After a pretty successful January call, my February predictions were a harsh wakeup call. I don’t know many people– professionals or otherwise– who predicted that the Xbox 360 would outsell the Wii. I knew that the 360 would sell pretty well, based on key multiplatform releases, but the Wii has been a sales machine for months. I also didn’t see the Nintendo DS staging the strong sales month that it had, given that notable new software releases were pretty sparse for the popular platform.
But… that’s all behind me now and we’re at the end of March, which has seen some HUGE releases. The PlayStation 3 saw the debut of MLB 10: The Show and God of War III, while the Nintendo DS saw the release of a new pair of Pokemon titles in HeartGold and SoulSilver. Just Cause 2 and Dragon Age Origins: Awakening were also released for both the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Throw in the release of the Nintendo DSi XL, and you’ve got what has been a very active month.
I believe that, between the new Pokemon games and the release of the new DSi hardware, the Nintendo DS will reign as the top-selling platform for March, holding onto the #1 spot for the second straight month. Even though Nintendo announced (yet) another portable platform for 2011, I don’t believe that the announcement was widespread enough to affect sales of the DS platform across its three different SKUs (DS Lite / DSi / DSi XL). The PlayStation 3 is both the big winner and the big loser for March; it’s likely that most of the available supply of PlayStation 3 units sold in March, given the strong software lineup and falling prices on Blu-ray discs… but with limited supplies out there, the number of potential sales is limited to at least some extent.
Without further delay, here are my calls for hardware sales in March 2010:
- Nintendo DS: 750,000 units
- Sony PlayStation 3: 415,000 units
- Microsoft Xbox 360: 375,000 units
- Nintendo Wii: 340,000 units
- Sony PSP: 105,000 units
- Sony PlayStation 2: 95,000 units
I am very confident that the DS platform will come out on top. The Pokemon IP is still a sales monster, and this will serve to enhance interest in the platform, especially with Easter right around the corner. Combine this with potential interest in the new DSi XL redesign (with bigger screens), and it’s pretty much a slam dunk for March. I thought about going with a more conservative number than 750K, but the ingredients seem to be there for a monster month. In fact, it’s possible that 750K itself could be conservative. Yikes.
Spots 2-4 on the list are more volatile. It would be so much easier to call if there were more PlayStation 3 units out there for sale than what’s been reported in many instances… but that’s not the case. Demand is obviously strong; I’ve heard of more than a few cases where incoming shipments of PlayStation 3 units have been sold within minutes. It’s unfortunate that supply constraints are happening during one of the platform’s best software release months ever. Aside from MLB 10 and God of War III, it’s still possible that residual sales of Heavy Rain are out there and MAG just received some new updates from its development team. Let’s also factor in Final Fantasy XIII; although this is a multiplatform title, the general consensus is that the PlayStation 3 version of the game is far superior to its Xbox 360 counterpart and could be considered a system-seller on its own for diehard Final Fantasy players. I do believe that over 400,000 units were in the supply channel for March, and nearly all of them sold. I edged the number a bit higher than that as I am bullish on the platform for this period.
I struggled with putting the Xbox 360 over the Wii… but a new Elite bundle, along with likely strong sales of Final Fantasy XIII, swayed me in this direction. For starters, the bundle comes packaged with two games for the same price as the Elite has been selling for: $300. Forza Motorsport 3 is definitely nice, but the big attraction is Halo 3: ODST, which boasts critical acclaim and some solid multiplayer action. The Final Fantasy factor cannot be ignored, either, especially when PS3 supplies are limited. Despite its weaker aesthetics and required disc-swapping, having Final Fantasy XIII on a widely-available platform like the Xbox 360 means that impulsive buyers won’t have to shop around or wait for a PS3. Add in other multiplatform games, a strong month of Xbox LIVE Arcade titles, and a possible continuation of the Mass Effect 2 effect… and you can see why I’ve made this call.
Putting the Wii in fourth place is a pretty foreign thing to do. The Wii has been selling so well for so long that it’s just expected that the platform will move significant numbers in spite of whatever else may be going on. The momentum around the PS3 and Xbox 360 is just too strong to ignore in this case. The PS3 has strong software and stronger demand. The Xbox 360 introduced a new bundle and has a main Final Fantasy game for the first time. The Wii has… nothing. You could argue that Red Steel 2 may have stirred some interest, but that’s about it. The Wii is also having supply problems, much like the PS3, which doesn’t help matters any. Hopefully, Nintendo can alleviate the Wii supply tightness before Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Other M debut in May and June, respectively; these two titles will likely catapult the Wii back to the top of the charts… but as for March, the Wii could be in relatively uncharted (and surprising) sales territory versus its competition.
The PSP and PS2 will continue to wallow in the final two spots. Sony’s strategy with the PSP is still directionless, and the PS2 is just hanging around. A price cut for the PS2 is still likely, possibly in June at E3 in order to jumpstart sales one last time. As for the PSP, it’s really hard to say what Sony’s doing to move units. They’ve splintered the userbase between traditional PSP units and the PSP Go, and new software is at a trickle and not a flow. Sure, there are some decent games for the PSP, but not enough to really make it viable or even noteworthy when compared to the DS family.
As for as software predictions, I expect strong showings from the two new Pokemon games for the DS and from both the PS3 and 360 versions of Final Fantasy XIII. New Super Mario Bros. Wii and the 360 version of Modern Warfare 2 should be carryover entries from last month.
We’ll see how these predictions hold up and analyze the actual numbers when NPD releases March data soon. In the meantime, feel free to comment with your own predictions or feel free to dispute mine. I’d love to hear from you.
