Forget televisions and laptops. Judging by the fervor and numbers, Black Friday 2011 was all about video games. Unfortunately, thanks to a few boneheaded bargain hunters, it was a shopping day that would do nothing to help the industry's image among mainstream shoppers.
Video game violence was all over the news this weekend, but it had nothing to do with Modern Warfare 3
. This time, it was the people buying games that were going postal.
And while they fought just as ferociously over Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmos in years past, I'm fearful that some talking heads may find a way to point the finger of blame at the video game industry once again.
Let's recap, for those of you who wisely spent time with family or playing Skyrim
this weekend instead…
In Southern California, a woman was so desperate to get her hands on a discounted Xbox 360 at Walmart that she pepper sprayed others in the store. Ten people were hit by the spray and another 10 suffered minor bumps and bruises in the ensuing chaos. (The woman turned herself in to police 24 hours later, but has not yet been charged with any crime.)
Meanwhile, in Mesquite, Texas, a woman was almost crushed
(again at Walmart) as people went into a feeding frenzy over $10 games and movies. (Note how the people who do manage to grab something don't bother to check what it is until after they've walked away.)
Over in Phoenix, a 54-year old man who allegedly tried to shoplift a video game was thrown face-first to the ground by police, suffering a head wound that caused him to bleed profusely. (Some witnesses say he was simply putting the games in his pants to pick his grandson up above the raucous crowd. Oh… and would you care to guess where he was shopping? Yep.)
So, we've got two important takeaways here: 1.) Never, ever risk going to Walmart on Black Friday
and 2.) People are definitely responding to video game deals this year.
Among games, the winners were pretty obvious choices. Cowen and Company analyst Doug Creutz estimates the top selling games
at Amazon during the Black Friday sales and the following two days included Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3
and Madden NFL 12
That should help boost publisher stock prices -- although that's hardly guaranteed. BMO Capital Markets analyst Edward Williams notes that over the past five years, there has been extreme volatility among gaming stocks between Black Friday and the end of the year. Last year, he says, interactive entertainment stock price increases outnumbered stock price decreases by more than 2:1.
Overall, the National Retail Federation on Monday reported that the average holiday shopper over the weekend spent $398.62, up from $365.34 last year, and video games and electronics helped drive that increase.
Among the console makers, this year, the big winners appear to be Microsoft and Sony.
"We believe both [the Xbox 360 and PS3] are benefiting from a migration of consumers up the video game curve -- in other words, from the Wii to either of the HD systems," says Williams.
That's good news (well, unless you're Nintendo), but I'm still worried about the potential blowback from those shopper incidents. The Examiner is already dubbing last Friday as "The most violent Black Friday ever." There's some hyperbole there, but it's not too far off base. And with games at the heart of some of the most notable confrontations, that's all the trigger some mass media outlets need to start beating a familiar drum.
The saving grace could be that blaming games just isn't in vogue right now, following this year's Supreme Court ruling. And, let's face it, complaining about the general insanity of holiday shopping is a much easier way to get ratings these days.