Voodoo Economics

There are several game industry forums where members of all three tiers—manufacturer, distributor, retailer—can interact. This may not sound like a big deal but in the old days the distributors really weren’t too keen on manufacturers and retailers getting too friendly. It is, of course, useful for manufacturers to get news from the front lines. What’s selling, what’s not, what was the surprise hit, etc. For the last four months I’ve been seeing retailers talking about how poor their sales are compared to previous years. At first I thought it was a periodic dip, but every month since September I’ve been seeing reports about how business is down. Some messages have been frantic. For many retailers, Xmas sales have not magically reversed the trend.

Today I went out to do some Xmas shopping. Nik and I stopped at the post office to mail some packages to our folks. I fully expected a monstrous line and an endless wait. Instead we walked right to the front and were out in ten minutes. Then I went to downtown Seattle to pick up a few last minute items for Nik and Kate. I walked through the corpse of FAO Schwartz, which was having a going out of business sale. Nonetheless, they still played the “welcome to our world of toys” theme song over and over at the front entrance. It was the cheeriest funeral dirge I’d ever heard.

There were certainly crowds downtown, but it was all very manageable. There seemed to be plenty of everything for all the shoppers, the lines weren’t too long, and it only took me a couple of hours to finish. You wouldn’t have guessed it was three days before Xmas in downtown Seattle. This all seemed to reinforce what I’d been hearing from the game retailers: this year people aren’t buying. At least, not as much as usual. Now maybe that’s great and we should all celebrate how the commercialization of Xmas has been taken down a notch. Or maybe what I’m seeing are a lot of signs that the recession is far from over and 2004 may be a shitty year for everybody except the super rich—and hey, I’m sure those guys will get some more choice tax cuts.

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