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Renting and Video Game Launches: A Look at Another Side of the Industry

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Console launches have a lot riding on them. The respective companies spend millions to hype their hardware and draw in new customers. That business model affects other industries as well.

Cody Hutchins works for IntoTheGame.com, an online rental site that stocks Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii titles (amongst others).

The launches generally require slightly more stock according to Hutchins.

"You'll see more at launch overall," he said. "I will say for this launch though, with the PS3, I had nothing. At launch, no one was requesting PS3 games. It took at least a month before I even had the first real PS3 breakout and now it's coming in at a steadier pace."

It was the opposite situation for the Wii.

"I was really shocked with how many people ordered Wii games. There were a lot more orders for Wii games than I ever expected."

With all the talk of a low number of units shipped to the store, the online portion of the rental industry doesn't have many problems meeting the demand.

"We try and put up games ahead of time. We can estimate how many to order by how many people put the games in their que."

While a nice way to judge upcoming demand, it's hardly a perfect method.

"That doesn't always work as someone may get a PS3 or a Wii today, so it's a matter of ordering more as needed."

As far as surprises in demand, the Wii has the sleeper hit.

"Trauma Center did a lot better than I expected it to. I expected a few but it got quite a lot of good ratings and I think that sparked a lot of people's interest. They [Wii owners] were disappointed with Red Steel and everyone bought Zelda, that's a given. Trauma Center was second or third highest rated title at launch according to most sites."

It's worth noting that even with a shortage in Wii hardware, Trauma Center ranks in at number three overall according to IntoTheGame's top rental list which is otherwise dominated by Xbox 360 games.

What about sure sellers such as like Resistance on the PS3 and Zelda: Twilight Princess that many will purchase alongside the hardware? Do these rent well?

"I see more requests for games like Call of Duty 3 than I have Resistance. People who have a 360 might want to see if it looks or handles better, and won't buy it twice to find out if it's different. People buy Resistance because you can't get it anywhere else and rent Call of Duty 3 because they've probably played it."

The prospect of new consoles also brought with it easily accessible demos. Surprisingly, people still rent frequently even if a taste is available for free.

"It might hurt rental share a little bit. People will still rent something they want to play though. I remember when Fight Night Round 3 came out and I got to play one match with one boxer in the demo but it was fantastic. Renting is the safe way to play the full game."

As far as which system is currently gaining most of Hutchins playtime, it's the Xbox 360. Hutchins is a self-proclaimed hardcore gamer, owning all three pieces of new hardware. However, it's the 360 that keeps drawing him back.

"It seems as though I'd rather play on the 360 right now for various reasons."

Those reasons vary, though one did stick out in his mind.

"It's little things like achievements. Is there any point to them? No. But, you can show someone anywhere in the world what I've done."

He recently spent some time with the Xbox 360 version of Marvel Ultimate Alliance for that very reason.

"Achievements keep me playing and doing things I wouldn't even try if I was on a PS3, like get all the gold medals in Marvel Ultimate Alliance. I have nothing to show for it I did it on the PS3 other than to close friends."

Regardless of preferences, the rental market for both movies and games has slipped in recent years. The second largest rental chain, Hollywood Video, was sold off to former third place rival Movie Gallery.

In late 2005, it was announced that Blockbuster video posted a loss $491 million according to the CBC, though that number was reduced dramatically to 24.7 million in 2006, attributed to the launch of their online rental service.

With the advent of online rentals, there's still a profitable business model at work just in different form. Console launches show a small peak, especially with the increase in software prices.

Hutchins explains why a launch is a small boost for business.

"A lot of launch titles are risky and until someone is settled in and knows what's supposed to be good, then yeah, they'll rent instead. They don't feel like spending $60 on a game when they paid $600 for the system."

That, or they just want a quick way to earn some of those Xbox 360 achievement points.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • http://www.iletyou.com Rodger

    The new console launches are great for video stores and online rental stores. Stores benefit, but so do people who don’t want to shell out that additional $60 on top of an expensive console.

    We’ve recently launched the private Beta for iLetYou, an online rental community for DVDs and video games.

    Anyone can create a store for free. You can rent your games out to recoup your purchase cost. You can often rent games out for a longer period, charging more – it’s all up to you. Or you can choose to rent from a variety of stores on iLetYou based on price, reputation and location.

    Please contact me [Personal contact info deleted] if you are interested in setting up a store.