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Cut back on games? Readers say no way

Will the video-game industry weather the recession? Most readers think so. And that’s because most of you have no plans to change your game-buying pace. You might cut back on traveling or shopping for clothes. But not your gaming.

Michael A. Ratajczyk, an economist (and gamer) from Winona, Minn., says that he’d sooner cut back on other things. “During a recession, I’d probably buy more games and go out to the bar or dinner less for my entertainment.”

In a recent column, I pondered whether games are recession-proof. I’m still not sure of the answer, but one thing’s clear: Video games continue to defy the rest of the retail economy.

Last week, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales fell by 0.6 percent last month, which was worse than analysts had expected. But video games posted much sunnier number, with hardware and software hitting $1.33 billion in February, according to the NPD Group. That’s a 34 percent jump over January — and those numbers don’t include PC-game sales, just consoles and console games. 

Why are games booming when everything else is a bust? Many readers pointed out that games are a great way to escape from the relentless march of depressing economic news.

“If people don't want to face reality when times are good (at least for the overall economy) then I don't see them wanting to face reality as things get worse,” wrote Matt Ellington, a gamer and law student.

Andrew Cardin agrees. “As long as all my bills are paid for, and I don’t feel too pressured by the economy, I will continue to purchase video games,” he wrote in an e-mail.  “Not only have they been a way to escape my stress from day to day, but they have also been an instrument in bringing my friends and me together.”

In my column, I compared the game industry with movies, a form of entertainment that’s traditionally fared quite well during bleak economic times. But plenty of readers wrote to tell me that a $50 game is a better deal than a $10 movie.

“Yes, you may spend $50 on one game, but it provides hours and hours of entertainment,” wrote Erin Isaacs, of Baltimore. “It's more cost-effective than renting a movie or going anywhere — whether it's to the movie theater down the block, or the amusement park four hours away.”

Reader Sheryl Cooley said in an e-mail that once you become immune to the sticker shock of a game, you don’t think twice about paying the price. “It’s no more of a sticker shock than the now-$10 cost of a movie at the theater.”

But can the industry withstand a serious recession? Most readers thought so, including Shea Douglas of Jeffersonville, Vt., who works at a local GameStop. He said that in the last week, his store had increased sales from the previous year.

“However, I think that it’s not due to people getting more into games, but a bigger selection of games that you can choose from,” he wrote. “But, I still see this industry as a leather-skinned creature that can survive just about anything. “

Still, some of you are doing more browsing than buying at your local GameStop. “At a cost of $60 per game, I see no choice but to cut back on triple-A (big-budget) games, relying on an increasingly diverse range of free casual games,” wrote Daniel Lau, of Lexington, Ky.

Renting before buying is a good way to try before you buy, said Jeanne Burch in an e-mail. She wrote that she’s being a lot more cautious about purchasing new games “since $50 is a lot of money for me right now and I don’t want to throw money away on a dud.”

Self-described avid gamer Scott McCall, of Kansas City, Mo. is also more careful these days. “I will still buy a game that I really want, but I will rent games more often now and decide if it is one with good replay value. “

On a related note, several readers said that the sputtering economy had prompted them to buy more used games. 

Dave Wesner, of Albuquerque, N.M. wrote that this subsector of the larger industry “stands to weather a downturn very well, as buyers look for cheaper alternatives to the latest and greatest, and as tightening budgets lead to increased selling (and) trading of games that aren’t being played.”

Elizabeth Alley is one of those buyers. She wrote in an e-mail that once she’s beaten a game, she’ll sell it back to earn credit for the next cool title.

“I buy games a lot and I’ll keep on buying them and playing them and looking for the next thing, as will many gamers — despite what the rest of the economy does.”