It has been awhile since I’ve talked about NPD numbers, hasn’t it? Well, the results for August are in, and while they seem to have shaken Michael Pachter, I’m here to tell you that there should be no surprise. Microsoft’s continued success stems from its revisions of the Xbox 360 hardware– first with the $300 250GB model and now with the 4GB $200 model. These are “new”, and combined with recent strong sellers like NCAA Football 11 and Madden NFL 11, the Xbox 360 platform has separated itself from the pack over the course of 2010 so far. What’s striking to me are two things:
- Wii sales numbers in August represent the lowest amount of systems sold since the platform’s launch in 2006. Has the bubble burst?
- PlayStation 3 numbers are lifeless and unimpressive. Still. Will this change during Q4?
We’ll get to these points, but let’s first look at the data:
- Microsoft Xbox 360: 356,700 units
- Nintendo DS: 342,700 units
- Nintendo Wii: 244,300 units
- Sony PlayStation 3: 226,000 units
- PlayStation Portable: 79,400 units
As I mentioned above, Microsoft’s success with the Xbox 360 in August is not surprising. The introduction of the $200 4GB SKU was received well, and there’s still at least moderate interest in the $300 250GB SKU. Combine that with the annual release of Madden NFL, which moved over 920,000 units, and it adds up to a monthly win. It’s also important to note that August was a pretty slow month when it came to software; aside from Madden, Mafia II was probably the only other “big” title– and it barely broke 120,000 units. September is guaranteed (and I rarely use that word here) to be another win for Microsoft with what should be an impressive debut for Halo: Reach. Reach reservation numbers are staggering… not only for the base game, but for special editions and even the Reach console. Late-month multiplatform releases like Dead Rising 2, FIFA 11, and even Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock will likely sell better on the 360, which could further tip the balance of power for September in Microsoft’s favor.
Let’s get back to the first of the two questions that I asked to start the column. Has the Wii bubble finally burst? I think that it’s certainly open to debate. Wii sales have been trending downward for a few months now and that trend will likely continue this month. Nintendo has no answer for Halo: Reach this month, nor do they have anything substantially new that can compete for consumer attention like PlayStation Move could. Instead, Nintendo is left with hoping that a price reduction for its DSi line of portable systems will bring home the bacon. With some very mixed reaction from reviewers and weak initial response from consumers, Metroid: Other M is shaping up to be a surprising letdown for Nintendo in terms of their normally successful first-party releases, and although we may see it debut on September’s NPD Top 10 software chart for September, it won’t be enough to shake the Wii doldrums. It will be interesting to watch and see if New Carnival Games will sell as well as the first game… plus we’ll have to see just how much effect that the DSi price drops will have. I can see at least a modest increase in DS hardware sales for September.
The other question that I led off with regarding the PlayStation 3 won’t be answered in September. One good sign for Sony from August is that, although hardware sales were sluggish once again, sales of Madden NFL 11 were not that far off from those of its Xbox 360 counterpart. NPD data made it unclear how close sales were between the two versions of Mafia II, although the fact that the Xbox 360 version outsold the PS3 version in spite of PS3-exclusive content at launch is a little disappointing. If the Wii is in the doldrums, then the PlayStation 3 is in a funk. The upgrade of the $300 SKU from 120GB to 160GB may generate some sales for September, but the bigger thing to watch will be the number of early adopters for PlayStation Move and how well it debuts. I’m still thinking that the Move console bundle SKU for $400 may be cost-prohibitive, especially for a new technology, but Sony has already gone on the record as saying that big things are not expected from Move sales early on. I’ve been predicting– and have been wrong so far– that Sony is going to see a positive change in momentum for the PS3 this year. I’m now ready to concede that it’s likely that any real momentum shift won’t take place until 2011. I just can’t see Gran Turismo 5, Little Big Planet 2, and PlayStation Move being able to derail the Microsoft train in Q4, despite what I’m guessing will be a tepid response to Kinect.
Here’s what I see the hardware pecking order to be for September. Keep in mind that I’m eliminating unit sales predictions and instead am just listing my early projections.
- Xbox 360: Two words. Halo. Reach. Microsoft will win September handily.
- Nintendo DS: The DSi price drops will have a positive effect, especially as school has just restarted and another Pokemon title is coming soon.
- Nintendo Wii: Aside from New Carnival Games and hopefully some late Other M purchases, September is quiet for the Big N.
- PlayStation 3: I think that PlayStation Move will start slowly, and most of the month’s multiplatform releases will be skewed towards the Xbox 360.
- Sony PSP: Could come close to 100K again thanks to the release of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep– which PSPgo units cannot play, by the way.
We’ll see how September plays out in a few weeks. In the meantime, keep checking back for more retail anecdotes and analysis here.
Also, I would like to formally announce that I’ve signed on as a staff reviewer for J2Games. The site is being relaunched in October and will be focusing on games with a classic link or retro feel. We’ll be covering current games, to be sure, but working there gives me a chance to use my years of gaming experience and cover games of all times– past and present. I have my first couple of assignments, and will certainly share the reviews with you when they are posted. I’m going to be working with some passionate people, including someone that I’ve admired for years, so I’m very excited.
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.