Look at all these rumors, surrounding me every day; I just need some time… some time to get away…
Although the Timex Social Club song from 1986 wasn’t talking about rumors in video games, the fact is that the internet gives birth to vast amounts of industry rumors every day, and it’s impossible to ignore them all. Recent rumors regarding the E3 unveiling of Sony’s premium PlayStation Network service and regarding Microsoft’s price point for its Natal wonder-cam are getting lots of buzz, so now is as good a time as any to break these down a bit.
PSN+ is, to me, a much better-sounding term for Sony’s new subscription service than PSN Premium was. Having said that, however, the latest speculation– courtesy of Joystiq– has drawn lots of online criticism. Here are the PSN+ subscription highlights, according to the speculative article:
- Access to rotating list of PSone games / PlayStation Mini games
- Exclusive in-game DLC
- PlayStation Store discounts
- “First hour” demo access to full retail titles
- Cross-game voice chat
- PlayStation Protection Plan enrollment
The article speculates that the monthly cost for PSN+ will be about $10 per month and did not mention a yearly fee.
There are big questions here. Are the games that PSN+ users get access to theirs to keep, or does access drop after a certain point? Could the exclusive DLC be tied into Trophies? Could Sony really charge $120 per year for this service and be successful? Could the long-awaited addition of cross-game voice chat be limited to PSN+ users only?
If the rumor turns out to be true as it’s written, someone at Sony is absolutely nuts. Granted, there are features here that are better than what Xbox LIVE offers… but are those advantages worth paying at least $70 more a year for? PS3 owners have been begging and pleading for cross-game chat for years, and now Sony is finally ready to roll it out… but only after you pay for it? I can understand that Sony has seen Microsoft’s success with Xbox LIVE and that they want some of that potential revenue, but the pricing absolutely has to be more competitive. The company painted itself into a corner by not charging for online play and services to begin with, so if they decide to hold cross-game chat and some DLC hostage, it could be a public relations nightmare for Sony. The last thing that Sony wants to do is to further damage momentum after its supply shortage problems with the PS3… but by splintering its online userbase now been the “haves” and “have nots”, it’s bound to create confusion and anger among PS3 owners and prospective PS3 buyers alike.
It’s likely that there will be some sort of discount for yearly subscriptions. The real question is: How much is appropriate to charge? Despite the advantages of free games and Protection Plan enrollment, it’s foolhardy to charge much more than Microsoft’s benchmark of $50 per year– or about $4 a month. I would guess that the cap would be $60 for a year at most, and that’s because of the extra perks over what Xbox LIVE offers. Anything higher than that would lead to all sorts of trouble for PSN+, even in a generation where the consumer base doesn’t seem to mind too much for paying blindly for things.
Speaking of high prices…
The other prevalent rumor surrounds Natal and its alleged price tag of $150.
It’s obvious that Microsoft (and Sony, to be fair) is targeting the Wii audience with Natal, but charging a mere $50 less than a Wii for a glorified webcam seems awfully steep. Why would you not just buy the Wii (which comes with two versions of Wii Sports right now) for $50 more if you want the Wii experience? It makes no sense; it’s almost as if Microsoft just assumes that people are going to run right now and buy Natal based on marketing or their Cirque du Soleil nonsense at E3 or for whatever other ridiculous reasoning other than the notion that it might be a decent peripheral. The fact is that we’ve still seen very little on Natal since it was unveiled almost a year ago. We’ve seen one notable game (Fable III) that intends to utilize Natal.
Sure, that will likely change at E3, but a $150 change?
$150 for an add-on device, no matter how high-tech you claim it to be, is simply too high for the mass market… especially when you compare this to the price of Sony’s competing Move peripheral (rumored to be at least $50 less) and the cost of a new Wii (only $50 more and comes with the console and games). Even Sony’s possible $100 price point for the PlayStation Eye and Move combo seems a bit high, but it’s still less expensive than the Natal might be. This isn’t a new console launch, where people are saving up cash to buy the next new piece of killer hardware; this is a peripheral that we’ve known about for months and is finally going to get exposure just a few months prior to release. Sony has already shown off Move to the press corps with games in actual gameplay settings; Microsoft has yet to do the same with Natal. That puts the pressure on Microsoft to have a stellar showing at E3 and quiet the growing number of naysayers out there.
As with any rumor, these are likely to be debunked (at least in some form) in less than three weeks in Los Angeles. The good news for Sony and Microsoft about these rumors is that they stimulate conversation and reaction towards the companies and their products. Even bad publicity is still publicity, and this sets the stage for what could be the most important E3 in years.
I can’t wait… and I have a hunch that you can’t, either.
It’s another work day for me today, but since I have a little bit of downtime before heading out, there are a few things that I wanted to talk about.
