The value games market has always been successful, more so than its full priced cousin. However, with the gaming market changing rapidly, and digital downloads on the horizon, could that be about to change? Christopher Dring investigates?

Budget Games

Impulse can be a retailer’s best friend. People purchasing items that they had no intention of buying can provide much needed till-ringing relief to shop owners. Budget video games are designed for just that kind of relief, adding those all-important pounds to your bottom line.

However, as a new generation of Wii-playing casual gamers come to the fore, could we see the budget market transform? Could these impulse purchases become considered options to an ever growing army of casual gamers?

"You cannot get away from the fact that budget games are impulse purchases but there’s no problem with that – if shoppers leave the stores with more products than they planned to buy then retailers are absolutely delighted," says Simon Reynolds, commercial manager at GSP. "Having said this there is undoubtedly a wider audience for budget games now. Casual gamers are much more active and are looking for easy to use, addictive non-hardcore games. These buyers, as well as buying on impulse, may very well browse for reasonable lengths of time, looking for the type of game that best suits them. They are less likely to know the triple A titles and are more likely to look for games that appeal to their particular needs, such as puzzle, arcade and tycoon type products."

Russell Barnes, editor of new magazine, Total PC Gaming, agrees with Reynolds. "Dedicated budget ranges are designed to be impulse purchases, but as games continue their march into the mainstream, original budget releases could well become the proving ground for upcoming developers and publishers looking to capitalise on the growing market."

Budget games have many advantages: they pose a low retail risk due to the low prices, and they have a long shelf life, as the target audience is more interested in a bargain than the latest triple A title. Budget games are not necessarily shoddy products either; many games on the value shelves are past big hits re-released at a reduced price, and even the games specifically designed for the budget market can provide light relief and entertainment. But which of these are the more important to the future of the budget game?

"More publishers are making their full-priced efforts console titles, and retailers are stocking fewer full-price releases," says Reynolds. "This means there are fewer triple A titles for the budget publishers to go after, than there were a year or two ago. So sourcing brand new titles for £4.99 and £9.99 is becoming more of a necessity."

Grant Hughes, marketing manager at Focus Multimedia, believes that ex-full priced software is more profitable; however straight-to-budget titles can also be successful. "Straight-to-budget games sell well if they are of sufficiently high quality and are carefully positioned. Being competitively priced is not enough on its own to guarantee good sales. To succeed, a title needs to be based on a subject matter that is popular at the time, or else have a world-beating pedigree that ensures success."

Value games have always sold well, and many retailers, including Borders, only stock budget software. However, could there be a growing threat on the horizon in the form of digital downloads? Gameplay-on-demand, Steam, direct2drive and so forth, offer cheap, convenient computer games, and

their popularity is ever growing. So could download services be a threat to the budget game?

Barnes doesn’t think so. "I don’t think digital downloads are as much a threat to budget games as they are mainly to high-end triple A titles. Since digital downloads are still the domain of advanced users and early adopters, budget titles that cater for the lower-end of the market won’t feel the burn quite as quickly."

"I’m not convinced that digital downloading is going to affect the budget market too much in the medium term," adds Reynolds. "In fact anything that helps to promote the PC as a credible games format can only help the popularity of value software."

Hughes also doubts that there’ll be an immediate impact from digital downloads, as downloading has yet to truly take off. "So far the UK consumer software market has not experienced anything like the revolutionary changes that services such as iTunes have brought to the music industry. We believe that for the foreseeable future there will be room for digital software downloads to peacefully co-exist alongside retail. As long as there is demand for high quality, impulse-price games, then we will continue to reap the rewards of PC budget software for many years to come."

With the threat of digital downloading some way off, an increase in casual gamers, and companies such as Mastertronic releasing up to four value titles a month, then the budget computer game market can look forward to another glorious year. Impulsive stuff.