For those of you who remember dropping into a local arcade when you were younger and spending a Friday night or Saturday afternoon, Game Room for the Xbox 360 is a return to those days. While it’s not perfect, Game Room has shown glimpses of what could be a great retrogaming experience for months to come. There are some issues that need to be cleaned up, and the list of games needs to grow and become more diverse, but what Microsoft and Krome Studios have delivered for the launch of Game Room is addictive, fun, and will have your thumbs crying for ice afterwards.
Game Room is, at its core, a huge arcade with multiple rooms that are customizable and that can be visited by friends. 31 games were available for purchase at launch; 15 of these are coin-ops, 7 are Atari 2600 games, and the final 9 are Intellivision titles. The Atari and Intellivision games, when purchased, are each placed into arcade cabinets (like their coin-operated brethren). Each of the 31 games can be placed in the various rooms, and the rooms can be themed in a variety of ways from brand recognition (like Konami and Atari) to decades (like the ’80s) to atmospheric themes like a graveyard or haunted house. Aside from the arcade cabinets, there are also items of decor that can be placed in each room. This is secondary to the action of playing the games that you buy, but decorating is easy and you’ll find yourself customizing all of the rooms before long.
The games are made available through Game Packs, which are going to be released regularly. The games can then be sampled through the Showcase Arcade– or through a friend’s arcade if he or she has bought the game already– and if you purchase a game, it becomes unlocked for unlimited play, leaderboard support, and medals support. Each game has one free 10-minute demo period associated with it, so if you want to sample a game before spending the Microsoft Points on it, you can. You can also use tokens to play these games in friends’ arcades after the demo periods have been used; however, high scores are not saved and medals cannot be earned. (More on medals shortly.)
The games themselves are faithful emulations, so don’t expect much in the way of improvements or additions. There is a Rewind feature that can be used when playing in Classic Mode; this enables players to travel back in time during a play session and replay a section that cost lives or points. Ranked Mode– which is played when trying to break into the leaderboards or for challenges– disables Rewind and mimics being in an arcade the most. The games generally play like they should, although certain games that used different controller types (like trak balls for Crystal Castles and Centipede) don’t handle as smoothly as they did over 20 years ago. They’re still extremely playable, but there will be moments of death when you’ll look down at your 360 controller and swear that the outcome would be different if you had a trak ball. There are also times when the emulation will freeze for a split second, especially if there are Game Room server issues or if you unlock an Achievement during gameplay. With certain games that require twitch reflexes, these hiccups can cause a bit of frustration. They’re not game-breaking by any means, but they are certainly inconvenient when they occur.
What sets Game Room apart from more traditional retrogaming compilations are its medals and challenges. Each game has between 1-3 medals that can be earned, and there are three different medal classes for each (Gold, Silver, and Bronze). Point Buster medals can be earned for meeting certain high score requirements. Survivalist medals are earned based on how long you can play one game without resetting or losing all of your lives. Time Spender medals are awarded after you spend certain amounts of time playing each game. As you earn new medals, you accumulate points, based on the class of medal you earn. When you earn enough medal points, your level increases and this usually unlocks a new piece of decor or new room theme. In addition, earning medals and leveling up are both keys to unlocking many of the Achievements that Game Room has in store. Each game also has a 20-spot leaderboard, so making onto one of those is an achievement in and of itself.
Challenges are the other unique offering that Game Room adds to the package. Challenges can be sent to people on your Xbox LIVE Friends List and can be customized. High Score challenges and Survival challenges are available and can sent to multiple friends with several different parameters. Want to see how many points your friends can rack up playing Astrosmash in 10 minutes? Fine. Want to see how can survive the longest playing Red Baron? You can do that. If you have a group of friends that has bought a few identical games, these challenges can greatly improve replay value and and increase competitiveness. Challenge invitations can be sent via XBL messages too, which is nice. Unfortunately, server issues as of press time are hurting challenges a little bit. Lack of response from the server can cause a lack of access to challenges or prevent you from uploading your challenge score and associated replay. Imagine coming from behind to beat your best XBL buddy in Yars’ Revenge and then having to discard the score because the server is down? Hopefully these server issues will occur less and less as time goes on, but as it stands now, it’s important to be aware of them.
Game Room isn’t for everyone. Some will be turned off by the crude graphics and sound effects. Others will feel slighted that their previously-bought XBLA games don’t work here. Another group may not even remember or know of some of these games and question their importance. These games are from a simpler time when high scores were the goal and not getting to the end. That being said, fans of arcade games should give Game Room some time. As more games arrive in the weeks to come, the experience is bound to get better and, for at least a little while, the Golden Age of arcades can be restored.
(Note: The Game Room hub is free to download, but each game costs 240 Microsoft Points, or $3. The full list of 31 games now available is here. Also, if you wish to check out my arcade or issue me some challenges, feel free to add me to your Xbox LIVE Friends List… Gamertag is GameGuyPeter.)
Nintendo announced that they would, in fact, be unveiling new portable hardware at E3 in June. The new platform, temporarily dubbed the Nintendo 3DS, seems to be trying to capitalize on the 3D trend by promising “3D effects without the need for any special glasses.” Current DS owners can take some solace in knowing that backwards compatibility is planned for the 3DS in order to play both DS games and DSi games. If you have bought any DSiWare or plan to for your DSi and DSi XL, it remains to be seen whether those games will be transferrable; as it stands now, DSiWare is NOT transferrable between the DSi and DSi XL. The 3DS is slated to arrive during the first quarter of 2011.
One interesting note from the press release is that it terms the 3DS as the successor to the DS. Could this mean more powerful hardware? Different media types? Speculation obviously will be rampant until the hardware is shown at E3 or until Nintendo comes forward with more information.