For starters, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the real deal. It’s a beautiful game with another brilliant soundtrack. The play controls carry over familiarity from the 2007 original while gradually implementing new tweaks, such as the return of Yoshi or some of the new suits that Mario finds. What I really enjoy about the game as a retro fan is the virtual tip of the cap to Mario games gone by; even early on, influences from Super Mario World and Super Mario 64 become apparent. I always thought that the original Super Mario Galaxy paid tribute largely to Super Mario Bros. 3, which is arguably the pinnacle of the series… but Super Mario Galaxy 2 seems to go far beyond that, and I like it more that way. The game is also considerably harder than the first. I’ve lost a good 15 lives or so over my three play sessions so far, and many of those were attributed to the Flip-Swap Galaxy. I have read some complaints about the difficulty or about the lack of originality here, but these complaints aren’t as bad as they seem. Yes, the difficulty is harder, but continued play and practice does lead to eventual success. The lack of originality is hard to fault, though; the first game was so radically different than most other Mario games before it and now this game is almost like a second serving of video dessert. This is the first game that’s been able to keep my attention on the Wii for longer than an hour at most, so that’s a good sign. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is, quite simply, an excellent game.
I’ve been spending a lot of time playing pinball. Virtual pinball, that is, by way of Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection. I now own both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game and am happy to support these kinds of games… even though I’m not holding out much hope for a new collection from Crave Entertainment anytime soon. It’s too bad, really, because this particular collection does pinball just right. The tables included in the Williams Collection are at least solid, if not stellar, examples of great pinball machines from years gone by. Gorgar was one of the first pinball machines to implement speech. Pinbot was right behind High Speed in terms of pinball popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s. No Good Gofers and Medieval Madness showcased some of the late greatness of the Williams tables. The ball physics feel great; shots realistically ricochet off of side bumpers and careen through rollovers with reckless abandon. To me, these games are symbolic because they bring back that arcade feel which has been gone for far too long. I remember days kicking around arcades in my local malls and watching somebody rack up big points playing Whirlwind or Space Shuttle; I’d sometimes get credits left to me if the played had to bail early and even remember some dominating runs where two tokens could last me an hour or more. While Crave’s earlier Pinball Hall of Fame offering– The Gottlieb Collection– had its fair share of glitches and unfamiliar tables, this collection gets just about everything right. This is, unquestionably, the best pinball video game available. If you can find it and you’ve ever enjoyed playing a pinball machine in your lifetime, this very affordable collection is worthy of a purchase– and the tables have never looked better than they do in high definition.
Speaking of arcades, Game Room support has improved and we’ve been seeing new titles weekly for the past few weeks. River Raid highlighted today’s releases, and is easily worth the $3 to own. I’m thrilled to see that new games have been arriving with regularity, even if some of the release decisions are a bit odd. Konami‘s arcade releases, for example, have been rarities and relative unknowns. Even with my vast arcade experience, titles like Strategy X and Mega Zone don’t ring any bells with me. Time Pilot did get a release, which is nice, but there are still much better– and more recognizable titles in Konami’s vast coin-op library that need to start getting some attention. What about Time Pilot ’84? Where’s Hypersports or Boot Camp? How about Double Dribble or Super Basketball? I can certainly appreciate seeing rarities and getting to play games for the first time, but this should be balanced out with more familiar titles that will get the more casual player to take an interest.
Moving on to sales talk for a bit, Red Dead Redemption continues to be a monster at retail. At least in my anecdotal experience, as soon as new copies are received, they sell within hours. The game continues to be the main topic of conversation at the store level as customers either talk about their own experiences with the game or have questions about it. While Super Mario Galaxy 2 seemed to have strong sales on launch day, interest has begun to decline already. While I believe that Galaxy 2 will have legs, it’s definitely being swallowed up by the buzz around Redemption. What interests me is how that title became the juggernaut that it’s become. Is it because of the Rockstar name? GTA associations? Is it the violence or controversial content? All of these factors may be important, but the trend lately has been word of mouth; people are interested because they heard friends talking about it or saw other people playing it. Whatever the reason, I’m sticking with my prediction that Red Dead Redemption will gun down Super Mario Galaxy 2 to be the best-selling game for May. Both the 360 and PS3 versions will find spots on the Top 10 charts, along with Pokemon SoulSilver and HeartGold, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and UFC Undisputed 2010. Blur and Split/Second are cannibalizing each other and I fear that neither game will have a great month.On the hardware side of the house, I’m not quite ready to predict numbers yet, but the order of platforms will likely remain the same: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. I hope to put up my NPD predictions for this month sometime early next week.
Today’s video gamers comprise an exclusive club; if you can’t afford to buy new, your membership card is revoked. Come on– games are only $60 a pop. If you don’t like it, buy from Amazon or some other online source and wait a few days for shipping. It’s cool to wait. Only fools actually go to stores and buy games these days; it’s so… lame. Online commerce never screws up an order, am I right? It’s fine to have to wait for your defective or incorrect shipment to be returned and received, and then wait longer for your actual order to arrive. Mistakes happen, but not to these people in the Video Gamers’ Club. Club members also don’t rent games, because that’s also akin to piracy; no money goes to the publisher in that instance, either. If you buy used games, look out; not only is your club membership permanently ended… but the club believes that publishers and developers should take whatever actions necessary to get whatever money they can out of you.
