“Do video game publishers know something that we don’t?” This question has been buzzing around my head ever since I learned about Square-Enix’s plan to retroactively make the upcoming Hitman game into an episodic “experience.” At first I thought it was just another money-grubbing move by a major publisher, but then I watched January 28th’s episode of Jim Sterling’s “The Jimquisition“. In Sterling states that, according his sources, Square Enix and some other major publishers entered this current generation with no faith in the console market. They were convinced that games released on consoles were all going to perform poorly, and that microtransactions, DLC, and the PC market in general were going to be the future. Now regardless of how you may personally feel about Mr. Sterling or the news he reports, certain publishers’ actions in the recent past begin to make sense if this does indeed prove to be true. After all, why go through all that trouble and bad press if you didn’t think you had something to gain? Still, one has to wonder where they got the idea that consoles were a bad market in the first place.
Well, after an admittedly small touch of investigating, I believe I’ve found at least one piece of that puzzle. It seems that there may have been a general downward trend in revenue across the board in the video game industry for these past five years. Since 2010, total industry revenue (in the U.S.) may have fallen from ~18 billion dollars to ~13 billion dollars. Those aren’t nosedive numbers (at least, I don’t think they are), but a possible difference of 5 billion dollars is still rather significant. I’m not sure I can completely trust the data I’ve found, so this by itself is not to draw any conclusions. However, it is enough to spark some questions I think. What kinds of numbers were the higher-ups at Square-Enix seeing, and what could have caused such scary numbers in the first place?
Sterling’s video states that game sales in general were flagging in the months leading up to the launch of the new generation. This makes sense to me, and it probably makes sense to a lot of you out there. We weren’t seeing a lot of exciting games coming out for the now last-gen consoles at the time, and we wanted to save out money for the jump to the PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U. Still, that was then, and this is now. The current generation has been the current generation for just over 2 years now. We’ve had time to get our consoles, and we’ve had time to buy games for them. We only started getting real worthwhile games for them last year, and those games sold incredibly well too! So why the heck are they still so scared for the future?
The only thing I can think of is that perhaps our buying habits have changed. It could be that they’re not seeing pre-order numbers that are as favorable as they used to be. I could definitely see that happening. After everything that’s happened with the likes of Destiny, Watch_Dogs, The Order: 1886, and Assassin’s Creed: Unity, I could definitely see pre-order numbers taking a hit. Oh, and there’s also the general call to stop pre-ordering games from gaming media sites like Kotaku, online forums and Youtube personalities like Boogie2988. I know that I and my own circle of friends almost never pre-order, and with all this negative attention the practice has received, I’m sure we’re not the only ones who’ve stopped doing it. With that in mind, the fears of Square Enix and other publishers would make sense if they’re still using pre-order number to judge consumer interest in their games.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if there is something more to this somehow. I wonder if we all, as a group, have been buying fewer games these past few years. It’s not the case for me, though I have been more inclined to wait until after the inevitable month(s) worth of patches to buy my games. I’ve also been more inclined to buy games for my PC too; something I would never have done a year ago. I wonder if maybe more gamers out there are doing the same, and if that’s what’s got Square Enix and their like stricken with this incredibly irrational fear they now find themselves gripped with.
What do you think of all this? Does Square Enix have just cause to be as afraid as they are? Have your video game buying habits changed at all over these past couple of years?