The timing of this announcement is questionable, as the launch of the DSi XL is March 28th. Is it wise for Nintendo to announce the successor to a piece of hardware that isn’t even available yet? Do they think that consumers don’t pay attention or won’t find out until after they’ve bought the XL? Seriously, now– why would anyone buy a piece of hardware that’s going to essentially be outdated in less than a year’s time? Logically, knowing about the 3DS should dissuade most people from dropping $190 on the XL and instead either buy a cheaper DS Lite or just wait for 2011.The announcement basically puts the DSi XL into limbo status, potentially positioning it as the weakest handheld platform Nintendo has launched since the Virtual Boy.
There’s not much else to say about the 3DS at this point, since the announcement is basically only a teaser. It will be interesting to see how Nintendo of America handles queries about the new hardware later today and moving forward. It’s definitely a big story, though, and will be one of the highlights of E3 come June. Stay tuned to this story as it develops.
Here’s a stat that made me wince: Since the Nintendo DS was first launched in the United States back in November of 2004, Nintendo has averaged one new model every 12.8 months– including the original and the upcoming release of the DSi XL at the end of March.
That basically equates to a new DS model every year. A new DS that Nintendo, through its successful marketing and through word-of-mouth, convinces millions of consumers that they simply have to have. It’s quite the racket that the Big N has going on, and there’s no sign of the DS Express slowing down anytime soon. It’s overkill, to be sure, but very few people are willing to see it this way. Instead, Nintendo fanboys counter with, “You don’t have to buy it. It’s a matter of choice.”
Exactly. It is a matter of choice, on both sides. Nintendo is releasing the second DSi model in less than one year. Early adopters of the DSi– myself included– are left scratching their heads and wondering why they even bothered, now that the XL is obviously going to be the focal point of Nintendo’s marketing moving forward. Why Nintendo simply couldn’t have waited a year to release the DSi in this new format is beyond me. Oh, wait… no, it isn’t. Nintendo knows that it can milk its consumer base for money with little effort. People will buy the DSi XL. Then they’ll buy the new and more powerful DS 2 platform next year. Then they’ll buy the DS2i the year after that. The cycle won’t change.
I tend to give Nintendo a pass when it comes to the current state of the console gaming industry. After all, it’s the Wii that has kept the console gaming industry from falling completely flat during this console generation. Frivolous and fleece-minded DLC is minimal on the Wii, and games are generally more complete and have more features than their HD counterparts… even if they seem to be mostly minigame compilations, exercise simulations, and shovelware. In terms of portable gaming, though, Nintendo’s really setting the bar for greed… and maybe a bit of arrogance to boot.
The DSi XL launch exemplifies this greed. How about $190 worth of it? That’s a mere $10 less than a Wii… and we’re talking about what amounts to a portable Nintendo 64 with expanded functionalities when we talk about the DS hardware at its core. Save the “graphics don’t matter” argument, please. The fact of the matter is that the DS hardware has not improved since its debut 5 1/2 years ago. Sure, it’s gotten smaller and more easily portable… or it’s managed to incorporate a functional web browser and a very basic camera… but the guts of the Nintendo DS haven’t changed. Yet here we are, with Nintendo peddling the XL for an exorbitant price for the sake of bigger screens and a mix of currently free DSiWare (Flipnote Studio, Web Browser) and some incidentals (Brain Age Express, Photo Clock). Riding on the wave of the most recent Pokemon launch, people will likely pay the upgrade fee– errrr… cost to get the newest DS platform, if only to raise their favorite Pocket Monsters. Sure, the DSi is only a year old. It had a good run, apparently, and it’s time for something “new”.
I won’t be getting a DSi XL. I’ll make do with my DSi and continue to play Dragon’s Lair on it. At the same time, I won’t sit back and wish Nintendo well with the XL, either. It would be fitting and just to see the XL go the way of the Game Boy Micro, another pointless piece of Nintendo portable hardware. Even if the XL is a good idea in theory, based on the larger screens, hardware revisions usually don’t fare so well when they cost more. Ask Sony about that and about the ill-fated PSP Go.
Nintendo won’t care, though. They’re on top of the world still, and they don’t think they can do wrong. They’re as flawed as Sony and Microsoft, even if the flaws are not exactly the same. When the house the Mario built has fleeced enough people and the DS 2 is finally announced later this year, maybe more people will see Nintendo a bit more clearly.
Say what you will about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2… but the game has sold millions of copies, and continues to move strong numbers despite upheaval within the game’s development team and despite the hacks, cheats, and bugs that have plagued it since release late last year. This success also comes as consumers awaited word of promised multiplayer map packs for the game… and that announcement came down on Sunday night.
In total, the Stimulus Package will contain a total of five additional multiplayer maps for virtual soldiers to kill each other on. Three of these maps are brand new, and the remaining two are reprises from Call of Duty 4. At first glance, this seems like a decent package. Three brand new battlefields make for an interesting learning curve, and bringing back two maps from Modern Warfare is decent fan service. It’s also a possibility that the new areas will reignite interest in the game for those who have since moved on to other shooters, most notably Battlefield: Bad Company 2. It looks like a slam dunk, at least initially.
The $15 price tag is more than a little tough to swallow, though, and serves as further proof that this console generation is, indeed, the Greed Generation.
Less than two years ago, the price point for the Call of Duty 4 map pack was $10, and it contained 4 new maps. Apparently inflation– and an extra map– warrants a $5 increase. Actually, it doesn’t; the issue here is that Activision and Infinity Ward believe that they can charge whatever they want to Call of Duty content… and they’re probably right. The Modern Warfare IP is huge, and so many consumers have an interest in it that the market will probably bear the price hike, even if dissenters like me make light of the sheer absurdity of the new price point.