It does seem like there’s news of a new salvo against consumers who don’t buy new games every day lately. First it was EA’s Online Pass… then Ubisoft went on record that they were looking into doing something similar in the not-too-distant future… and now Wednesday’s news that THQ‘s upcoming UFC Undisputed 2010 will also require a code to play online that either comes with a new copy of the game or will cost $5 additional to obtain.
Apparently, 2010 is the year that the Empire– errr… industry– strikes back at all of us freeloading lazy people who apparently don’t have good enough jobs to afford paying $60 for new games. The message: You’ll pay, one way or another. Play our way, or pony up the dough you owe us for the right to play that game that someone else originally paid for. It doesn’t matter if it’s $5, $10, or more that publishers are seeking. The fact is that they’re draining consumers dry… and more and more internet commenters are actually supporting these moves. They complain that used games, game rentals, and even games that you sell to friends are worse than piracy. Support your publishers and developers, or they won’t be around anymore! Have we no shame? After all, these people need to eat!
I certainly have a problem with what publishers are doing, but it’s these criminally short-sighted and better-than-thou people who blindly defend these moves that I have the bigger problem with. The examples of this idiocy are still coming and astound me; here’s another gem from NeoGAF poster subversus:
well, these people don’t support industry in any way, publishers and developers don’t see their money. So yeah, pirates and these people are actually the same in the end. I haven’t seen your money = you’re not my customer.
So… we’ve all been pirates for years. Any of us who have ever bought a video game console, piece of software, or accessory second-hand are pirates. We’re in the same class as DVD bootleggers and shoplifters. You might as well use code generators for the Xbox LIVE Marketplace or PlayStation Store if you’ve ever bought used– because you’re the guilty of the same crime: The publisher and developer see no money from you. When we trade in games or sell them to friends in order to afford the exorbitant price of new games these days, we’re not supporting the industry at all. It’s blood money. It’s tainted. Not that it matters if that money or credit is used to purchase new games, consoles, or accessories; you’re still guilty and should just give up gaming altogether.
I used to belong to the Video Gamers’ Club. I had the experience and the enthusiasm to be a member. I think that I more than paid my financial dues to belong. I almost always fulfilled the hardware requirements. The unfortunate thing is that, somewhere along the way, the Video Gamers’ Club turned out to be a bunch of stuck-up snobs who take up a valiant (yet pointless) crusade to drum up support for businesses that don’t give a rat’s ass about the club or its members. This is not a club that I want to be a part of. It’s a club that I can no longer afford to belong to, given the new financial requirements. The club used to actively accept members and it mattered more that you had the games and systems to belong and less whether you bought new, used, online, or in a store.
It’s a shame that I’m turning in my membership card, although I would have had it ripped up soon anyway once word spread that I was buying more used and less new due to limited income. It doesn’t matter anyway; I’ve come to accept that the Video Gamers’ Club is as responsible for the recent negative trends in the industry as publishers and developers are. It’s one thing if members worked for the publishers and developers who are allegedly dirt poor because of the used game and rental markets. It’s another when members who have no real or tangible stake in a company’s performance or bottom line take aggressively defensive stances and turn a once-fun hobby into class warfare.
I don’t need a membership card or anyone’s validation to do what I do and play what I play.
If you haven’t been following me on Twitter, you may not have heard that I started a new job this week, resuming a career in video gaming retail as a low-level manager. With lots of operational things to take in, updates here at Consoleation may be a little less regular than normal for a little while until I get into a groove and a bit of a regular routine. The good news, of course, is that being gainfully employed means that I might have some money so that I can begin buying games again without trading in what I own. The bad news is that my social networking presence is likely going to be curtailed a little bit while I transition back to working more hours and adjusting to the stresses that come with the job.
Having said that, I do have a few things on my mind. I don’t have a lot of time today to expand on them as much as I’d like, but I would like to get a few thoughts out there.
For starters, Red Dead Redemption will likely be your top-selling title for May. My first day on the new job certainly gives enough anecdotal evidence to support that prediction. Allocations sold through quickly yesterday at many locations, including big box retailers. It’s expected that more supply is due later this week, so it will be interesting to see how quickly that sells. Redemption is certainly the buzz right now, leaving titles like Alan Wake, Split/Second, and Prince of Persia to sit with little interest. Despite having Sunday all to itself, I’m not convinced that Super Mario Galaxy 2 will have the sudden impact that Redemption had. I can see Redemption 360 at #1 and Super Mario Galaxy 2 possibly at #2. Pokemon SoulSilver and HeartGold will likely stay in the Top 10 for at least another month.
