This year, even good little boys and girls can hardly expect better than coal in their stockings. Unemployment is up and home values are down—if you’re lucky enough to keep yours. According to rumors, Santa is considering massive layoffs at his North Pole plant. A Merry Christmas indeed.
It’s no surprise the gift-sales-dependent retail industry is hurting, and the big video-game giants are no exception. Stock in Redwood City, Calif.–based Electronic Arts, creator of Madden Football and publisher of Left 4 Dead (you’ve seen the gruesome billboards around town), has plummeted from more than $60 in December 2007 to around $20 now. [This story originally stated that Electronic Arts is the maker of Left 4 Dead and has been corrected.] Same thing at Activision Blizzard, the Santa Monica, Calif., company that made us all Guitar Heroes. Its stock hit about $20 during a lucrative merger last summer, but is back down to the $10 range. Neither company is turning a profit right now, according to financial statements.
But over at Big Fish Games, a Seattle studio that creates casual games involving jewel hunts or word puzzles, things are rosy. In October, the company hit record revenues, CEO Jeremy Lewis says. (Because Big Fish is private, it does not have to give audited financial reports as its larger-scale competitors do.)
“We’ve had a very busy year,” says Lewis.
Ever the consummate visionary CEO figure, Lewis is prone to using vague statements about core values and mission when describing his company’s success. He also points to the 600 independent developers Big Fish contracts with to keep up the constant flow of new browser-based casual games, not to mention an in-house studio that churns out a dozen or more downloadable time-killers a year.
Big Fish’s games aren’t as epic as anything on Wii or PlayStation, and all can be played online or downloaded. There are no expensive discs or fancy controllers to purchase. Last week’s release, Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst, is a spectral-themed scavenger hunt game that retails for $19.99, though the price drops to $9.99 if you purchase another game within two months.
Everyone needs to escape the economic hardship, and when you can’t afford a trip to Fiji anymore, why not cheap online games? “They are stress-relieving as opposed to stress-inducing,” Lewis says. “During times of economic challenge, consumers have tended to seek enjoyment and fun and relaxation and escape by way of games.”