Liquor, games sales thrive during recession

More than half a million Americans lost their jobs last month. If sales trends reflect reality, most coped by getting drunk and killing aliens.

As vehicle manufacturers and major banks crumble amidst the worst economic environment since the Great Depression, U.S. sales of video games and alcoholic beverages have increased by record amounts.

The video games industry is on pace to total a record $22 billion in U.S. sales this year, success that has been widely documented.

Meanwhile, several states are reporting strong increases in liquor sales during the 2008 fiscal year, Pennsylvania and Utah included. Ohioans bought enough liquor to fill more than 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools, a recording-breaking year of consumption.

And November data suggests the trends aren’t slowing; Americans seem to be gearing up for a holiday of drunken family gaming.

According to the NPD Group, the games industry’s unprecedented growth and success actually increased last month, as U.S. retail sales of gaming hardware, software and accessories reached $2.91 billion.

Nintendo sold 2 million Wii consoles to top hardware charts, while Microsoft’s Gears of War 2 led all software sales with 1.5 million.

Video games have clearly proven immune to the effects of an economic downturn, but the emergence of alcohol as a similarly recession-proof business is perhaps a bit more of a surprise.

In a study released this year by the Nielsen Company, which tracks consumer trends, 80 percent of interviewees said they were spending the same amount or more on alcohol compared to a year ago.

“Alcoholic beverages are withstanding the economic slowdown very well, compared to other categories that might be considered indulgent or non-necessities,” said Danny Brager of Nielsen.

“To many customers, alcoholic beverages are an affordable luxury.”

An “indulgent non-necessity” considered an “affordable luxury” is perhaps as accurate a descriptor of video games as it is of liquor.

These industries’ successes may not necessarily be concomitant, but could they be related? As gaming becomes a more social event and its demographics widen, the potential correlation becomes clear:

The only thing better than watching an off-key friend belt out “Livin’ on a Prayer” in Guitar Hero is watching him attempt it drunk.