The truth is that digitally distributed software and content have seen price hikes within this console generation. It seems to be in multiples of $5. During the early days of Xbox LIVE Arcade, there was a fair amount of $5 games, with a few $10 games in there. As time went on, $5 games were gradually phased out– errr… not released anymore, and these were replaced by $10 games with a few $15 games in the mix. Now, $15 is becoming the standard, although the upcoming release of Perfect Dark is still slated for just $10. There are games that could arguably warrant the $15 standard (Shadow Complex, Braid), and there are games that are blatently overpriced (0 Day Attack on Earth, Watchmen, Turtles in Time). In reality, people are still buying Xbox LIVE Arcade games, despite the price hikes. Consumers may say that higher prices bother them, but actions speak much louder than grumbles of complaint.
Times have changed. The industry is not as concerned with growth and consumer satisfaction as it is with generating as much revenue as possible and seeing just how much they can successfully charge consumers before they cross some sort of line. There’s a general impression of arrogance across the board in the industry, which is a first. Usually, we’ve seen companies like SEGA (32X/Saturn), Nintendo (N64/Gamecube), and Sony (PlayStation 3 launch, PSP) fall victim to arrogance within a console generation. People loved the Genesis, so why wouldn’t they blindly buy the 32X and Saturn? The NES and SNES sold like gangbusters, so it’s a given that the N64 will outsell the competition, even through the games are still on cartridges and cost $10 more, right? The PlayStation and PlayStation 2 each performed exceptionally well in their respective console generations, so why wouldn’t consumers be willing to work hours of overtime to afford the $600 PlayStation 3?
See where I’m going here, people? Now, it’s a general arrogance. After all, if consumers paid $10 for a map pack for Call of Duty 4, they’ll surely pay $15 for a Modern Warfare 2 pack, right? Consumers bought plenty of $10 games for Xbox LIVE Arcade, so why would they stop if the price was bumped up to $15? Consumers bought games for $50 for years, so of course they’ll gladly pay $10 more… even if we cut out content and resell it as DLC later on. Right?
This is why the console gaming industry needs a massive economic correction. Publishers need to fail. Attitudes need changing. Priorities need to be adjusted. The industry needs to remember what made console gaming gaming so successful in the first place. It wasn’t by gouging the very consumers that filled the popularity balloon. It wasn’t by squeezing as much money out of the gaming community as you could. It was about expanding the number of potential consumers by making affordable and accessible games and consoles. More consumers means more potential revenue, without the need to bleed everyone dry.
I can only hope that we haven’t traveled far enough down this slippery slope to prevent a change in direction and future growth. At this point, my hope is pretty dim.
I almost went a whole month without talking about downloadable content, but the revelation that Bioshock 2‘s initial burst of DLC is little more than a key to unlock content already on the disc has been cause to reopen the topic.
Let’s clarify something right off the top here about DLC.
There have been situations where it’s been a good thing. We’ve seen lots of new music tracks for Rock Band and Guitar Hero that has extended the replay value of games in both franchises. DLC for Borderlands opened up new areas, new enemies, and higher level caps. Fallout 3 DLC did the same kind of thing. The Grand Theft Auto IV DLC expansions were arguably better than the original game, which is impressive. These examples define what many of us thought that DLC was intended to do, as they extend or expand the original game’s experience.
The issue that I continue to have with DLC– and one of the big problems with the Bioshock 2 situation– is that more and more content is getting cut, only to be sold at a later date as an additional revenue stream and despite the argument that the content was ready on launch day. Bioshock 2‘s DLC mirrors what we saw Bandai Namco do with Beautiful Katamari; the “extra” content is on the disc already and can be accessed, but only if you pay extra for it. How is this excusable? Is it ethical to sell a fully-priced game that has material that cannot be accessed without an additional fee or fees? The material is right there on the disc that you already paid for! Defenders of this policy will argue that you’re only paying for the right to play the game, and not the content that’s on the disc… but, even if that’s the way it’s always been, why have we not seen tactics like this before now? Is it because the technology finally exists to fleece consumers and play the semantics card?
That’s a disease that this console generation has created. I’ve mentioned time and time again how, a generation ago, publishers and developers crammed whatever content they could onto discs before they shipped out. Extra costumes, secret areas, more gameplay modes, hidden characters, and other bonuses were practically expected. With the advent of DLC and its ability to bring in additional revenue streams, publishers have learned that it’s OK to skimp on content and deliver less– for more money. After all, apparently clueless consumers will mindlessly pay for these extras… they’ve forgotten that we got them as part of the package five years ago. The disease here is greed; the industry has changed its philosophy from trying to woo new consumers with all kinds of content to nickel-and-diming consumers and expecting that they’ll just go along with things.
Already within the past 12-18 months, we’ve seen publishers charge for additional costumes, characters, and multiplayer functionality– two features that used to be free. How far will this trend go? Will we have to pay extra to open up the last level of a game and see the ending? Will we have to pay for extra continues after exhausting our supply of them in a game instead of starting over again? Will there be certain bonus areas that will only unlock after you pay an additional fee? Any of these scenarios, as silly as they may sound, are certainly possible. Just wait until you have to pay 400 Microsoft Points to face the final boss for Gears of War 3. Tell me that you wouldn’t be angry. Try and logically defend that decision. Good luck with that.
The sad part of all this is that nothing will change. The situation will gradually worsen because publishers know that we’re hooked. You’re going to pay that $5 to access the final boss because you want to beat the game, and it’s only $5 more to do it. Once revenue streams are established, it’s only a matter of time before new ones are found. Team Deathmatch might be available in the next Call of Duty game, but if you like Capture the Flag, Activision might not see a problem with charging $3 more to access it. The era of more for less is over, and it’s never coming back. It’s now all about being lucky to get what you get, and then being prepared to pay a bit more for the full experience.
Let’s get this out of the way early:
Boy, was I wrong.
