Christmas showdown for video games
Fifteen-minute sellouts, unprecedented demand, warring tech giants, and a "massive" Christmas season ahead: video games are hotter property than ever during 2020.
Experts predict Australians will have to fight to get their hands on the new Xbox and PlayStation games machines this year, with a combination of new hardware, exclusive titles, and more time spent at a safe, social distance fuelling the market for tens of thousands of eager buyers.
But games are also going digital, with one platform backing a "Netflix of games" style service that could change the way people play and pay for their entertainment, and analysts predicting subscriptions and digital purchases will "skyrocket".
The latest evidence of fierce demand for video games in Australia arrived earlier this week, when Sony and Microsoft launched presales for their first next-generation consoles in seven years.
Demand for the powerful machines was overwhelming, introducing the phrase "pre-sold-out" to the lexicon.
EB Games opened sales of Microsoft's Xbox Series X at 8am on Tuesday, only to close them 14 minutes later.
Sony had surprised fans by launching presales of PlayStation 5 consoles days earlier, in a move that saw many miss out in the rush.
"Let's be honest: PS5 preorders could have been a lot smoother," the company later admitted.
Many keen gamers were left disappointed; some promised consoles as late as December 2021 while others fought scalpers who used bots to secure the games machines quickly before listing them for sale online.
Avid gamer and The Red Line car blogger Peter Anderson said he tried to preorder both consoles to ensure he wouldn't be locked out by racing games exclusive to just one platform.
Buying a PlayStation 5 was straightforward, he said, but preordering an Xbox quickly turned into a saga.
The Sydney man tried to order a console through Telstra, only to face repeated errors. He then switched to JB Hi-Fi, got a PS5 console in his shopping cart, and saw more errors.
"Most people would just abandon it but I kept refreshing the page," he said.
"It wasn't a specific error, and eventually it came good.
"At the end of the day, it's just a console, I'm not going to die if I don't get it for a few weeks, but I want to play Gran Turismo 7, Project CARS 3, and some shooters as well."
Software engineer Nick Young also got caught in the online preorder crush while trying to buy an Xbox this week; a problem exacerbated when he noticed flaws, exposed code, and the use of outdated software by an online retailer.
Mr Young said he tried to submit his credit card details to EB Games "30 to 40 times" before he was kicked out of the system. By the time he could log back in, the consoles were sold out.
"It was a bad experience," he said. "I have money I want to give it to you, and you won't let me give it to you. I was pretty annoyed."
Despite the shaky, frustrating start to this year's bumper games season, experts predict record sales for gaming hardware and software.
Futuresource Consulting research analyst Morris Garrard said the console market alone would see more than $12 billion in sales this year, potentially adding millions of dollars to the Australian game industry that reaped $3.16 billion last year.
Interactive Games and Entertainment Association chief executive Ron Curry said high demand for gaming hardware should not have come as a surprise as there was always "a cohort of hardcore early adopters," but the entire industry had enjoyed huge growth during Australia's coronavirus lockdowns.
The new console launches could create a tricky Christmas, Mr Curry warned.
"We always have strong Christmas sales but it will be interesting this year because we have new hardware," he said.
"There will be a rush but there will also be people taking advantage in drops in prices for the older hardware and software. It's very hard to predict."
Mr Curry said game sales were also spreading to new markets, with Telstra now offering Xbox consoles on plans like smartphones, and a boom in digital purchases and game subscription services, such as Apple Arcade, Google's Play Pass, and Microsoft's Game Pass, which will offer gamers access to more than 100 titles, same-day new releases, and be heavily tied to the launch of its new machines.
Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi said two million Australians were now subscribing to games services, and predicted interest in unlocking a library of games of one monthly fee would soar over the next four years.
"Game subscriptions in Australia have more than doubled in the past 12 months to June," he said.
"We're seeing a huge amount of interest in a Netflix-for-games model, and we forecast it to grow from two million subscribers to 10 million by 2024."
Microsoft's $15.95 monthly Game Pass service was likely to be one of the biggest drivers behind the trend, he said, but casual gamers were also likely to take up offers from Apple and Google.
Mr Fadaghi said the rush to buy these subscriptions, as well as pre-sold-out consoles and new titles, would intensify in the lead-up to Christmas.
"Interest in the new generation is sky high," he said.
"More than half of existing games console owners are interested in the new hardware. It's going to be a massive year for games going into the holiday period."
In store: November 10
Models: Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S
Prices: $749, $499
New features: Twice as powerful as its predecessor, the Xbox Series X features 12 teraflops of power, support for video at 120 frames per second, a one terabyte solid-state drive, and is ready for 8K games. The Series S console features half the storage and no disc drive. Can be used with Xbox Games Pass.
Launch games: Dirt 5, FIFA 21, Destiny 2: Beyond Light, Watch Dogs: Legion, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Bright Memory, Marvel's Avengers, Gears Tactics, Tetris Effect: Connected, Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War.
In store: November 12
Models: PS5, PS5 Digital Edition
Prices: $750, $600
New features: High-powered, eight-core processing chip and graphics unit, speedy solid-state drive with 825GB storage, with support 8K content, 120 frames per second, and new controllers that support haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. The Digital Edition has no disc drive.
Games: Godfall, NBA 2K21, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Astro's Playroom, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Devil May Cry 5, Demon's Souls, Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War.
Originally published as Christmas showdown for video games