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Archive for November, 2008

After a few successful trials with Halo 3, Gears of War 2 and WOW: Wrath of the Lich King, 7-11 announced this week that they’ll sell a selection of titles an on ongoing basis at locations across the country.  I think this is a great move, and not just because I *love* Slurpees.

As the industry continues the march towards mainstream entertainment, we have to address the issue of availability/awareness at retail.  In particular, where is the best place for casual gamers to make their games purchase?  GameStop has served its purpose for hardcore gamers, but I can’t really see the type of gamer-parent that buys a Wii and 2 pieces of software a year wanting to spend any more time than absolutely necessary in the country’s most successful chain of pawn shops.  If your employees feel like they need to write a strategy guide to help consumers shop in your store, you’ve got a problem.  And I’ve long held that blind commitment to a subpar retail channel has held back comic books from truly connecting with an audience that clearly loves the product.

Of course, there’s an argument here for online distribution, and I’m happy to see active channels on all three home consoles in this genereation.  But I’d really be interested to see what percentage of casual gamers ever even set up an Xbox Live account, or mate their Wii to their wireless router.  Beyond that, you’ve still got the issue of getting new hardware to these people.  Brisk sales of Wii Fit, Guitar Hero and Rock Band mean that’s not a trend that will come to an end any time soon.

Big box stores usually have adequate supply on hand, and don’t seem as willing to put their customer through preorder shenanigans as specialty retailers.  They come up really short on knowledgable staff, though, and that can be critical for people making infrequent, less-than-informed purchases a few times a year.

Staff knowledge will obviously be a huge obstacle for 7-11’s effort, but with such a limited number of titles on offer, it’s got to be a much easier mountain to climb.  And after all, what better way to noramlize game purchases than put them right there with lottery tickets, magazines, and Doritos?  It’s worked in Japan for decades.

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In spite of the financial shitstorm general malaise on Wall Street, some of this industry’s heaviest hitters feel like this will actually be a Merry Christmas after all.  As crazy as it sounds, they may actually be on to something.

Looking at the NPD Report for October, the sector hasn’t gotten the same sucker punch as automotive, finance, or pretty much anything else that’s not Spam.  In fact, a 35% month-to-month increase on game sales and an overall take of $1.31 billion in October has the industry’s future looking downright rosie.

We’re in a good spot.  All three of this generation’s consoles are fully in their stride.  Holiday lineups look solid across the board, and the Wiittle White Wonder has even got monocles falling out in finance circles over its resilience.

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Considering Seth Schiesel didn’t write it, there is a surprisingly good piece in yesterday’s Times about the gaming community’s reaction to President-elect Obama.  Just to be clear, I absolutely love the guy and only wish I could have voted for him more than once, but I’ll admit I was a bit taken aback by him saying that we need to “put away the video games” in every stump speech over the last few months.  My knee-jerk reaction was, “oh man, a politician is talking about games, and that’s never good.”

Taking a closer look, these are comments on parenting, not on the state of our industry or even its audience.  And I couldn’t agree more.

One conversation I’m finding myself in more and more (as more of my friends become parents) is how video games fit into responsible parenting.  There are the obvious questions, like “what system should I buy for my kid?” and “how much time is too much?”  The question I ask that really gets to the heart of every parent/gaming conversation is “how much time do you spend (or plan on spending) playing games with your kids?”

Unfortunately, there are still some parents that think it’s ok to let the games entertain their kids, and stay out of it.  Perhaps they’re intimidated by the technology, or just didn’t play video games growing up and don’t “get” it.  But how is that different from taking your kid to the park, giving him a quick push on the swing, then going back home alone?

Last week, the missing persons case of Brandon Crisp came to the end I think we were all dreading.  A lot of less-than-stellar journalists jumped at the chance to throw the industry under the bus.  I’m not going to give them the dignity of a link, but Google it if you’re curious.  Just like Obama’s comments, this is a parenting story that happens to involve a gamer. 

My heart certainly goes out to Brandon’s parents, and I can’t possibly imagine what they’re going through right now.  But his father’s comments early in the case stuck with me: “My personal feeling is that he’s met someone online through this game…(Kids) play these games and it becomes an addiction. It becomes their whole life.”  I wonder how many times he tried to play “these games” with his son, or at the very least asked him what he was playing with even a little bit of interest.

Whether it’s playing catch, coloring, reading, hiding and seeking… love for your children is spelled T-I-M-E, and video games can be a great outlet for that.

In case you haven’t read it, be sure to check out Sam Kennedy’s piece over at 1Up that explores just what the Obama presidency could mean for gamers.  I’m actually a bit surprised to see something like this in 1Up – it reads more like an article from EDGE or Gamasutra.

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