Gift

Happy Black Friday everyone!

If you haven’t had the time to get started on your holiday shopping, then it’s the perfect day to browse around for some deals. I’m heading out this evening to pick up a few electronics for family members, and while I was making a list, I began to reflect on how video games fit into the holiday shopping season.

Here are a few of my observations on 2012 retail trends, and how the gaming market has responded to them.

The Early Bird Gets The Worm

Wii U

Customers who didn’t pre-order the Wii U are having trouble finding one in stores.

The holiday shopping season starts earlier and earlier every year, and gamers have followed this trend to a tee. Just to give you an idea, 62 percent of all shoppers actually started their holiday shopping before Halloween. Walmart, Target, and Toys-R-Us started their holiday sales a day early this year. In Canada, 60 percent of shoppers began planning their shopping at the beginning of November.

The holiday release season for video games, which runs roughly from September to December, is more jam-packed than ever with hot titles. In fact, the season is so crowded that some developers are even delaying their releases until the winter, when they can stand out more in the sea of games.

As just a sample of this year’s offerings, we had the highly anticipated release of the Wii U (November 18), Epic Mickey 2 (November 18), Halo 4 (November 6), Call of Duty: Black Ops II (November 18), Resident Evil 6 (October 2) and Assassin’s Creed III (October 30).

Due to high demand during the crowded holiday shopping season, it’s more important than ever for players to pre-order games and consoles. As they say, the early bird gets the worm. I’ve been into my local Electronics Boutique several times now looking for a Wii U console (a fool’s dream, I know). Hopefully, I’ll get my hands on one by the new year, but it kills me that I didn’t pre-order one so I could receive it by Christmas.

Niche Items Galore

999 cover

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is one of the most highly-coveted niche games for graphic novel lovers.

These days, personalized gifts are all the rage. It’s not enough to buy a generic game for a gamer, just as it’s not enough to buy a generic book for a book lover.

The retail market loves niche items. There are perfect gifts for every hobby, and there are no shortage of websites out there to advise gift-givers on how to choose the ideal item for every family member.

For gamers, niche items are how we express our particular interests. And these days, the more specific you can get about your gaming tastes, the better.

To give you a taste of the genres out there, you’ll find 19 different categories of PC games on Amazon.com. It’s not really surprising that the single biggest category is Action, with over 7000 games, followed by the Strategy category, with over 2000 titles. But in between, there are tons of little niche categories to choose from, like Casino, Rhythm, Mah Jong, Puzzle, Racing, Cards, and Trivia.

Wikipedia also has an in-depth list of video game genres, which you can view here. And although some genres are on the verge of extinction, they’re still a key component of the gamer identity. When you’re buying a gift for the gamer in your family, it’s a good idea to know which genres they prefer.

Of course, if you’re looking for something a little more generic, gift cards are a great option for gamers too. Actually, many stores offer gift cards as a “bonus” if you purchase a game or console. And just so you know, gift cards are totally on trend; according to a recent study by the National Retail Foundation (NRF), 60% of survey participants want gift cards this year.

Bundled Gift-Giving

Wii bundle

In 2010, the red Wii console came with the New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Wii Sports.

Gift sets are all the rage. Everyone loves finding multiple goodies in the same package, and gamers are no exception.

The equivalent of a gift set in the gaming world is the bundled package. I still remember waaay back when I got the N64 and Super Mario 64 bundle for Christmas. It was great because I didn’t have to buy a game separately before trying out the console.

As it turns out, bundles are actually great for the gaming industry. It’s a proven fact that bundling games and consoles together improves sales. A recent study from the Harvard Business School showed that sales of video game consoles were higher when companies offered a “bundle” alongside the option to purchase consoles and games separately. According to the study, bundled games also motivate consumers to buy consoles closer to their release dates.

Bundles like the Humble Indie Bundle have also put indie game developers on our radar. In a sense, they’ve expanded our gift-giving horizons, allowing us to no longer rely exclusively on stores like Electronics Boutique and GameStop to find the perfect gift for friends and family.

The Ever-Growing Online Market

Steam logo

Valve’s digital distribution platform Steam is one of the most popular places to buy and gift online games.

Another major trend this holiday season is buying gifts online.

This year, online sales of gifts are expected to increase by 12%. Multiple retailers, like Target, Macy’s, and Nordstrom have also pledged to match Amazon’s online prices, and to offer other incentives like same-day shipping.

This holiday season, more gamers than ever will buy titles online. Digital platforms like Nintendo eShop, Xbox Live Arcade, Origin, and Steam (which has the biggest market share) have been a resounding success. In fact, experts are already predicting that online sales of video games will surpass retail sales, maybe even next year.

Online buying has the added benefit of making the market more accessible to “non-gamers.” Since it’s so easy to download titles onto a tablet or smartphone, more people than ever are enjoying video games on a regular basis. It’s really no surprise that games are among the best-selling apps on the App Store. With mobile technology, the gaming market is bigger and better than ever, and that’s something we should all be excited about.

Conclusion

The gaming market is one of the most competitive ones out there, but it also contains some of the hardest-working people. Over the years, industry professionals have opted to modify some key components of the gaming world, including distribution methods.

Still, they’ve managed to keep pace with market trends. And thanks to their dedication, video games remain at the top of my wish list in 2012.

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