Word has been coming down that Ubisoft is planning on using a DLC model similar to EA’s Online Pass for its 2011 releases. The good news about this is that Ubisoft doesn’t publish anything that appeals to me… so choosing not to buy any more Ubisoft games is a pretty easy thing to do. This is, after all, the same company that actually sold an ending (of sorts) to Prince of Persia as DLC– so fleecing and content withholding is nothing new for this company. I will say this: I’m more distressed (and angered) by some of the blind loyalty that some folks out there seem to have to these companies who are crying for more revenue. Publishers are losing money for multiple reasons, and targeting used games (and rentals) is a convenient scapegoat. At one time the industry revolved around its consumer base, because consumers are what made video games successful. Now that the balance has shifted completely to the industry side, where publishers are basically holding game features and functionality for (additional) ransom, alternate revenue sourcing is getting out of control. Perhaps if publishers looked in the mirror, they’d find another cause of their problems… but they won’t. Gamers will pay, because they always do. Maybe we are part of the problem, after all.
Microsoft‘s decision to bring in Cirque du Soleil to promote Natal for E3 is just silly. No offense, Microsoft, but it’s consumers that you want to somehow convince that an extra $200 (speculation, according to MS) is going to be well-spent on Natal– not the hordes of press at E3. If the industry’s in trouble and hemorrhaging money (due to used games, development budgets, etc), then why the hell are we going to see this? We want to see the product– in actual working condition and not a tech demo– and games that go with it. It’s a spectacular waste of money. Why not use that on reducing the price of your first-party titles by $5 or $10, Microsoft? Oh, wait. You can’t do that– and publishers certainly don’t want consumers to spend less, either.
Lastly, my PlayStation 3 has been returned to me and is working just fine now. Hoping to get my hands on Heavy Rain and MLB 10: The Show after tonight’s shift to play during my downtime on Thursday and Friday. All in all, the repair process was acceptably painful. Having to download some 50+ PSN games again– at over 40GB total– was tedious, and the PS3 games in my library right now all have to be played from the start again.
That’s it for now. Thanks to all of you for continuing to read Consoleation. Now… off to work I go.
VG247‘s rumor piece on PSN Premium info coming out at E3 next month should not surprise anyone. We’ve been hearing rumblings about this for months, dating back to last November. Now is not the time to be indignant or surprised about Sony deciding to jump on the “Let’s get paid!” bandwagon.
If we are to take the rumor piece at face value, here’s what we know about PSN Premium:
- Less than $50/year
- Streaming music app (like Spotify)
- One “free” PSN game per month (limited choices)
Obviously, there are plenty of blanks that need to be filled in here. As it stands, these perks don’t necessarily warrant paying a certain amount of cash per year. Even if the streaming music application can be played while in the middle of a game, not everyone wants to have music playing over what’s going on in-game. Also, the “free” PSN game perk is vague; is it a rental-type service where it’s free to play for a month and then automatically deactivates? What about the choices, especially if they’re not all that fetching in a given month? There surely has to be something else here. Perhaps something with the Video section of the PlayStation Store? Maybe a complimentary subscription to Qore? Special PlayStation Home goodies? Advance demos?
There’s certainly going to be a lot of speculation going forward until we hear from Sony next month.
The price is going to be the big question mark. Of course it will be less than $50… that’s what Microsoft is charging (at regular price) for its yearly Xbox LIVE subscriptions. I’m thinking somewhere between $30-$40 per year. If the price is closer to $40, Sony is going to have to do some serious selling and deliver a laundry list of features that will grab lots of attention… plus Microsoft could easily match that price point and the comparison would be a lot tougher. $30 seems like the sweet spot for an annual subscription as long as Sony is able to sweeten the deal with more than the two perks seen above.As far as monthly subscription pricing goes– if that’s even going to be an option– those guesses could be all over the map. I don’t, however, see any price higher than $10 working here… and that’s on the high side. The idea of monthly subs is to get people interested enough that they want to upgrade to the annual plan. $5 a month would probably work fine, given that monthly users could likely wind up paying as much as double what the yearly rate is if they stick with that plan.
Now that Sony is jumping on board the online revenue bandwagon and with Shigeru Miyamoto saying that Nintendo may be looking into the same thing, it’s only a matter of time before online play will see some sort of charge or subscription universally. Sony can claim all they want that online play will remain free, but Sony’s continuing losses indicate to me that online fees are inevitable. PSN Premium is the first step towords this inevitability. The truth is that the gaming community has come to accept the higher costs of gaming and the industry has no reason to change course. If PSN became pay-to-play, do you honestly see millions of people just selling off their consoles? Nope. They’ll whine and complain and compose worthless online petitions, but they’ll begrudgingly accept subscription costs. They’ve accepted higher game prices. They’ve accepted DLC and digital distribution.
This won’t be any different.
When I started Consoleation two years ago this month, I didn’t know what was going to become of this blog. It was a side project while I was working with Games Are Evil, and I was actively doing what I loved– writing game reviews and being active in the community. I had also begun to send out warnings about how the Great Recession was going to negatively impact the video game industry not long after beginning the blog, but had no idea that sales and industry reaction would be where Consoleation would be heading in due time.