The NPD figures for February were released on Thursday, and more than a few surprises were included. We saw the Wii finish below the Xbox 360. We saw Let’s Dance for the Wii outsell Dante’s Inferno, but we also saw Wii Fit and Mario Kart fall from the Top 10. It was a topsy-turvy month, so let’s try to make some sense of it.
First off, let’s take a look at hardware sales:
- Nintendo DS: 613,200
- Microsoft Xbox 360: 422,000
- Nintendo Wii: 397,900
- Sony PlayStation 3: 360,100
- Sony PSP: 133,400
- Sony PlayStation 2: 101,900
The Nintendo DS saw a substantial increase over last month’s sales numbers and despite a lack of significant new software titles for the platform. The increase is also in advance of the release of the newest installments of Pokemon– Pokemon SoulSilver and Pokemon HeartGold– which arrive later this month. The Pokemon IP is still very strong, which will likely propel the DS to repeat its first-place finish overall in March. This may also be aided by the release of yet another new DS model, called the DSi XL. It will be interesting to see how the XL’s expense ($190) and the fact that it’s the second new DS model in less than a year may affect sales, if at all. It’s likely consumers will be clamoring to find DS units for Pokemon, though… no matter which model that’s available.
The Xbox 360 is the biggest winner on this list, though. Surging ahead of the Wii is a huge feat, despite shortages of Wii hardware. There were likely a few factors contributing to Microsoft’s surprising success. The first factor is that there were notable shortages not only of Wii hardware, but also PlayStation 3 hardware. Combine that with some consumers receiving tax refunds and having a bit of extra spending money, and it made for a situation where consumers bought the console that was available. Strong performances from Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 2 likely helped push sales for the 360 as well. The 360 version of Bioshock 2 was the top-selling software title in February, while the PlayStation 3 version didn’t crack the Top 10… and Mass Effect 2 still moved over 246,000 units in February.
While the 360 surged, the Wii stumbled. Both the 360 and the PS3 sold better last month than they did a year ago, but the Wii was down significantly as it sold over 700,000 last February and diminished by nearly 300,000 units this year. Only three Wii games made the Top 10 list, too, which may raise some red flags at Nintendo after its lengthy period of hardware and software dominance. Wii Fit and Mario Kart surprisingly disappeared from the Top 10 list, which was a bit of a surprise in its own right. We haven’t seen a notable first-party release for the Wii in some time, and that trend will continue right up until Super Mario Galaxy 2, which doesn’t arrive until late in May. One bright spot for the Wii continues to be Just Dance, a third-party Wii game that has really exceeded expectations and outsold Wii Sports Resort to raise a few more eyebrows. This kind of success for a non-Nintendo Wii game is rare, but should give publishers reason to believe that it is possible to succeed on the Wii.
The PlayStation 3 did well, despite its finish behind the Xbox 360 and Wii. Selling over 360,000 units despite a publicized shortage is a good sign, and Heavy Rain cracked the Top 10 software titles with a debut of over 219,000 units sold. The PlayStation 3 version of Dante’s Inferno sold over 242,000 units, which was good enough for 8th on the NPD list and was some 17,000 units better than its Xbox 360 counterpart. It’s possible that more PS3 units could have been sold if they were available… but the shortage comes at a very inopportune time for Sony as tax refund dollars that could have been used to buy PS3 units might well have gone to Xbox 360 units instead. March is a very important month for Sony; aside from God of War III, titles like MLB 10: The Show and the superior version of Final Fantasy XIII should tip the scales heavily in favor of the PlayStation 3. The one obstacle that could prevent Sony from having a big month would be limited supplies… and that problem could persist right through the first half of March, if not longer than that.
Here are some relevant things to look for here in March:
- What about Wii? At least until May, the Wii could be in trouble against the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Aside from hardware shortages, the Wii is also suffering from a software drought. Monster Hunter Tri is the next significant Wii title in the pipeline (arriving in April), but it’s going up against Super Street Fighter IV and Splinter Cell: Conviction for the PS3 and 360… and both of those are more popular IPs. Super Mario Galaxy 2 should help in May, but opposition from Microsoft by way of Alan Wake for the Xbox 360 will pose at least a minor threat. The big question is whether a pattern change may be going on. Now that pricing on the 360 and PS3 has come down close to where the Wii is, has the Wii lost its advantage? It should be interesting to watch the Wii’s sales trends right on through June.
- Microsoft momentum: The first two months of 2010 have been great ones for Microsoft, but March poses a potential momentum swing. What does Microsoft have that can Sony’s big guns? The answer may lie in a new bundle that’s scheduled to hit retail this weekend. The $300 Xbox 360 Elite will come packaged with Halo 3: ODST and Forza 3. Both games have garnered decent reviews, so it could be a great move. Combine that with some notable multiplatform releases (Resonance of Fate, Just Cause 2, Dragon Age Origins: Awakening), and it’s possible that Microsoft may be able to log a decent month once again.
- Sony’s month to win… or lose: Despite the Microsoft bundle, March really is Sony’s time to dominate. God of War III is the latest in a series of increasingly impressive exclusives that started with MAG in January and Heavy Rain last month. News of PlayStation Move this week may also help to stimulate interest in the console, plus the Blu-ray functionality doesn’t hurt the console’s appeal for more than just games. If Sony can move 360,000 PS3 units in a shortage, I would argue that 500,000 units or more isn’t out of the question this month, provided that Sony can get more product to retail during the second half of the month. We’ll have to see on that one.
- The race is on: The race for #1 on the NPD software list for March is wide open. Several titles will likely contend, including Final Fantasy XIII, God of War III, Pokemon SoulSilver, and Pokemon HeartGold. Appearances in the top 10 may also be possible for Dragon Age Origins: Awakening, Metro 2033, Just Cause 2, and Red Steel 2. Bioshock 2 will not repeat as #1, and that game– along with Dante’s Inferno– may possibly fall out of the top 10 altogether this month. My guess is that the two Pokemon titles will take the top two spots, followed by Final Fantasy XIII and God of War III. (Of course, given my prediction track record for February, anything is possible.)
