The PC games market has experienced steady growth over the past year in terms of units shipped, driven largely by the impressive advancements in gaming technology, online gaming and more affordable pricing for consumers. However, it is coming under increasing pressure from the rapidly expanding console market and the adoption of broadband which is allowing consumers to download illegal games copies with relative ease. Nevertheless resellers are optimistic that this year’s PC games releases will be a big hit during the Christmas holiday shopping season.
According to market research company Inform, PC games shipments increased 6 per cent from 2002 to 2003, yet dropped in value 1 per cent.
Gaming peripherals shipments fell 6 per cent over the same period and the total market value dropped 16 per cent.
“Year-on-year, we see a decline in day one numbers for PC games,” business development manager, gaming and consumables, at Tech Pacific Australia, Nathan Pringle, said. “This is due to many factors, but mainly the Internet. The Internet allows users to read games reviews from other gamers and lets them download demos and so on. With broadband also on the rise, people are able to download “illegal copies” quite easily. The market is still strong, however I think its [future growth] is limited by the Internet and broadband uptake.
“We are starting to see a small impact with many styles of genre, which have been predominately for PC gamers coming to console. Sony and Microsoft have both just launched their ‘online’ services, which require a broadband connection to get connected,” Dingle said. “I can also see this eating into the PC gaming market, as now you can also play ‘online’ with the console, which has been the only advantage of having a PC up until now.”
Nevertheless the fact remains that many consumers already own a PC or want the multiple functionality that a PC offers over a console plus the more advanced graphics of PC-based games. So while the console market strengthens and console manufacturers increasingly add features to there systems that were once unique to PC games, their remains strong demand for PC-based entertainment.
Online gaming has had a significant impact on the gaming market, driving both the PC and console gaming markets.
“Online gaming has definitely driven sales, especially titles such as the Sims Online and the Warcraft series, where you can play in real-time against anyone, anywhere in the world,” Dingle said. “The satisfaction a gamer gets by beating someone online is usually 10 times more than beating the computer itself.”
With every new release, games developers are setting new benchmarks in gaming technology, with faster CPUs and more powerful video cards enabling unprecedented graphics and sound quality. Interest in high-end consumer sound cards and speaker sets is increasing as more games take advantage of in-game EAX or Dolby surround sound effects.
“We’ve seen growth in PC games sales due to faster CPUs, faster motherboard chipsets and faster, more powerful video cards,” sales manager at Sydney Metro Computers, Debbe Wojak, said. “The trend in the gamer’s market is to upgrade their PC to be able to support the future games being released, such as Doom 3, Unreal Tournament 2004 and Half Life 2, which probably will not be released until after Christmas.”
Many consumers are waiting for the final requirements of games like Half Life 2 or Doom 3 to be announced before upgrading their video cards once again. These games are graphically intensive and fussy about how particular cards will perform while playing. For example, Half Life 2 requires direct X 8.1 to run sufficiently, and yet there is probably only 10 per cent of Australians who actually have a direct X 8.1 video card.
“One of the main reasons gamers upgrade their machines is to make games run faster, look nicer and sound better,” managing director of Berlin Wall Software Supermarket, Rob Beaumont, said. “With new games coming out utilising new graphic features such as ‘hardware shaders’, many people are being forced to upgrade their video cards and CPUs to allow these games to play smoothly.”
While video cards and CPUs make for good add-on sales, the PC game’s most obvious bedfellows are gaming accessories like joysticks, steering wheels and headsets. These types of accessories are the most common accompaniment to a PC game sale and represent additional reseller revenue on a stick.
“Gaming accessories such as joysticks and steering wheels enhance the overall gameplay which is what most games are after,” Beaumont said. “In my opinion, you can spend hundreds of dollars on making your game look and sound great, but if there’s no gameplay there, then what’s the point? I don’t think that I’m the only one thinking this, which is why these accessories sell so well.
“In particular the sale of Logitech steering wheels has increased rapidly over the past six months, and with games like EA’s Need For Speed: Underground and Colin McRae Rally 4 due soon, I can only see the continued success of this wheel’s sales.”.
Since Microsoft’s departure from the PC gaming peripherals market, Logitech has taken a huge share of the joystick and wheel market.
Another little gaming accessory that is gaining popularity and is often understocked by resellers is PC headsets. According to Beaumont, there are a proliferation of games emerging in which users communicate to each other via microphones and earphones.
“The one thing we constantly find ourselves ordering is PC headsets,” he said. “After speaking with some customers and game publishers, I’ve discovered that more and more games are employing the use of these headsets to communicate with players across the globe, thus driving this new ‘revolution’.
“Another gaming device employing the use of these peripherals is the Microsoft X-Box. By purchasing and subscribing to the X-Box Live service, customers can not only play X-Box Live-enabled titles with other players, but communicate by voice with the supplied X-Box communicator,” Beaumont said.
Stocking the right PC games and knowing how much to stock is critical for resellers, particularly in the lead up to Christmas when the likelihood of a supply shortage on certain titles is high. There are a number of characteristics to look for when deciding which PC games to order. According to Beaumont, the biggest selling PC games this year have been Grand Theft Auto – Vice City, Vietcong, Flight Simulator: A Century of Flight, Star Trek – Elite Force 2 and Star Wars – Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Academy.
“With the exception of Flight Simulator all of the above titles have an M15+ or MA15+ rating, this leads us to believe that PC games consumers are after violence, the publishers know this and use that to there advantage, In fact, I can’t think of one Take 2 Interactive [the publishers of Vice City and Vietcong current title that does not involve violence. Vice City actually includes a ‘kill meter’ that lets users keep track of how many people they kill.
Games that have a strong series/movie licence, such as Star Trek and Star Wars, also tend to be big sellers as many consumers have seen the movies and have been drawn to the games through careful extensive marketing, Beaumont said.
“There is quite a noticeable trend in the most popular titles — they are commonly either expansion packs or standalone sequels to existing franchises,” he said.
“Customers can recognise the Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto brand names, for example, and that alone can easily generate interest in a game well before any official information is even announced. Games such as Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne and Battlefield 1942 which feature online gameplay modes and support user-created content/mods that extend the life of the games have also been popular.”
Wojak said games with high-end graphics and high-quality sound were a big hit with consumers.
“These games are mostly war-related type games in the category of ‘first-person shooter’, meaning the view in the game is as if you are looking through the eyes of the character you have chosen — a ‘real-time view’ if you will,” she said.
Industry pundits are expecting strong sales of PC games, gaming accessories and video cards this Christmas, although it will be hard to improve on last year’s market performance.
“The interactive industry grows every year regardless of the global economy, so I expect Christmas sales will be stronger than last year. The interactive industry in Australia should hit $1 billion,” Dingle said.
“With titles out last Christmas such as Neverwinter Nights and Battlefield 1942, it will certainly be a challenge to top last year’s results, especially since the X-Box and PlayStation 2 have a very strong line-up. I’m confident though that this Christmas, with games titles like Call of Duty and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, we will be able to set a new benchmark in both PC gaming and PC product sales.
“In addition to a strong line-up of titles, one of our largest distributors, AFA Interactive Distributors, has embarked on a joint venture to supply a select few resellers with a PC and console gaming catalogue. The eight-page full colour catalogue has been circulating around Adelaide for the past month, specifically focusing on Christmas release titles.”
Local players are expecting video cards, Logitech’s racing wheels, and games such as Unreal Tournament 2004, Max Payne 2, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Call of Duty to be the hot sellers this Christmas, and Half Life 2, Doom 3 and Deus Ex 2 to be the most popular games title into the new year.