Now, here we are, two years and a few thousand page views later. I live in a completely different part of the country than I did back then, I now own all three current-generation platforms, and I’m still searching for consistency in my writing and work output. I’ve been through a lot of changes in a short amount of time, and that’s been a major factor in my inconsistency– but now that I’m in my new place and I’m working into a bit of a routine as far as writing goes, things are looking up a little bit. No matter what happens, whether I wind up getting back into reviewing on a regular basis or if I wind up remaining as an observational and reactive writer, this blog will always be something I that I keep running and will be proud of for a long time to come.
I realize that recent entries here have been quite negative. I’ve blasted EA’s Online Pass. I’ve complained about rising prices and about the percieved persecution of used game consumers such as myself. I’ve had gripes with the industry’s moves to forced co-op play and motion-sensing control interfaces. I’ve sounded like a jaded old man… and yet, here you are, taking the time out of your day (or night) and cruising on over here to read what I have to say. I won’t disguise the fact that I’m angry about the direction that the industry has taken over the last few years, and I’m certainly not backing down from any of the comments that I have made. What I am doing, however, is letting you know that your presence and interaction here gives me the fuel and drive to keep writing and become better at it. My work has been getting a bit of wider exposure of late, thanks to the awesome folks at Game Critics, who have generously offered to periodically repost my Consoleation pieces. I may also be on the verge of fulfilling a dream and having a piece that I collaborated on get published in print soon.
This month of May 2010 has been the blog’s busiest month ever. Less than halfway into the month, Consoleation has already equaled last month’s record for the most hits in a month. That means that, even if it’s for a few seconds, someone’s coming by to see what I’ve written. There’s no better feeling than knowing that someone is reading what you took the time to write, whether it’s a game review, predictions and breakdowns of monthly sales data, or topics that I feel strongly enough about to discuss it here with you. That’s what’s driven me to write through all these years, in spite of everything else that may be going on around me at the time. I’ve become a better writer because of you. Fellow writers cheer me on and support me as well, which just adds to the inspiration to keep the blog going and keep talking about something like video games that I love so much. I realize that I still have some things to fix and may need to reel in the emotions on my sleeve a little bit, but that’s also the advantage to having your own personal blog space like I have here; I can discuss what I like and leave it to you to decide whether you wish to read it or not. There are no restrictions.
As I look ahead, I don’t see many big changes for Consoleation. I am going to try to work in more reviews, although being currently unemployed will likely make for some difficulty in obtaining new games to cover. I stilll have plenty of games in my backlog to talk about. I’ve even given some thought to running monthly polls with a list of games for you to pick from on it that you want me to play and write a review of. The monthly recurrence gives me ample time to play through and compose a review; maybe some of you can play along and submit reviews or your own… or we can have discussions about it. I will still talk plenty about sales numbers as well as react to more interesting news events. I have seen that comments here have begun to pick up, and I really hope to see more as we move forward. If you have any other ideas or things that you’d like to see here at Consoleation, feel free to leave a comment or drop me line at email@example.com with your suggestions, criticism, praise, and so on.
Again, I thank you for reading my blog… whether you’re new or whether you’ve been here for as long as I have. Here’s to more years of gaming observation, talk, and reaction.
Armchair analysts, heed my words: Do not forget to take into account historic sales based on the month you’re predicting.
I failed to do this when I posted my predictions a couple of weeks ago, and the numbers are… well… UGLY. Let’s get to them, then discuss each platform:
- Nintendo DS: (Actual: 440,800 Predicted: 655,000)
- Nintendo Wii: (Actual: 277,200 Predicted: 440,000)
- Xbox 360: (Actual: 185,400 Predicted: 325,000)
- PlayStation 3: (Actual: 180,800 Predicted: 310,000)
- Sony PSP: (Actual: 65,500 Predicted: 112,000)
There weren’t any NPD figures supplied for the PlayStation 2.
OK, how do we make sense of these numbers? The first thing to remember– which I never thought of– is that April tends to be a slow sales month for console gaming. It makes sense; most tax returns are already spent and the weather usually improves. Although Splinter Cell: Conviction led the software sales chart for April, it was the class of a generally weak software month all around. In fact, the only debuts on April’s chart were Conviction and the PlayStation 3 version of Super Street Fighter IV. That was it. Many new sites are highlighting the decline on sales and are painting a worse picture of the numbers than there needs to be.
Seeing the Nintendo DS in the top spot is no surprise. The platform continues to be bolstered by strong sales of Pokemon SoulSilver (#2 on the software chart) and Pokemon HeartGold (#4), plus the allure of the new DSi XL platform is still out there. The portability of the platform is a big plus, as well; being able to play pretty much wherever you want is a significant advantage to having to wait until you’re at home. Many DS games make it easy to have quick gaming sessions, such as during work/school breaks or being a passenger during travel, and the DS also has a formidable library of various titles in many genres. The DS will hold the top spot for at least another month before Nintendo officially showcases the 3DS at E3 in June and possibly takes some of the wind out of the platform’s sails.
