Wednesday, October 31, 2007

NPD Re-Cap

Well the NPD numbers have been out for a bit now, so I thought it was worth re-visiting some of the numbers.

The big story is just how many consoles were sold. Over a million between the X360 and the Wii. September is typically a pick-up month as sales start to move slightly upwards before the big holiday spike. The last time a console sold 500k+ in September was 2002 and the PS2. That was the 24th month of the PS2 and came 12 months after the release of the Xbox and GCN. At that point, the launch luster of the other consoles had worn off, and the PS2 was running away with the best-selling console crown. If it wasn't for the launch of Halo3, you could make an argument that the X360 was starting to move into the leadership position for this generation of hardware. Still, it's a key month for the X360, especially if it is able to sustain the momentum through the holidays. Many have pointed out that this could be the first generation in a while where there are two clear winners dealing with different audiences. That certainly seems more plausible with each passing month. Also of note is the Wii. At this point in its life, the Wii is unparalleled in the number of consoles sold in the US. It's been outselling even what the PS2 sold. No console has ever sold this many units per month this early in its life before, which sort of explains whey Nintendo is struggling to keep up with demand.

Metroid Prime 3 sales fell, but not horribly. Clearly, despite the fact that it is a more hard core product, the majority of Wii owners are not buying the game. Possible causes: 1) The majority of Wii owners aren't hard core gamers. 2) The majority of Wii owners are hard core gamers, but they aren't buying Metroid. I think the second item is worth considering. It seems strange, but it seems likely that many hard core gamers simply aren't buying the hard core Wii games. Why? Probably because they have other hardcore systems and are too busy buying games for those systems. So BioShock and The Orange Box will sell well at the expense of Metroid in the Wii60 gamer's house. If that were the case it would be interesting as it would mean those same gamers who are complaining about the lack of hard core games on the Wii are likely causing them to not be made on the Wii by not purchasing the games when they are available. Of course a couple of hit core games should change that...but Metroid is exactly what you'd expect to be a difference maker...and it doesn't seem to have impacted perception much.

EA Sales
Quick question, who is the number 2 game seller on the Wii and what percentage of the games sold are by this publisher? Answer: EA at over 20%.
That is significant!
Why? Well because no publisher is selling over 10% on the DS other than Nintendo. The gap on the the DS is huge, but the Wii has been a different story. Though EA has struggled to create a great game so far on the Wii, they are selling games. In the UK, the top version of Tiger Woods was the Wii version. The US has been a totally different story, but EA has to be encouraged by the percentage of the market they've grabbed so far.

Handheld gaming
Still is struggling. Zelda opened big, not huge, but big. Despite fairly strong hardware sales the PSP software sales have been lagging in both the US and in Japan. Certainly hardware sales will be strong through Christmas, but it will be more interesting to see how the software does. Zelda should sell quite well, but will it? With Nintendo focused on making the Wii a success it seems the DS is feeling a little neglected. Meanwhile, the PSP to PS3 integration I think will continue to be a boon to the PSP.

Heavenly Sword didn't move PS3s. The game was #10 in the charts, but the PS3 numbers don't reflect any real bump. I don't believe any one game moves hardware, so I'm not surprised, but nonetheless, it's good to have some high profile games on the PS3. I expect the price cut and new 40GB system will drive the PS3 sales to close the gap on the X360 in November and December.

Interesting stuff. September could be a big transition month. It might have been the beginning of the X360 dominating hardware sales for this generation. I don't think that is the case, but if it happens, this will be seen as the month as when it all began.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You know, for kids

With the announcement of the Xbox 360 Arcade version of the console this week, there has been some noise about how Microsoft is going after Nintendo's 'family' market. While I do think the family market is worth going after, I find it amazing how many people seem to have no understanding as to what the family market is.

Quotes from recent press releases:

...the Xbox 360 Arcade system features the industry leading family settings that allow parents to control what their kids are watching and playing

Nickelodeon delivers three top shows to Xbox LIVE, also available today, including programming for the Nick Jr. hit series "The Backyardigans." of all ages can download the entire first season of the educational and imaginative, play-to-learn, top-rated preschool series "Blue's Clues."

Also being introduced today are new kid-friendly game titles, "SHREK-N-ROLL" and "SpongeBob SquarePants: Underpants Slam," based on two of the most popular family icons in animation.

The Xbox 360 Arcade or 'family' system may succeed in spite of its message, but I think that is quite unlikely because the message is missing a fundamental understanding of what a 'family' is.

The definition of family is: parents and their children, considered as a group [ref:].

However, the press releases are using the word 'kids' and 'family' as interchangeable. The message is that Sponge Bob is 'family content' and that a 'family' console is one where parents play one thing and kids play something else (and that separation is enforced by 'family settings').

Kids are a part of family and parents are a part of family, but for it to be a family you have to consider them together. Adding kid content to a console does not make it a family console. For it to be a family console, you need to have both kids and parents playing together. (and I'll be real honest with you, I'm not playing Shrek or Sponge Bob)

Consider Wii Sports. It is succeeding not because it is content for only kids or only adults, but because it is content that both kids and adults can play together. It is a family game.

When you think of a 'family' board game, you don't picture kids playing Candyland in the same room where adults are playing 'D&D.' Family is playing together, not having controls to keep the kids from playing what the adults are playing. The fact that you need controls to keep the two separate isn't family friendly, it is an affront to every mother who is involved in purchasing a game system, and if you are looking for a true family system, mom has to be involved in buying it.