February was certainly a bizarre month, but each of the big three hardware companies had something to be excited about when all was said and done. Nintendo saw the DS continue to move strong numbers and build the platform’s enormous userbase. Microsoft had its best February ever and outsold the Wii for the first time in 30 months. Sony saw a great burst by Heavy Rain in the sales arena, plus enjoyed relatively strong sales of the PlayStation 3 in spite of the shortage. While months like these can make analysts (or armchair analysts, like me) scratch their heads, surprises always keep everyone on their toes.
Look for March NPD calls on April 2nd, and look for more regular entries here starting next week after this past week’s personal gaming binge. Thanks to everyone for reading… since Consoleation moved here to Posterous, we’ve had over 2,000 page views in less than two months. That is awesome.
After going back and forth on whether or not to buy Final Fantasy XIII for a few days, I finally decided on Monday to finish paying off my pre-order and give it a chance. The worst-case scenario was that I’d have decent trade bait, and the best-case scenario was that I wound up loving the game and couldn’t put it down. The end result of the first hour or so of play wasn’t close to either of those extremes. There are things that I like about the game so far, but the story wasn’t able to draw me in early on. There is lots of combat, but the new Paradigm Shift feature hasn’t become available yet; in fact, I believe that I still have a ways to go before things really open up aside from auto-battling and carefully monitoring character health. The big down side is that the Xbox 360 version of Final Fantasy XIII has some real problems in terms of visuals, but I’ll get to that shortly.
While I am not a fan of the sci-fi approach in Final Fantasy games, the atmosphere works in Final Fantasy XIII. The opening chapter takes place in a war zone, and while your party makes its way through the wreckage to its assorted destinations, there’s a bunch of stuff going on around you. Ships whiz by, nearby explosions keep you on your toes, and there’s a sense of tension to be had. There’s a lot of green and black in the color scheme early on; it almost feels like the second coming of The Matrix. The characters are… interesting. Lightning, the lead female protagonist, comes off like the younger sister of Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud Strife. Her seemingly unwanted companion, meanwhile, is the anti-Barret Wallace as he is much more cautious and needy than you might expect– and the fact that his hair is a nest for a baby Chocobo is an oddity. This odd couple makes up one party; the other is helmed by Snow, who reminds me of the Kingdom Hearts II take on Seifer Almasy from Final Fantasy VIII. Snow leads a ragtag party of resistance members and leads more by talking than by doing at times. I haven’t progressed far enough to really bring up the story at length, but there’s already been a fairly dramatic moment that caught me by surprise.
The battle system is an expansion of the ATB (Active Time Battle) system that we’ve seen a few times now. What’s interesting here is that the ATB bar is divided into segments now and character actions drain the ATB bar differently. For example, Lightning can either attempt two physical attacks per turn or can drain her whole ATB bar on one Blitz attack that affects multiple enemies. Some strategy in involved if you manually select your tactics. If there are multiple enemies in a tight area, you can zap them all with Blitz… but it might not kill off any of them, leading to counterattacks and damage taken. An alternate course of action might be to just attack and take out an enemy at a time. I’m sure that, as the game goes on, the strategy will become even more important. An important thing to keep in mind during battles is that you must keep a close watch on the health of the party leader. If the leader loses all of his or her hit points, the game ends. The good news is that using a potion restores hit points to all members of the party, so as long as you have a few potions on hand, you have a fighting chance. Final Fantasy XIII does gradually introduce players to the new battle system, and many early battles can be fought on auto-pilot by using the Auto Battle command.
While I have not yet put enough time in on Final Fantasy XIII to make any more specific comments about the story or the battle system, the one thing that is abundantly clear is that the visuals on the Xbox 360 version are disappointing at best. The video compression for the cutscenes is especially messy, it looks like video that we’ve seen a generation ago. It’s easy to see the sacrifice that had to be made to put this game on the 360 given the difference in storage media. What’s interesting about the in-game visuals is that there’s still some inconsistency in the frame rate from time to time and the quality of the visuals is simply unimpressive. There are several titles that look better and animate smoother than Final Fantasy XIII does, and that’s after multiple delays of the game. Square has always been known for their stellar visuals, but Final Fantasy XIII– at least early on– does not live up to that standard. I have a hunch that the PlayStation 3 version– which is the main version– looks better on most fronts.
I’ve taken some time away from it and will likely restart the game again soon. I’m just not “feeling” this Final Fantasy like I have for many other earlier games in the series. This game has more in common with Star Ocean (minus the addictive combat) than it does with Final Fantasy. Some may like the sci-fi setting or the plethora of design changes that Final Fantasy XIII brings to the table, but, at least at this point… I am not one of them.
In the meantime, I’ve been taking a small break from writing and news-watching to get some honest-to-goodness gaming time in. With NPD numbers due later today, look for an analysis of those numbers– as well as some more impressions of games that I’ve been spending time on recently– starting on Monday, March 15th.
As I sit here and type this, the launch of Final Fantasy XIII is less than 24 hours away. I have some money down on a preorder that I can pick up at midnight local time, and I put the money down as an impulse. It made sense, as there’s only been one domestic numbered Final Fantasy release that I’ve never bought at launch: Final Fantasy XI. Other than that, it’s pretty much been a given– when a Final Fantasy game comes out, I’ve never thought about it. I’ve just paid my $50 and took what I got for better or for worse.