The Wii continues to be a source of personal frustration when it comes to making predictions. When I’m bullish, sales seem to plummet… and then when I think that the platform is due for a decline, sales inexplicably bounce upwards. The degree of the decline from last month is impressive, as over 557,000 Wiis were sold in March despite having little new software in that month. April was supposed to be a little different wth the release of Monster Hunter Tri and joint advertising by Capcom and Nintendo. I expected a drop off from the lofty number posted in March, but Monster Hunter Tri never dented the Top 10 software list and was even outsold by Ubisoft’s Just Dance, which continues to baffle and impress analysts at the same time. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is still selling briskly, charting third in between both of the DS Pokemon titles, and that’s an interesting and potentially fruitful setup leading into May and the impending release of Super Mario Galaxy 2 late this month. The Wii will challenge the DS for the top spot in May, but I think that the DS will still come out just ahead.
Microsoft has little to be proud of for April when it comes to the Xbox 360. They hit their first real sales wall of 2010, and even an exclusive like Splinter Cell: Conviction was unable to ignite hardware sales. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was the only other 360 title to make the software sales chart in April, which should be disappointing for Microsoft brass. I’m a little surprised that the current Elite bundle didn’t stay hot, especially with the Halo: Reach Beta being imminent at the time and with all bundles basically guaranteeing access. Also surprising is the fact that the 360 version of Super Street Fighter IV was outsold by the PlayStation 3 version– which is not a common occurrence. May should turn more positive for Microsoft with a strong multiplatform release schedule and the launch of Alan Wake, which has been hotly anticipated and has received generally positive review scores.
The aforementioned news that the PlayStation 3 version of Super Street Fighter IV outsold the Xbox 360 version is a piece of rare good news from the Sony camp last month. God of War III stayed on the software chart for a second straight month, moving over 180,000 copies. That’s a significant drop-off from March, but staying in the middle of the chart during an off month is a good sign for the action title. Unfortunately, supply issues continue to haunt Sony when it comes to the PlayStation 3. This isn’t a situation that can be rectified quickly, but the major question is whether Sony can reignite some momentum for the platform during E3 and beyond. Buzz is high regarding PlayStation Move, and if price point projections are right, it could be a mass-market item in time for Q4… and if Sony can get through the supply shortage, the PlayStation 3 could very well be a significant player for the stretch run in 2010. As for May, though, I expect sales to rebound slightly… but to still be behind the NDS, Wii, and Xbox 360.
There’s not much that can be said about the PSP. 65,500 units is just awful for a given month. It’s a platform that, here in the United States, needs serious help. Konami and Namco are trying to help it along with new PSP games for the Metal Gear Solid and Ace Combat IPs, respectively, but the PSP seems directionless and nobody knows what Sony’s strategy is with it. With rumors intensifying of a new PSP successor to be unveiled at E3, expect PSP sales to be either flat or slightly improved for May as we wait and see what Sony has planned for the platform in June. Interestingly enough, NPD did not supply any sales numbers for the PlayStation 2, although there are rumblings out there that it actually outsold the PSP in April.
April is best known for two things: paying taxes and April Fools’ Day. Perhaps having to pay taxes instead of getting refunds may have contrubuted to the decline in sales across the board… but for analysts, the joke was on us. The industry as a whole underperformed in April and eyes are already turning to what to expect in May in order to get a sense of whether this decline is a bump in the road or a sign of trends to come as the year goes on. We’ll see how it plays out; expect my predictions for May to be up on May 31st.
First, words of wisdom from one Odrion:
buying used games makes you worse than a pirate because
1. you are a potential customer with actual capital
2. you are promoting an industry that profits by ripping off the work of developers
The other sage advice comes from Dark Octave:
Just buy the game new. Gamestop, where the majority of masses buy used games, sell most of their newly/semi-new released used titles for $55. Only $5 less than full price. If saving $5 is really that serious, maybe your hobby should be hunting for a better paying job.
Let’s take a good look at these posts, shall we?
I’m not sure how buying used games makes me worse than a pirate. For starters, I am legally purchasing software. A transaction involving either currency or trade of goods results in my acquisition of a game. It is not my responsibility as a consumer to pay the publisher anything for the game. That responsibility– if it even exists– falls on the reseller and the publisher. Where the money (or monetary value) goes after that transaction is not my concern. Also, how would you expect a specialty store like a GameStop to exist if it wasn’t for preowned game sales? Not that the pricing isn’t arguably a bit skewed in the chain’s favor, but there’s almost no profit margin when selling new product. Just like publishers, GameStop and similar resellers have a responsibility to their bottom line. The same publishers who decry used sales also advertise heavily in the same retail chains that they claim is damaging their bottom lines. Does wanting to buy the same product for less money– especially in a severe recession– make me worse than a criminal? Yes, I have “capital”, but it’s a limited amount… and if I can save a few bucks, I’m going to. The worst part for Odrion here is that I know that I’m not alone in wanting to buy games more cheaply. I guess we all should just put on our eye patches and walk the plank.
