within the industry need to wake up and recognize that there are steps that can and should be taken to ensure that the damage is lessened and that more people remain interested when the economy eventually recovers:
- Hardware price cuts: Waiting until June will be too late for any momentum shift for the Wii and PlayStation 3. These cuts need to happen sooner, even if it takes the sails out of E3 a little bit. Since it's likely that gas prices will be at their highest just before the big show, companies must make a preemptive strike and attempt to generate interest before the worst hits.
- Software price cuts: There needs to be a signal to move software pricing down, at least back towards the $50 level. More titles should be added to each console's respective "Greatest Hits" lines, which should sell at a uniform $20. In short, making the first move to cut prices will show consumers that console video games can be affordable, even during hard times. Digitally-distributed titles, especially ones that have been available at retail for longer than 12 months, need price drops to Greatest Hits levels, no matter how popular the IP is.
- Pre-owned game cease-fire: We all know how the industry feels about pre-owned games. We also know that, thanks to constant connectivity, it's now possible to use alternate revenue methods(such as Online Passes) to attempt to force consumers to contribute something to the publisher's bottom line. It's time for a cease-fire. Reward consumers who buy new instead of taking such a hardline "They're not our customer" stance and stripping out content. The industry needs to at least make an effort to understand that consumers aren't buying used to spite the industry; instead, they're buying used to save a bit of money so that they can continue to afford playing video games in some capacity.
Just like many consumers, the console video game industry is going to have to make some hard choices of its own if it wishes to remain relevant on a mainstream scale. While price cuts can initially hurt the bottom line and a temporary reprieve from the War on Used Games might seem like admitting defeat by some, taking these or similar steps would go a long way to rebuilding trust and faith from a consumer base that's gradually been eroding. If nothing is done and the industry continues down its path of self-centered greed and shortsightedness, a future of weak sales and a continuation of declining interest is all but assured.
The alarm bells are ringing. The time to respond is now.
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