Last Christmas Britain's retailers experienced a minor phenomenon known as the "James May effect", in which Christmas shoppers appeared to be turning away from buying computer games for their relatives, and returned to the old favourites of previous decades such as Airfix and Scalextric.
Today Game Group, Britain's top computer game retailer, said in a trading statement that while it usually gets over a quarter of its annual revenue during the Christmas season, it is feeling "cautious" going into Christmas this year.
Last year Game saw its sales fall 12.1 per cent in the five week Christmas and New Year trading period, despite high profile releases such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. By contrast Hornby, which owns Scalextric, Airfix, and (obviously) Hornby trains, had such huge demand over Christmas that it was left with "historically low" levels of stock.
In its statement today Game said that so far this year its sales have fallen 8.8 per cent, again despite high profile releases. In the last few weeks, new games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops and FIFA 11 have broken records for being the fastest selling computer games in history. Even so Game Group's sales in the last 18 weeks were still down 7.8 per cent, while in July the company said that it had gone from a half year pre-tax profit of £10.8 million in 2009 to a loss of £21.5 million this year.
Compare this with companies dealing in older non-computerised forms of entertainment, such as Hornby and Games Workshop, which produces figures and rules for fantasy tabletop wargames, have had a relatively good year.
Hornby reported a rise in turnover of two per cent to £25.5 million and a slight drop in profit from £0.7 million to £0.5 million in the first half of the year. Meanwhile Games Workshop in July said its annual turnover rose by 0.6 per cent to £126.5 million while pre-tax profit more than doubled to £16.1 million.
So are older games played by middle-aged men re-visiting their youth and their like-minded teenage sons starting to bite back against the might of the computer games industry? Are people waiting in eager expectation for the latest edition of Warhammer as they for the latest instalment of Call of Duty?
In part it does seem to be the case that more traditional toys and entertainment forms are making a comeback, but perhaps the real reason for the rising fortunes of Hornby and Games Workshop compared to the decline of Game is the competition they face.
When James May, the BBC's resident ten-year-old in a man's body, made his "Toy Stories" series before Christmas last year he showcased his six favourite toys as a child: Airfix, Plasticine, Meccano, Scalextric, Lego and Hornby Trains.
Of these six, three are owned by Hornby and two of them, Scalextric and Hornby trains have no serious challengers in the slot-car and trains set niche. Even the third, Airfix, is the first point of call for most people looking to buy plastic planes and tanks, although its plastic soldiers are often far out-matched by newer companies such as HaT, Revell and Italeri.
Games Workshop also dominates its market of fantasy and sci-fi wargaming, with the company's CEO, Mark Wells, boasting this year, "Our continual investment in product quality, using our defendable intellectual property, provides us with a considerable barrier to entry for potential competitors: it is our Fortress Wall."
Clearly both Hornby and Games Workshop have been successful in cornering their own niche markets.
By contrast Game today said that it faced stiff competition from "numerous retailers eager to access a market that generates over $40bn of revenues globally". Indeed. Consumers don't need to go to Game to buy the latest "Call of Duty", they can do it in Asda if they want! However anyone wanting a Hornby train or a box of Warhammer soldiers generally has to go to Hornby or Games Workshop, or someone supplied by them.
Here in lies the difference. Almost everything in Game stores is developed and made by someone else. They are essentially a retailer for other people's products. Games Workshop on the other hand, despite its 382 outlets in Britain alone, styles itself as primarily manufacturer rather than a retailer.
So it seems that it's not the case that older games are becoming more popular and computer games less so. Rather it seems that computer games are so universally popular that every major and minor retailer wants to get a slice of a very large pie, while companies like Hornby and Games Workshop eat nearly all of much smaller, but growing, pies.