Dark Octave’s comment made a little bit of sense to start with. Yes, the difference is only $5– unless you have a discount card, like many resellers offer. Then that $5 more than doubles to $10.50. Since when is $10 not at least somewhat significant, especially these days? It can get you a movie ticket, a meal, a bit of gasoline if you’re running low, and many more things. Without the discount card option, I will admit that I likely wouldn’t be as inclined to buy recently released games at the usual price points that resellers tend to use.
The problem that I have with this post is the last sentence– and it underscores a disconcerting trend within the gaming community. Since when did video games become such an elitist activity? Are we really insinuating that if you can’t find a good job, then you need to find another form of entertainment? Are we really supporting the higher cost of video games instead of even questioning why the increases have occurred? Are we that eager to just bend over and take it because the industry allegedly needs us to in order for it to survive?
You know what? Maybe the answer isn’t to “get a higher paying job”. Maybe the answer is to fly the middle finger to the entire industry, sell all of my current video game consoles and software, and go retro. For the price of a new game, I can buy multiple games for older platforms. My gaming dollars will get more a lot more if I go back to the past, and I won’t have to deal with the crap that this generation has propagated. No DRM. No DLC. No having to be online. Fully-featured games (for the time, obviously). Then the industry will get none of my disposable income and, even in a small way, it’ll increase their losses. If that makes me worse than a pirate, then call me Jack Sparrow because I’m not going to ask for a raise or force myself to work overtime for games and consoles that aren’t necessarily worthy of my hard-earned money.
Electronic Arts today launched a haymaker towards used game consumers when it unveiled the Online Pass program. The Online Pass is a key to online play for EA Sports titles, beginning with Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 11. If you buy the games new, you’ll get a one-time DLC key that allows use of the Online Pass for free for each individual game. If you don’t buy the game new, though… you have to pay $10 to play online– even if you’re already paying for an Xbox LIVE subscription.
This is the latest in a series of moves by EA to attempt to force consumers away from the used market. Previous examples included Madden NFL ’10‘s Online Franchise mode and Mass Effect 2‘s Cerberus Network… but this is the first time that online play is being held for ransom. For Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, the game’s online components are substantial; features like tournaments, GamerNet, and online multiplayer are all affected by Online Pass. The game’s Achievements and Trophies are undoubtedly tied to the online parts of the game as well, so you’ll quite literally have to pay for them in these instances.
Make no mistake about it; EA is indeed holding online play for ransom. Game Informer‘s Matt Helgeson covered the announcement of Online Pass and of particular note was a quote from Andrew Wilson, senior vice preisdent of worldwide development for the company:
In order to continue to enhance the online experiences that are attracting nearly five million connected game sessions a day, again, we think it’s fair to get paid for the services we provide and to reserve these online services for people who pay EA to access them.
The context of Wilson’s quote is very clear and doesn’t require interpretation, but I’m going to supply it anyway.
Wilson believes that EA deserves to “get paid” for online services, and it’s consumer purchases of new EA games that supply this “pay”. Used gamers don’t pay for anything, right, Mr. Wilson? They’re pirates! Surely there’s some law that prohibits the sale of pre-owned merchandise… and if there isn’t, then it’s up to EA to punish these evildoers in some way, right? You WILL pay $60 for our games, or we’ll take away features and functionality. Why not be a man, come right out, and admit that you think used game consumers are what’s wrong with the industry, Mr. Wilson? Show some backbone. Or better yet, why not shoulder some of the blame for your company’s bland earnings? How have those exclusive deals with the NFL and the PGA treated you?
I’ve said this before, but the industry needs to take its beef with used games up with retailers. Leave the consumers out of it. It’s apparent that publishers don’t understand the concept that consumers are in penny-pinching mode and that buying used saves money. Very few people– if any– are buying used games in order to purposely strip companies of revenue. News flash: Consumers don’t care. Consumers want their games cheaply, and they don’t care how that happens. Maybe they’re on clearance, maybe they’re used at GameStop, or maybe they’re found at tag sales or flea markets. You’re not going to make people move away from used games by strong-armiing them.
Am I angry? You’re damned right. In a console generation that’s seen more regression than progression, this is the latest is a comedy of errors and bad decisions that make me wonder why I even bother with today’s consoles anymore. Look at the list of crap that we’ve seen in this console generation… and it’s still growing:
- Hardware unreliability
- Higher disc-based software pricing
- Removal of game features for paid DLC at a later date
- Death of game manuals
- Initiatives to kill the preowned game market
- Gradual increases in downloadable game costs
- Digital distribution (leading to hard drive overloads and issues with bandwidth caps)
- DRM / constant internet connection requirements
- Additional expense for used game consumers in order to use online functionality
It’ll be interesting to see how Online Pass goes over, especially when Madden NFL 11 hits the scene in a few short months… but my patience with EA’s anti-used tactics has just about run out. Even if I wanted to be sympathetic towards EA’s stance on how used games are affecting their bottom line, punishing used game consumers like myself pretty much casts any sympathy or understanding out the window. Why should I care about your bottom line when mouthpieces like Andrew Wilson obviously don’t care about mine?
Go on, take online gaming for ransom. Good luck getting anyone with any sense to pay that ransom.
