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The game's the (next big) thing

PC and laptop sales are still on the decline globally. But one category is poised to erupt.

Everyone knows that PC and laptop sales have been on the decline for some time. But when Apple revealed in a conference call following its most recent quarterly results that it had suffered double-digit declines across all major product categories, the last glimmer of hope seemed to disappear. For the first time in 15 years, Apple sales had fallen, and seemed to take industry confidence down with it.

The heart of the matter is that Apple had been the single company to buck the global industry trend of manufacturers seeing PC sales decline every year since 2012. PC sales hit their peak in the third quarter of 2011, with estimated sales for that quarter ranging between 90-million and 100-million machines. By the middle of this year, the figure was below 70-million.

That’s still a serious number, and makes for some healthy bottom lines. But companies looking for growth out of manufacture, distribution and sale of computers seem to have nowhere to turn. Even the much-hyped tablet revolution is fizzling out.

But one category remains strong: the gaming hardware industry is exploding worldwide.

According to Chinese media and marketing company Digitimes, which closely tracks the industry, global gaming notebook shipments are expected to grow by 12.5% to reach 4.5-million units in 2016. While this statistic makes up a small proportion of the overall market, its significance lies both in its growth and the average revenue for a gaming PC: prices range from $1 499 to $1 999 per mainstream machine.

In South Africa, growth in this segment is even stronger. According to Spencer Chen, managing director of leading distributors Rectron, 2016 will see 25 to 30% growth in gaming notebooks. The market will hit the 10 000 mark in unit sales, dominated by brands like Gigabyte, MSI, Asus, and Alienware.

“A lot of people are moving into notebook PC gaming,” says Chen. “It’s mainly about the performance: the notebook is catching up to PC gaming, although there’s still some gap. Some gamers are using notebooks because they’re easier to carry about, and some mainstream gamers are using it as their work and play PC.”

Arthur Goldstuck Arthur Goldstuck
The health of the gaming market in South Africa was underlined by the recent gaming and geek festival, rAge, which remains the only major computer show in South Africa capable of drawing massive crowds. The 124 exhibitors and 34 000 attendees recalled the heyday of Computer Faire, except that it was dominated by a youth audience.

On the back of healthy demand for gaming hardware, a further sub-category is set to take off: virtual reality headsets. Most major VR headset brands were on display at rAge. Among other, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and the HTC Vive were used to demonstrate the newest innovations in the latest games. The biggest impact, however, is expected from PlayStation VR, due to be released in South Africa by Ster-Kinekor Entertainment early in 2017.

While its launch is likely to be one of the biggest gaming hardware events of the year, it won’t make the segment a certainty.

“We see VR getting quite popular,” says Chen, “but we struggle to find suppliers of VR goggles. For example, HTC product is not available in South Africa. Once brands are available, we can expect it to take off. At the moment, it comes at a very high cost. A full VR gaming setup will cost between R30 000 and R50 000 for a high-end PC plus high-end goggles.”

Of course, not everyone can suddenly morph into preferred providers of gaming hardware, but the trend proves that all sales lights do not dim at the same time.

Arthur Goldstuck is the founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of gadget.co.za

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee
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