Sold Out
Mastertronic’s Sold Out range features products that have come from its other budget ranges: PC Gamer Presents and MAD. Sold Out software is priced at just £4.99 and is made up of past big selling and big scoring PC games. These games include Far Cry, which is a jungle-based first person shooter that boasts non-linear missions, cutting-edge weaponry and vehicles, innovative multiplayer modes as well as a level editor. Hitman Contracts, a third person stealth action game that features advanced enemy intelligence and detailed graphics. And Thief: Deadly Shadows, a stealth conspiracy title that features both first and third person perspectives. These gamers were both critically and commercially popular.
Price: £4.99
Mastertronic: 0845 234 4242

PC Gamer Presents
Mastertronic’s PC Gamer Presents range consists of titles that received review scores of 80 per cent or over in PC Gamer magazine. Its tag line is ‘It’s a must if it’s 80 per cent plus.’ One such title is Prey, which features living weapons, giant environments, and a 3-hour epic soundtrack by Jeremy Soule. The game puts you in control of Tommy, who must navigate "a world where up and down are subjective, two-dimensional portals lead to three dimensional spaces, and rooms can change around him."

Another highly rated title is Just Cause, where gamers take control of Rico Rodriguez, a top secret agent who is about to start a revolution. There are 89 vehicles to be played with, and these include choppers, boats, cars, bikes, mini subs and jets. Gamers must use these vehicles to explore the tropical island of San Esperito.
Price: £9.99
Mastertronic: 0845 234 4242

The MAD label of budget software only features titles that have sold over 100,000 units, and the tag line for the range is ‘100,000 gamers can’t be wrong.’ One of these big sellers includes Worms 4: Mayhem. This hilarious 2D war game from Team 17 puts you in control of a team of worms, who must defeat all rival teams on the map. The utterly destructible scenery can be decimated by the use of dynamite, shotguns and even banana bombs. Gamers can even customise their team’s hats, hair, glasses, voices and so forth. Worms 4: Mayhem is an ideal title for hardcore and casual gamers.

Another title in the range is Battlestations: Midway. Players fight the greatest battles of the pacific war using a breathtaking blend of action and strategy, and can go online with up to 100 warships, aircraft and submarines. The game is an ideal title for the more skilled or hardcore PC gamers.
Price: £9.99
Mastertronic: 0845 234 4242

1000 Games
1000 Games features exactly that – 1000 full PC games, with thousands of different levels that can be enjoyed by all ages. Players can engage in over 140 card games, 330 arcade and action games and over 120 sports games. Other types of games include casino, jigsaw puzzle, logic and board games. There are loads of arcade classics for players to choose, offering a little something for everyone.
Price: £9.99
Interactive Ideas: 0208 805 1000

Blitzkrieg 2 Anthology
The complete Blitzkrieg 2 pack comes complete with the Blitzkrieg 2 game and its expansion packs: Liberation and Fall of the Reich. The critically acclaimed title is an example of a more hardcore budget title, and features deep strategic missions, 250 types of authentic WWII units that grow with experience, 60 types of infantry, and a 3D engine and map editor. The expansion packs include extra multiplayer maps, new units, new rewards and new campaigns. Scenarios takes place in the Philippines, Okinawa, Manchuria and Europe.
Price: £19.99
Ascaron: 01675 433220

Sonic Mega Collection
Everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog relives his glory years in one handy compilation. The Sonic Mega Collection features the three Sonic The Hedgehog titles, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic 3D Flickies’ Island, Sonic The Hedgehog Spinball and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. It also features five games from the SEGA Game Gear: Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Chaos, Sonic Drift, Sonic Labyrinth and Sonic Blast. The game has done well at retail, and ideal for all types of gamer.
Price: £9.99
Interactive Ideas: 0208 805 1000

Holiday World Tycoon
Holiday World Tycoon is a great example of an original budget title. As the manager of an up and coming tourist company, gamers must attract holidaymakers to their luxury resorts. There are three different holiday modes to select: Beach, Safari and Deep Sea Adventure, over 30 types of holidaymaker with varying needs and interests, multiple holiday themes and 60 different buildings to play with. There is also a multiplayer mode to enjoy, making Holiday World Tycoon an attractive, original budget title for casual gamers.
Price: £9.99
Interactive Ideas: 0208 805 1000

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