It was good to walk in to my local GAME store and see people queuing to buy games this past Saturday. Obviously the glut of online retail sales and their frankly aggressive marketing hasn’t dulled the public’s taste for high street shopping. And given that my town has either GAME, a CEX, or a very small (practically non-existent) section of WH Smith’s for entertainment sales, there truly isn’t anywhere else to go except online. Or maybe a supermarket but I always find it weird that these big chain stores are becoming the only non-online outlet for my hobby vices. I’ll have sale copy of NBA with my clearance advent calenders and family pack of Wotsits, please… My shopping receipts probably look like I have marijuana munchies all the time.
Which is why it has surprised me that big old Amazon, the internet terror that has dominated the retail and server-scape for the past decade has had no games on sale during the Boxing Day sales period. I mean quite literally ZERO. I know, I’ve been watching it like a hawk. DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s, yes. Xbox One console sales, yes. But games themselves? No. GAME itself had better prices on games before Christmas, which all went up after Saturday.
But cast your mind back to Black Friday. Games galore were on sale. Mostly Shadow of Mordor and a few others. But there was certainly far more options at that time than there is now. I even highlighted on twitter how the Xbox store has an old game at effectively double the price compared to the US store. Although the discounts on PSN/XBL rarely get to be really… discounted.
Of all the games discounted this period, the big ones have to be Assassins Creed Unity, a game that was incredibly broken at launch and has received such a bad reception that a price drop was needed to shift the units, and The Crew, a game also with bugs at launch and that was mostly downloaded for free because of the issues with the former game. In that regard, any sales are good for those games. But there appears to be, compared to other times of the year, a massive absence of games on sale, or games that weren’t already on sale beforehand at better prices.
So is this it for the traditional “Boxing Day” sales time for games? Retail seems to have so many different sale periods these days that it’s hard to even define a sale period. No doubt the Easter period will see some of the better deals for gaming sales, or the same games at further discount. But the availability of digital platforms, of digital stores and the fact that every big release this year seems mostly to be part of the annual franchise brigade that holds their price until they become worthless in two years time, suggests that our linear interpretation of sales is probably at an end.
Which is a bit of a shame because if anything us gamers have had to become more thrifty. I read a tweet recently about how even freelance journalists like myself can’t afford to buy all the games they want to play. I can’t either, I’ve just played some discounts and Tesco vouchers rather well. So all of us have to make use of good timing and good searching if we really want something.
Of course this probably has more to do with the success of Black Friday rather than anything else. I had a word with the management in my local GAME store, just casually, to discuss the prices. It was a bit crazy where Xbox One versions of games were cheaper than the PS4 versions and even pre-owned was more expensive than the new copies of games like The Last of Us. In the space of four days, The Crew had gone from £25 to £35 and back down to £30, presumably when someone realised that £35 was probably too high. The distributors and the console “powers-at-be” set these prices and amend them if they need to. So really, it’s got very little to do with the outlets selling the games as to what deals we get.
But Black Friday’s massive success has thrown a spanner in the works. From a business point of view, the January sales are great for showing profits and accounts in the black over a typically poor quarter for retail (as the pictured graph shows). The strength of the first month makes the rest of the financial quarter rather mute. What Black Friday has done has moved that to before Christmas and the success of those sales seem to have thrown everyone off. The price setters have already done what they needed to in order to drive sales so they don’t need to discount so much in January to drive those profit margins. It’s something that could unsettle our economy a little bit if the companies don’t adjust their predictions correctly.
A great example of this is the rumour that the Xbox One is going back up in price to $400 in the US. That would knock on to the UK and see console prices likely return from the £320 mark to about £360-380. Given that you could have purchased an Xbox One during Black Friday for £269.99, enough units appear to have been shifted to start raising the prices, ready for when past generation game production finally starts to slow down. So when people are “forced” to upgrade, the prices will be higher, but enough has been sold already to inspire a higher amount of game production for those consoles. It’s a bit cheeky but it’s business.
What that means is that the traditional time of purchasing games appears to be at an end, something my local GAME agreed with despite queues to buy products. Steam certainly makes buying video games very fluid and their sale periods seem to be an event unto themselves. Online/High Street retail seems to have three periods that will shift units, Black Friday, Christmas and Easter. But Boxing Day, a time we used to love for having a wallet full of generously donated notes, looks like it will join that great retail gig in the sky along with Woolworths, Our Price and C-List celebrities opening Supermarkets.