Gamers score at playing cheap online

Youths play online computer games at an Internet cafe in Shanghai.

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: They say one industry that thrives in a recession is entertainment, cause people need to escape. For the computer gaming business, that has been somewhat true. But as Mitchell Hartman reports from the Entrepreneurship Desk at Oregon Public Broadcasting, consumers are finding ways to get their gaming on the cheap.


[Beeping sounds from the computer game Retro/Grade]

Matt Gilgenbach: You are ace pilot Rick Rocket, and you've just defeated the evil alien armada. But then all the massive damage you caused destroyed the space-time continuum, so now time is going in reverse.

Mitchell Hartman: Matt Gilgenbach wishes time was running backward right now. He demo'd his new computer game at a trade show in San Francisco last month. It's called "Retro/Grade" and it's won plenty of awards, but he says now's not the ideal time for a launch.

Gilgenbach: Now with the economy the way the market is, it's definitely scary.

The gaming industry looks strong on paper. It grew 15 percent in 2008. But Dan Ackerman of CNET says that may not continue.

Gilgenbach: A couple months from now, when we ask people to invest in new hardware -- maybe buy a Playstation III to play Blue-Ray movies or to play a big new game that's coming out like God of War III -- that's when we'll see if the game industry really is recession-proof.

Ackerman says game software is also making consumers blanch. A new action game with top-notch graphics can cost $60 a pop.

Ackerman: The guys who are doing really well now are guys who do casual games. These are smaller games, you usually download them either online or through your game console. And they're a lot cheaper, they're maybe $5, $10, maybe $20.

Developers of casual games are on a roll. At Big Fish Games in Seattle, CEO Jeremy Lewis says business has been doubling every year. And it spiked even more in September, when the recession started to bite.

Jeremy Lewis: Through customer testimonials, we know those consumers who have unfortunately lost their jobs and are looking for other jobs, are turning to Big Fish Games for a source of entertainment and relaxation and a reprieve.

Lewis says they're online, on their own time, and playing his low-cost games -- maybe to get a break from job-searching. The company's nonviolent titles appeal especially to middle-aged women, who Lewis says come to the company's Web site to chat about solving mysteries, finding hidden objects and other things.

Lewis: Very much like they would on a social network like Facebook about any of the things that might be on their mind, including child support, their job loss.

Maybe they should consider game design. Big Fish, which has 375 employees, is looking to increase its workforce by 10 percent. Not bad in a recession.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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