Friday, December 14, 2007

Filling the need for Immediacy

The latest NPD numbers are out, and aside from Guitar Hero 3 selling best on the Wii out of the next-gen consoles, the response to Nintendo's lack of units has been the most interesting piece of information. From Gamasutra:

Nintendo has upped worldwide production of the Wii to 1.8 million systems per month, twice as much as at the console's launch. "We’ll keep production at that level for quite a while," said Fils-Aime

The first part of the statement is something we already knew. The second part is fascinating.

Nintendo is getting a black eye in the media for not having enough consoles available. This is a problem of immediacy. People want the consoles now. Now it's Christmas. Now I will buy.

There aren't any consoles right now, but based on the statement from Fils-Aime, there will be...oh boy will there be!

Let's think about that 1.8 million number a moment. It's huge. That essentially means 800,000+ Wiis will be brought to the US every month until they lower production. It takes time and money to take factories off line, so it seems unlikely that Nintendo would stop the number any early than March.

If that is the case, there will be a minimum 2.4 million Wiis delivered to US stores during the first Quarter of 2008. (Another 3 million would be split between Japan and Europe!) I only have numbers back to 2001, but can you guess what the highest US sell through of any console ever was for Jan-March?

1.3 million PS2s in 2002. So the Wii is expecting, essentially to nearly double the best sales ever. Stop and think about that for a minute. The PS2 is the all-time best-selling console and the Wii expects to nearly double the best Q1 sales the PS2 had...ever...

At some point, a Nintendo executive saw those numbers and freaked out, leading to the raincheck program with Gamestop. As well as the Wii is selling, these numbers, if they happen are beyond anything the industry could ever dream of.

Of course what got the Wii in this predicament was selling so many consoles all year that no substantial Christmas stock could be built up. It's a great predicament to be in, but it's got to make Nintendo nervous to have so many consoles coming through the pipeline. They keep trying to get it through everyone's head how many they are making, but the message isn't getting through because people don't have Wiis in front of them. However, in the very near future, the understanding of what 1.8 million Wiis per month means is going to become abudantly clear.

While there are no Wiis right now, and Christmas shoppers are going nuts in frustration, Nintendo has to be eyeing the future with a lot of careful consideration. They don't want a million extra units sitting on store shelves come April. If you run these figures forward just 3 months (imagine 6 months!?) Wii sales will have to be beyond the wildest dream of every video game company ever just to keep up with supply.

And the scary thing is (or the wonderful thing if you are making software for the thing) the Wii might just do it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Who are casual gamers?

Great article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today:

The first part of the article talks about how Seattle is where much of the casual games industry is found, which is interesting, but doesn't lead to any additional insight. The second half of the article is out-standing, with some insights into what casual gamers are looking for out of a casual game, which is quite interesting and should lead to a lot of additional thought.
I play games to relax. I don't crave the adrenaline rush of fighting my way across the universe. Getting chased or shot at makes me nervous and I just don't find it very fun. With casual games I can just relax at the end of a long day

What a great quote. It encapsulates what a lot of the casual games industry already knows about casual gamers in a very easy to understand way. Many casual gamers play because the like to relax and they find games that put them in danger as not relaxing.

This is one of the reasons that shooters from Space Invaders to Halo don't do well with casual gamers. Many casual gamers simply don't enjoy the emotions created from the games that historically has been the key to growth in the console market. (and it's probably why some core gamers seem to struggle to comprehend casual gamers)

Another quote, this one directly related to Hidden Object games:
It still makes you think a little. You follow a theme or an idea to its conclusion. It makes you wonder. It's like reading a mystery novel. A third of the way in, you want to read the last chapter, but you can't until you work your way through it. You never know when it's going to end

Another great encapsulation. Players looking for 'wonder' and wanting to take a theme to its conclusion. Notice there was not mention of finding objects, but there was mention of having to think. What the player is noticing is the story and the progression and the way they feel in response. Hidden Object games are quite interesting as they may be some of the best pure story-telling opportunities in gaming today. (this is especially true if your story is a mystery)

I see often remarks belittling casual gamers as they play multiple Hidden Object, Match 3 or other common casual game types. Many people seem to think that it is bad for the industry and negative for the people to be playing games that are so similar. They may be right.

However as an alternative, perhaps we should consider casual games are the first successful episodic games. (Sam & Max coming in close behind)

Perhaps casual gamers are simply looking at the different games as different episodes where the key framework, the game mechanic, stays unchanged. Each different game may feel more like another episode of the same TV series than a different series. The close similarity between the games may be helping this belief along.

In any event I find the many arguments towards either gamers in the casual space being somehow mentally behind or casual game companies forcing cloned games on gamers to lack much of an intellectual punch (though they create some wonderful emotional arguments). Clearly as a group, casual gamers are driven by a different set of gaming desires than the typical console gamer, and that isn't a bad thing. Learning what is driving the choices, I think, is a fascinating bit of understanding that has yet to be fully grasped.