I talked last week about something called an HD Tax, which is what I define as the extra $10 that Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners are paying for software versus what consumers paid for games a generation ago. This extra cost tends to accumulate over time, so if you average buying one new game per month, you wind up spending an additional $120 over this time five years ago. While some games have arguably “earned” the right to charge this premium, many others (take the recent disaster Iron Man 2, for example) don’t. While this tax/premium seemed like a more reasonable idea at the start of this console generation, times have also changed since then. Unemployment is hovering near 10% nationwide, the cost of living has increased, and disposable income is decreasing. This partially explains why some consumers look to buy used, as it’s money saved and still allows for the ability to play newer or recent games at a lower price point. I know that I’ve gone over this argument a few times here, but it’s a prelude to a related topic that’s at the center of today’s opinion.
Inexplicably, we’re seeing the average price of downloadable titles marching higher. Both of last week’s Xbox LIVE Arcade releases– Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition and RayStorm HD– were priced at 1200 Microsoft Points, or $15. These examples are the most recent evidence that the $15 mark is the new standard for these games, after $10 (or 800 Microsoft Points) was the standard for a majority of the Xbox 360′s life span. In fact, in the platform’s infancy, there was a decent split between $5 retro/arcade titles and $10 original releases… but titles like Braid and Shadow Complex broke the previous $10 barrier and sold for $15. We’re not only seeing the new $15 price point become more prevalent, but we’re seeing that the quality of these apparent premium releases is arguable at best.
While I’ve not yet played Braid, reviews and impressions that I’ve read seem to indicate that the game is worthy of the premium price point. Shadow Complex was a fantastic game with decent length and options that certainly earned the $15 that I spent on it. Conversely, releases like 0 Day Attack on Earth, NBA Unrivaled, Invincible Tiger, and Fret Nice don’t come anywhere close to deserving a $15 premium. Other games in the $15 range, like RayStorm HD and Scrap Metal, are questionable at best. Of the 21 XBLA titles released so far in 2010, 9 of them are $15 titles– that’s 43%. Compare that with 24% of XBLA games released in 2009 (21 out of 91) that were more than $10, and you see a significant increase. Almost double, in fact.
The price point for RayStorm HD was quite unsettling to me, as the cosmetic changes are not all that drastic and that the new modes of play really don’t break any new ground. Considering that you can buy Taito Legends 2 for the PlayStation 2 for less than $10 new and that RayStorm is but one of 39 total games included on the disc… $15 is rather steep. Yes, it’s got Achievements and Leaderboards, but are the additions made to the original arcade version of RayStorm that significant? I don’t think so. 0 Day Attack on Earth is another example of fleecing; it’s short, repetitive, and relies on expensive paid DLC to extend the experience… and you’re still expected to pay $15 for the base game. Where’s the precedent here? Is it because the game uses satellite imagery of actual cities for background visuals? I certainly hope not. There’s just no rhyme or reason to what qualifies as a $15 game anymore. It used to be the exception, based on a variety of factors. Now it seems to be more of the norm, a 33% increase over what XBLA consumers have generally been accustomed to paying for quite some time now.
Speaking of paid DLC for XBLA games, it’s getting ridiculous. Square-Enix is getting a reputatiion for gutting content from their XBLA releases in order to resell that content as DLC shortly after launch. Many of these games are Taito offerings, like Bubble Bobble, Arkanoid, and Qix. This is not to say that paid DLC has not existed previously for XBLA games, but these examples are the most egregious ones. The base games may sell for $10, but the DLC is $5 or more in order to make the game complete. Capcom’s DLC releases for Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 are clear revenue builders and arguably should have been part of the original releases as space was never an issue. For publishers, these are great ideas… but unsuspecting consumers are getting fleeced, and there’s no end in sight to this trend.
I’ve always been a proponent of downloadable games for services like Xbox LIVE Arcade or the PlayStation Store. These can be impulse purchases and some of these games can really be impressive, like Battlefield 1943 or Shadow Complex. As prices begin to creep up to the $15 range, however, the danger exists that there will be less impulse and more caution on the part of consumers. Downloadable games are not refundable and you can’t trade them in or sell them, so you’re basically stuck with what you buy. Dropping $5 or even $10 impulsively on a game and walking away less than impressed stings a bit less than dropping $15 on a stinker like 0 Day Attack on Earth or NBA Unrivaled that you inevitably either wind up deleting or just forgetting about… and consumers won’t forget after they’ve been burned. If $15 is going to become the new standard, then the level of quality needs to be higher. Something has to give.
As prices go up, it becomes harder for me to be an impulse buyer. The same situation applies to the HD taxed disc-based games and to downloadable titles… in fact, it applies more strongly for downloadable games in my case. Unlike the price of gasoline breaking through psychological barriers like $3 and $4, $15 downloadable games aren’t necessities. I’ll simply learn to play what I have and wait for the right title to come and earn my $15. Killing off the impulse in consumers has the potential to hurt the market in the long run, but the industry will continue to be to self-centered to notice until it’s too late.