Over the past few days, however, I’ve been reading some things online and have been getting this general negative trend in my gut about Final Fantasy XIII. I’m honestly not sure that I want to invest $60+ on a game that I really don’t have good feelings about. The review scores haven’t necessarily been troubling, but reading between the lines of a lot of the reviews plus reading some things from those who have played the game already either via Twitter or on message boards indicates that there’s definitely some disappointment to be had. Sure, the game is supposed to be beautiful… although I’m pretty much expecting that the Xbox 360 version is going to be at least a notch below the PlayStation 3 version, and I only own a 360 at this time.
It’s a challenging situation for me. On one hand, breaking a personal tradition is difficult. I’ve always made new Final Fantasy releases into personal holidays of sorts. I got Final Fantasy II when I got my SNES in 1991, and it was the first RPG that I ever played (and completed). I bought Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest during its first week of release, although it’s not really a true Final Fantasy title. I played the hell out of Final Fantasy III on the SNES from when I picked it up on launch day through the following two weeks, attempting to balance my job, my relationship, and my game time. It didn’t work, as I wound up playing more than working or being a better boyfriend. Final Fantasy VII captivated me for weeks after I picked it up on launch day from my favorite independent retailer. In fact, the store called me after a few days to check on me because I hadn’t been back since the game had come out. Despite dropping nearly $800 on a new Dreamcast package in September of 1999, I saved enough money to buy Final Fantasy VIII at the same time. I bought Final Fantasy IX at launch too, and did the same for Final Fantasy X (and Final Fantasy X-2) for my PlayStation 2. After skipping out on Final Fantasy XI (I dislike MMORPGs), I bought Final Fantasy XII‘s Collector’s Edition on its launch day.
While I’ve instinctively purchased all of these Final Fantasy games, not all of them have resonated with me. In fact, I couldn’t bear to play Final Fantasy VIII for very long due to its generally odd story, tedious drawing system, and complicated junctioning system. Final Fantasy XII, despite its references to my favorite game in the series (Final Fantasy IV), never managed to get my full attention. The battle system never felt like a Final Fantasy game, I never could identify with the characters or the story, and it felt too open for my liking. I understand that not all Final Fantasy games can or should be the same every time, but I’ve not been a fan of the changes all the time.
With Final Fantasy XIII, there are a few things that rub me the wrong way right off the bat. The sci-fi setting is not one that I prefer. I enjoy more of a traditional fantasy setting as opposed to lasers and gunships and weird alien races. There’s also yet another new battle system to be learned here, and it’s apparently strategy-heavy. I understand that quick and efficient menu navigation has become synonymous with RPGs today, but many accounts that I have read seem to indicate that there’s a hefty learning curve and it literally takes hours before the pace really picks up and you appropriately learn and master the battle menus. Personally, I don’t want hours of tutorials and learning. Final Fantasy VIII had this by way of lengthy text tutorials that read like stereo instructions. Are we really having to trend away from quicker action? Is so much complexity needed for a quality RPG experience?
For me, at least, the Final Fantasy franchise has been gradually descending from the pedestal that I once had placed it upon. It can be argued that the games needed changes to stay fresh and not feel so much the same from installment to installment, but it’s been an up-and-down experience for me over the last 10+ years. I liked– but not loved– Final Fantasy VII. Same went for Final Fantasy IX, although it got bonus points from me for its move back to a more traditional setting and story. I really liked Final Fantasy X, if only because of the ability to swap party members in and out of its relatively familiar battle system. None of these managed to move me the way that the SNES Final Fantasy games did, and Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy X-2, and Final Fantasy XII all ranged from disappointing to awful.
So… as the clock slowly ticks towards midnight, I continue to struggle with the decision of whether to buy Final Fantasy XIII and force myself to give it a chance or whether I should wait awhile and break the chain. Getting the game at a later time is certainly an option, but would I be missing out? Could it be that I’ve given in to some sort of anti-hype and allowed myself to be swayed without just cause? Have I grown cynical, or am I just being protective of my limited trickle of disposable income?
I’ll be spending today continuing to ponder my decision, and some waffling is likely. I can’t recall the last time I was so torn on buying a game. We’ll all find out what my decision is soon enough.
Spring Training is finally underway for the 2010 season of Major League Baseball, and this time of year also means that new baseball games tend to make their appearances. I’ve been spending time with MLB 2K10 on my Xbox 360 over the last couple of days and finally have some time to write up a few thoughts about the game. It’s definitely an improvement over last year’s QA disaster, but it doesn’t yet have the goods to challenge Sony‘s baseball franchise, The Show, for the best baseball game around.
The thing about MLB 2K10 that struck me right away is the presentation value, which has improved significantly over last year’s game. In fact, this is probably the best presentation that Visual Concepts has put together for a baseball game since their union with ESPN gave us Major League Baseball 2K5. There are plenty of stat overlays and the three-man booth of Gary Thorne, Steve Phillips, and John Kruk is at least on the same level as the commentary team associated with The Show. While there’s certainly some repetition as the season moves along, much of the commentary is insightful and reactive to the situation at hand and at that point in the season. Relevant observations about schedules, standings, and recent player and team performances are surprisingly good. Some things, like the upcoming schedule, tend to get used too much within a series, but it’s tolerable. There are times when lines of commentary are timed wrong, but these instances are few and far between. If you’re a fan of telecast-style presentation, like I am, MLB 2K10 will impress you more often than not.
