By the end of 2008, I was bothered by the question: do people play more games in economic downturns. As I used this material for my own purposes at work, it is only until now that I feel comfortable releasing parts of it to the public.

Let’s look at two major players to answer this question: Nintendo (with its Wii, DS, GameBoy, GameBoy Advance, and GameBoy Color) and Sony (with its PS, PS2, PS3, and PSP).

Nintendo

When looking at the changes in sales QoQ (Quarter over Quarter), you can easily see that while there is still a lot of growth happening, the initial spikes indicate that people are really catching up fast in the beginning, rushing to get their hands on the new hardware.

What’s somewhat expected is that there is a high correlation between hardware units and software units sold. And only in the first quarter of 2008, you see an indication of this correlation breaking up.

What’s somewhat surprising though are the spikes at the beginning of the current recession: shortly after the official date of the current economic downturn, hardware and software units sales went up for both the Wii and the DS.

Sony

Don’t be fooled by the graphs at first: the scale is different from the previous slide to capture the tremendous falloff in the first couple of quarters after launching a new platform.

What’s interesting is that Sony’s sales seem pretty stable even during economic uncertainties. And what’s even more surprising is that Sony started both the PS2 and PS3 in bear markets. Now, if that was Sony’s strategy or just coincidence remains a mystery. But looking at how the different consoles performed in terms of sales, I think it’s reasonable to call this a success.

Games Per Console (GPC)

This is the ratio that should get most of our attention to answer the question at hand. The hypothesis was: do people play more when the economy turns bad? To play more you basically have two options: you either play existing games longer or more often or you play more new games. The latter implies that you buy more games which should be captured by both Nintendo and Sony since these are closed platforms with tight monitoring from their makers. You could only buy software (on pieces of hardware) until very late when Sony opened up its PS-platform for direct downloads. Hence, the data here is not that much influenced by this latest feature.

GPC: Sony Vs. Nintendo

Interesting enough is that during bear markets, GPC stays constant for most of the consoles. This shows that hard core gamers and people playing a GameBoy/Advance/Color do not buy more games.

However, the Wii shows some pretty interesting moves. While it first goes down, it starts to rise until it hits 8 games per console. So, how do we account for the move downwards? This is due to its appeal for one very specific software title. My best guess would be the Wii Step or the sports games that were shipped with each console.

But the fact that the Wii has been designed for casual gamers gives us a clue about how we are able to relate the behavior of different demographic groups in downturns to each other. As people get more used to it or tired of the existing games, they start to shop more games, showing the graph going up. I guess this can be regarded as an indication of a certain demographic group of people playing more games.

Conclusion

I guess it would be a bit far fetched from this data to claim that in general people play more games when faced with economic uncertainties. The reason any more recent data on these two players would not help is the dominance of mobile gaming platforms arising from more capable and powerful handset devices like the iPhone and Androids.