Key players in the West Midland video games publishing sector are hoping Sony’s move to slash the price of its PlayStation 3 will give a shot in the arm to flagging sales across the industry.
Sony is cutting the price of its flagship console in a bid to boost sales and is launching a new slimline version of its existing model early next month, which will cost £249.99 compared to the current £299.99 price tag.
The move comes after PlayStation 3 (PS3) sales lagged behind rival consoles such as Nintendo, while the wider industry has also suffered from weaker demand amid the recession.
Sales of the video games played on consoles have also been on the decline on both sides of the Atlantic – the latest industry video games figures showed a 5.7 per cent drop in year-on-year video games sales in the UK in the first half of this year.
A more accessibly-priced PS3 would widen the market for video games publishers – a sector which has a strong presence in the West Midlands with many world-class companies concentrated around the Leamington Spa area.
The town – which has been dubbed “Silicon Spa” - is home to Codemasters, one of the best-known names internationally with titles such as Ashes Cricket 2009 as well as Freestyle Games, a subsidiary of US giant Activision Blizzard, which has worked on the hugely popular Guitar Hero game.
Leamington Spa is also home to Blitz Games Studios, which has a wide offering including family-oriented and serious games.
Blitz chief executive officer Philip Oliver welcomed the move by Sony to drop the price of the PS3.
He said: “It’s not just a reduction in price which means it’s more attractive for new gamers to adopt the PS3 and more people to use games. They have also redesigned the PS3 so it’s smaller, lighter and uses less electricity and that’s also good for the environment.
“The whole industry is hoping PS3 sales will increase and grow more of a market to sell games. We hope companies like Microsoft and Nintendo will follow suit and drop the costs of their machines.”
The number of home and portable gaming consoles in the UK now stands at 24 million which is around the same number as there are UK households.
Blitz Games has been actively working with the government and the educational establishment to promote ways to support a thriving games industry in the UK.
The studio is today hosting a visit by Labour MP for Nuneaton Bill Olner, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for the computer and video games industry set up a couple of months ago.
Mr Oliver has been an active campaigner for the introduction of tax breaks for the UK video games industry, a drive which has been gathering pace and gaining increased political support over the last few months.
Tax breaks have been introduced in countries like Canada and the UK industry has blamed this for a “brain drain” of talent from the UK to work in countries where the sector enjoys subsidies.
Mr Oliver said he had noticed a sea-change in political attitudes towards the games industry in the UK, with politicians recognising that the high-tech sector was a key element of the knowledge-based economy the government wants to create.
The Digital Britain report published earlier in the summer said the government would work with the industry to look at the evidence for tax relief to promote “culturally British” video games
Mr Oliver said: “You get tax breaks in films for being culturally relevant and we are doing just as much as films to promote the UK.
“I’ve been to a lot of British embassies worldwide and they have pictures of Lara Croft – she’s a British icon.”
Technology analysts said Sony’s price cut would also be welcomed by retailers such as Game Group and HMV ahead of the key Christmas selling season.
Singer Capital Markets analysts said: “Clearly new hardware and a reduced price is good news for the retailers ahead of the important Christmas trading season after a rather subdued summer with uninspiring software releases.
“However, at £249.99, the PS3 may still be perceived as expensive by many during the downturn and the price cut may not be enough to tempt those who have been hoping for a drop in price below £200.”
Sony’s PS3 is said to have sold 23.7?million worldwide since launch in 2006, compared to around 138 million for its predecessor, the PlayStation 2, according to Singer analysts.
They added that more than 80 per cent of PS2 sales came after the price cut to £169 in 2002, two years after launch.