Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Half-Life 2/Halo 2

I received an interesting e-mail from a Gamestop manager this morning, saying that his store had 'less than thirty' preorders for Half-Life 2.

That amazed me.

This is the sequel to one of the best PC games ever made. Console sports games franchises that get released every year have more pre-orders than that.

Even if you calculate Steam as reducing retail purchases by 50% (which I think is an impossibly high guess), it's still not very impressive. Not for a game of this magnitude.

The e-mail made me very curious. So I called my local 'benchmark' gaming store, an Electronics Boutique in a heavily-trafficked local mall. This is a high-volume store. I can usually call there and, if I get the right person on the phone, bend the conversation in a way to get some useful information.

Here's what I got.

Pre-orders for Half-Life 2: 27.
Pre-orders for Halo 2: over 400.

Holy crap! Four hundred pre-orders? That is absolutely stunning. If you ever wonder why I talk about the decline of PC gaming and the rise of consoles, that's why. Halo 2 is apparently going to outsell the PC versions of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, combined, on the basis of pre-orders alone.

Those pre-order numbers are why PC games no longer get premium shelf space inside gaming stores and mass market retailers. That's also why I say that while Half-Life 2 is an important game in the history of PC gaming, the validation of Steam as a high-volume distribution mechanism is far more important. Steam is far more important to the future of PC gaming than Half-Life 2 is. To maintain viability, PC games need to move, and quickly, toward digital distribution. I don't think that's a bad trend, just a necessary one.

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