Game releases hold steady in 2009

EEDAR analysis finds slightly more titles fighting over fewer customer dollars, increasingly scarce shelf space; 2010 to see fewer new retail games.

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Judging from the glut of potential blockbusters that were delayed to next year, one might get the impression that 2009 saw fewer games released than normal. That's actually not the case, according to Electronic Entertainment Design and Research analyst Jesse Divnich.

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Citing figures from EEDAR's GamePulse service, Divnich told GameSpot that 2009 saw 1,099 games debut at US retailers across all platforms, up slightly from the previous year's 1,092 releases. Although the quantity of titles hasn't changed much, the steady flow of new releases has some significant implications when combined with other factors.

"For just the current generation home consoles (PS3/360/Wii), 2009's release quantities increase the total availability of games to consumers by 55 percent," Divnich noted. "Unless retail shelf space grows by the same amount--and it isn't--then the retail shelf life for an average game decreases dramatically. Additionally, each year there are at least 50 games that achieve a permanent spot on retail shelves (Greatest Hits, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, etc.), which decreases the total amount of retail space available for newer titles."

Shelf space isn't the only commodity new games have to fight over. With industry sales down year-over-year, there are fewer consumer dollars spread out over a larger number of possible purchases.

"Because our industry is not growing at the same rate as release quantities, it does mean the average new release is producing fewer unit sales than in previous years," Divnich said.

Breaking down the number of new releases by platform (see picture), Divnich noted that despite slowing sales momentum, the DS and Wii both saw significant bumps in their new release numbers. Meanwhile, new PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 retail releases were flat and slightly down for the year, respectively, which Divnich attributed to the rise in digital distribution.

Beyond simply selling games online instead of in stores, developers are spending more time supporting released titles with downloadable content, Divnich said. Over time, those extra resources could lead to fewer games finding their way into retail.

Looking ahead to next year, Divnich expects a 5 to 8 percent drop in the number of games to hit shelves. He attributed the expected drop to a combination of factors, including industry consolidation and peak release trends from previous console generations. He also emphasized the impact of digital distribution, saying that if projects like OnLive and GaiKai pan out, the number of boxed retail games released for the year could drop as much as 10 percent.

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