Family Controls are something that the core male gamer looks for to keep his kids from playing the 'M' rated games that he is playing. The mother doesn't want the 'M' rated games in the house irregardless of who is playing them. The gamers who are proponents of the idea that blood, violence and sexual content is mature [definition: fully developed in body or mind, as a person], are only further pushing video games into the realm of the juvenile.

Focusing on parental controls and Shrek places the console squarely in the 'OK for my kids' mindset, not in the 'family' mindset.

The misconception that family content is kid content I believe will sink the current Microsoft 'family' campaign. One of the reasons that Pixar movies do well is because they aren't for kids, they really are family content. Adults want to go see them.

In order to create a family platform you need to create something that is enjoyed by both kids and adults together. It is a far from trivial task that Nintendo accomplished with the Wii by focusing on the family and what keeps family members from playing together. The console and controller were designed to make it feel familiar and simple. Nintendo passed on more hard-core designs along the way and have been called crazy by more than a few. Though many will try to take a swipe to get at some of the audience being created by the Wii, any thoughts of it being easy to steal the audience by simply calling something 'family' need to take a better look at the families buying the Wii and the reasons they are buying it.

Kids are a great part of family, and indeed, to meet the definition of family, you need kids. However, forgetting to include the adults while going after the kids doesn't give you any more of a family than you had when you were just going after the adults.

Monday, October 15, 2007

September NPD Predictions

With US (and it's just US let's not forget that) console sales numbers (estimations) about ready to come in, I thought it might be fun to take a look at what the numbers might be this month. Will the Xbox 360 outsell the PS2 for the second time this year? (that would be the 3rd time ever!) How will Halo change things? Did the PSP slim release affect sales?

Here are Michael Patcher's numbers: (who is quite a sport)
Xbox 360 - 450,000
DS - 430,000
Wii - 425,000
PSP - 252,000
PS2 - 220,000
PS3 - 150,000
GBA - 65,000

And a couple of guiding principles:
1 - Sales are usually higher in September than August as Holiday releases begin to occur
2 - Pre-Halo 3 I predicted Xbox 360 numbers at 360k (so despite now knowing the Halo 3 sales numbers I should probably stick with the old prediction, though if I were to change it, 420k sounds about right)

My guesses (Red means my number is lower, green is higher, Black is =)
Xbox 360 - 360,000
DS - 441,000
Wii - 394,000
PSP - 225,000
PS2 - 232,000
PS3 - 150,000
GBA - 70,000

Stories to watch for:
1 - Does the 360 outsell the Wii. With Halo 3, the flagship 360 title out in September, if the 360 doesn't outsell the Wii it would paint an interesting picture.

2 - Does Metroid Prime 3 sell? It was released late in August to rave reviews and pretty 'meh' sales. Perhaps it was just poorly marketed, but it is a good enough title that the mainstream gamers should be picking it up. If it isn't selling, what does it mean to the lifetime of the Wii?

3 - How many of the top 10 games are PS2 games? In August 3 of the top 10 were PS2, 1 was PS2, 2 were Xbox 360 and 4 were Wii.

4 - Will EA solve the Wii 3rd party riddle? Boogie sales were tepid, Madden were disappointing and though the Wii version of Tiger Woods outsold all other versions in the UK, it was a mere afterthought in the US. Will MySims fare better? Will the long term sales of any of the other titles make up for their poor launches?

5 - What happened to handheld gaming? Though the hardware is outselling the consoles, the games, outside of Pokemon, aren't doing much in the charts. Will Zelda's October 1 release put handheld games back on the charts?

6 - Will Guitar Hero just keep on dominating?

7 - Will Heavenly Sword drive console sales?

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Casual Threat!

With the continued success of the Casual market on the PC and the Wii thoroughly dominating console sales, the casual movement, once thought to be a nice side business, is starting to feel like a Threat to many gamers. (with a capital 'T')

What is a threat? It is the expectation of future trouble.

When gamers first started playing casual games, their numbers were few. However, as the money and audience has increased, the number of developers has also increased, often inplace of core games. The core audience has carefully eyed the casual audience's growth and the Wii becoming popular with a bit more contempt of late.

As the success of the Wii has turned the core audience from a majority into a minority, it has become the new whipping boy of the old core gamer. You can see it often in the media with even developers like Dave Perry jumping on with somewhat illogical arguments to try and fight back against what they see as taking away from their favorite pass-time.

The mainstream attack on the Wii parallels a longer attack that has happened in the PC space. Especially among the Indie crowd, which was formerly the shareware crowd, which formerly was the main money driving source in the PC gaming space.

As casual has become the key downloadable games market, Indie developers have gone to great lengths to decry the market as simplistic and pointless. A general sense of 'dumbing' down consumers and making games that don't challenge and perhaps aren't even games has become the outlook on the casual games sector.

It's kind of like an avid outdoorsman, who hikes deep into the mountains to more fully appreciate nature's beauty. In his mind, those who stop at the side of a road and take in a vista from their car are really missing out. The highway and national park system are dumbing down the experience, keeping people from what's good, and bringing in people he can't relate with to nature areas once only enjoyed by the like-minded few.

What's important to remember is that there are lots of different consumers who want different things. ...and that's a good thing.

When you go to sell your product the goal is the most sales, which means you need more people looking at it. To that end, if you are both a gamer and a businessman there is a lot of good that can from letting go of your personal aprehensions and embracing the casual group to ensure that your product is seen by the largest number of people possible. After all, you never know when someone staring out of their car window at a beautiful vista will decide to get out and walk to the other side. However, if you let your personal game tastes keep you from places, like the casual portals, when a casual gamer starting looking for something more, it will be much more difficult for them to find you.