There are two stories to follow this holiday season in the gaming world: Hardware and software.
With the high-profile launch of two new gaming systems and a slew of new games still to come, the video-game industry is hoping Santa brings it a turnaround this year. U.S. consumer spending on video games at brick-and-mortar retail stores has fallen nearly 30 percent in the past three years. In 2010, the industry took in $18.6 billion on sales of hardware, software and accessories, according to the NPD Group. In 2012, that number had slipped to $13.26 billion.
(Read more: 10 must-have video games this holiday season)
As for consumers, many are just hoping to get their hands on an Xbox One or PlayStation 4. The launch of new consoles from Sony and Microsoft is eagerly awaited by players, but neither system has had an especially smooth ride to retail this year. That shouldn't have any noticeable impact on demand, though. Both the PS4 and Xbox One are expected to be hot sellers this year—so hot, in fact, that finding one could be a challenge.
"Our checks indicate there is consumer demand well in excess of supply," said Colin Sebastian, an analyst at R.W. Baird.
The odds of getting one on their respective launch days are low at this point, unless you're willing to camp out. Best Buy, Wal-Mart and other big box retailers will host midnight launch events at multiple locations.
(Read more: The video game industry may be on its way back)
Black Friday will see stores well-stocked, but that will mean fighting the early morning (or, in some cases, early Thanksgiving evening) crowds. Some retailers—like Wal-Mart—are occasionally opening up pre-orders for deliveries with guaranteed ship dates before Christmas, though that's a hit-and-miss strategy.
For many consumers intent of getting a new console but unwilling to camp out as new batches arrive in stores, the best option is to sign up for notifications about online availability. Many retailers, including GameStop, offer this on their websites. Also, ZooAlert and NowInStock.net can let you know the minute online orders open up. (Either way, act fast once you hear about it. They'll likely sell out fast.)