Batting and pitching controls can be designated to the analog sticks or assigned to face buttons in a more traditional style. Analog pitching requires two consecutive motions with the right analog stick, depending on the pitch that you want to make. I’ve found that these pitching gestures don’t always seem to register accurately, and making a mistake on a pitch can be the difference in a close game. Hitting with the analog stick is a bit easier than pitching, although the swapping more complex analog stick movements for more precise timing isn’t necessarily a fair trade. Timing for hitting is difficult because pitch speeds doesn’t seem to vary enough, at least in a visual sense. Daniel Bard’s 100mph fastball doesn’t seem to have the explosiveness that it should on-screen. In fact, it looks like a regular fastball at 92-94mph. Breaking pitches have movement at least, but it’s the sense of speed that pitches seem to lack. Fielding doesn’t always feel tight, and it’s easy to press the right trigger button for a burst of speed that isn’t there. This button makes the player dive instead of speed up, leading to costly errors and long-distance controller tosses across the house. Baserunning also isn’t exactly intuitive, especially when it comes to commanding runners to steal. The players don’t always seem to react to the steal command, and I’m left to wonder why they don’t move.
MLB 2K10 has its fair share of gameplay modes. The biggest new addition is My Player, which draws at least some inspiration from Sony’s Road to the Show mode. Create a player, achieve goals, and try to earn him a spot on an MLB roster. It sounds simple, but it’s not. The player progression process is not exactly rapid, even if you manage to achieve most of the goals that are set for you during each game. Early on, expect struggles either as a pitcher or a hitter. Pitchers start out with only three available pitches in their arsenals, and learning extra pitches requires a huge investment of skill points… and these skill points wind up getting diverted from improving certain skills and make the process that much harder. Being a hitter comes with its own set of challenges, as making solid contact with pitches is a tough thing to do when your player’s ratings are so low. If you’re willing to devote a lot of time, you can indeed gradually improve your player and give him a real shot at the big time, but if you expect relatively quick payoffs in My Player, expect to be disappointed.
MLB Today allows you to play the same games that are going on in a given day. Do you want to create your own outcome in today’s Red Sox and Yankees game? This is the way to do it. There are a couple of Achievements tied to this, but its real draw is allowing players to literally jump in and start playing without a bunch of setup. This is how I got my first taste of MLB 2K10, as I played the opening game of the Spring Training schedule as the New York Mets as they hosted the Atlanta Braves. I wound up losing the game 2-1, but it was very exciting.
The Franchise mode is where most of my time has been spent. I am not as big as some in terms of signing players and fidgeting with lineups, but playing through seasons and seeing stats accumulate as the schedule plays out has always been a big thing with me. I’m playing as the Boston Red Sox (although I did think about the Arizona Diamondbacks since I now live here outside of Phoenix), and all of the games have been enjoyable. One particular 7-3 win against the Yankees was a great example of back-and-forth baseball, and I came within one out of throwing a no-hitter with Daisuke Matsuzaka versus the Kansas City Royals. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t tense come the 7th inning and beyond. There have been big moments in each game, all punctuated by emotional and timely commentary and the game’s excellent broadcast presentation; huge strikeouts to end rallies, monster home runs, key double plays, and more. The games are exciting, and you feel an emotional investment as you play.
MLB 2K10 is a decent game visually, although there are still some flaws. The ballparks look great with functioning scoreboards and progressive lighting effects. There are plenty of different animations for pitchers and hitters; for example, Kevin Youkilis has his unique batting grip and Daisuke Matsuzaka has that pregnant pause and rocking motion in the middle of his windup. There are times when the animations are a bit jerky or seem out of place,, and these instances are not difficult to spot. As mentioned, there are stat overlays and other telecast touches like instant replays and camera cutaways. One nitpick that I’d made in my piece regarding the demo of MLB 2K10 had to do with rather pointless foul ball cutaways, and unfortunately they still exist in the final game. The camera cuts too late to foul balls, going from the batter to a view of a foul ball coming to rest or to a view of the stands near where a foul ball probably landed. There is no point to see this as the ball has already pretty much finished its movement. In terms of the players, the faces are still a mixed bag; some players look like their real-life counterparts while others just look… wrong. MLB 2K10 also doesn’t run at a consistent frame rate. While The Show usually glides along at 60 frames per second, there are times in MLB 2K10 when 30 frames is the standard– usually for replays. The last gripe I have is with the camera; as I pointed out in my impression of the demo, the camera still sometimes has a difficult time keeping up with the baseball. Replays, especially of home runs, have this problem a lot.
The sound in MLB 2K10 is generally top-notch, anchored by the game’s commentary team and a pretty good soundtrack. Gary Thorne can sometimes can across a little too strongly, but Steve Phillips and John Kruk do a great job of balancing Thorne’s excitement with solid analysis and observations. The music is varied, ranging from grunge legends Pearl Jam to hip-hop greats Black Sheep. The game supports custom soundtracks, too, you can set specific songs for certain batters or game events. The game’s sound effects aren’t quite as strong; the crack of the bat continues to be especially weak and this continues the trend for 2K Sports titles with sub-par effects.
I don’t expect to play online anytime soon, but MLB 2K10 does have online capability so that you can pit your favorite team against tons of potential players. Custom difficulty sliders can also be shared, as can VIP profiles and Pressbooks– which are collections of photos “taken” during a game. Living Rosters mean that player trends and stats are regularly updated so that if you’re playing along with games on certain days, player ratings in those games will reflect what’s going on with that player at that point in time. If he’s on a hot streak in the real season, he’ll tear the cover off the ball in this game. If a pitcher is giving up lots of homers, he’ll be susceptible in this game. MLB 2K10 is completely playable online or offline, but having online connectivity adds those extra features.
MLB 2K10 is good enough to make nightmares from last year’s game almost completely disappear. There are still a few bugs that appear from time to time; at one point, I saw a bat gravitate up to a batboy’s hands, lightsaber-style… but that was once. Sure, there really aren’t any other baseball choices for the Xbox 360– at least until the exclusivity agreement between Major League Baseball and 2K Sports ends– but this year’s game easily wins the Most Improved award and is gaining on The Show in at least some areas. This year, Xbox 360 owners who are baseball fans on any level can feel pretty satisfied knowing that MLB 2K10 is a genuinely solid effort and is worth playing.