Since becoming a PlayStation 3-only owner, after my Xbox 360 tanked on me last month, it’s become apparent how much that at least some PS3 versions of multiplatform games are sub-standard. Frame rates falter, some visual effects don’t look quite right, and a smattering of other issues put these games a notch below their Xbox 360 counterparts. There are notorious examples of PS3 sub-standard offerings, such as the ill-fated version of Skyrim. There’s growing chatter that Black Ops II has notable issues with crashing and with online connectivity.
All of these things leave me to question whether buying into whatever follow-up console that Sony decides to offer when the next generation arrives. As a consumer, Sony has managed to damage my trust and confidence several times over the course of this console generation. The Trophy system never compared to what Microsoft initiated with its Achievement system, and felt more forced than useful. Forced installs of on-disc software continue to force me to decide what to delete in order to make room for new things. Monthly (or more) firmware updates and surprise patches mean that there’s often a waiting minigame to be played before getting to enjoy the real game you want to play. The PSN hack of 2011 and its associated outage still cast a specter over the online experience. On top of all that, many multiplatform offerings are clearly “second class” versions of games that run better on the Xbox 360.
I had chosen to dump the PS3 back in February of 2009, when I got my Xbox 360. I didn’t feel that there were enough reasons to own both consoles. Aside from Metal Gear Solid 4, the exclusive offerings weren’t strong enough for me and I was more interested in what the 360 had to offer. There were more arcade games, for example, on the 360. I liked the idea of Gamerscore and being able to track Achievements for all games, rather than the select few that supported Trophies for the PS3 at the time. Games like Bioshock and Dead Space ran better on the 360, too.
But in 2010, I got a new PS3 as a birthday gift from family. There was newfound momentum with exclusives like God of War III and improving versions of MLB: The Show. After a year away from the PS3, I was happy to give it another chance and see how Sony would fare given that sales had bounced back somewhat after a mid-year price cut in 2009. It was nice that I got my previously-bought digital games back, too. I used the PS3 primarily as a console for exclusives, leaving multiplatform games to the Xbox 360. That worked for awhile, until my 360 began failing early this year. I began getting more multiplatform games for the PS3, and I tried to get used to the difference in quality.
I haven’t been able to do it.
There are exceptions to the lower quality rule, thankfully. Zen Pinball 2 is on par with (or even slightly better than) Pinball FX2 on the Xbox 360. Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage and Dynasty Warriors 7 both run better on the PS3 than the Xbox 360. Many downloadable titles run pretty much the same on both platforms. Unfortunately, retail releases– notably the AAA ones– suffer in performance and quality, and the excuses aren’t acceptable to me.
Obviously it’s too late to expect changes now, but if you ask me which of the next-generation consoles that I would buy, it would have to be whatever Microsoft offers. That’s kind of a shame, considering how much of a supporter and fan that I was of PlayStation platforms for 10 years. Both the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 are great platforms. I’ve amassed hundreds of games for both as part of my current collection. The PlayStation 3, on the other hand, has been more disappointment than it has been great. I’ve been underwhelmed by it, and that leads to my consumer vote of no confidence when Sony finally announces that its new platform is ready.
I’m sure that others will disagree with this sentiment, considering it too harsh or making judgments before we really know what Sony will offer. Some will offer the same excuses that I’ve heard for years, about how the PlayStation 3 is harder to program for or that developers aren’t putting enough of an effort in to make the multiplatform versions comparable. I’m not speaking for an entire community. I’m speaking for myself, as one person. Sony has lost me, as a valued customer, unless it can prove unequivocally that the next generation will be different… because they have underperformed in all phases during this generation to the point that the PlayStation 3 is a “second class” platform that could never realistically compete with either the Wii or the Xbox 360.
I decided to have a little bit of fun with my projections for the fourth quarter of this year.
Some colleagues have told me that my numbers are generally too high, with their projections being down as much as 50% YOY in some cases (read: Xbox 360). I’m not sure that I buy into the gloom scenario just yet. There’s talk of a decent bundle from Microsoft for the holidays, plus the company is in prime position to surprise with a price cut if it so chooses. Obviously another year like last year with over 3.8 million Xbox 360 units being sold is not in the cards… but below 2 million? With Halo 4 and Black Ops 2? I can’t pull the trigger on such low numbers. Not yet.
One thing to definitely keep an eye on will be WiiU allocations. My gut tells me that Nintendo is looking to ship between 600,000 and 700,000 units in November and in December, probably leaning towards the lower end of that range. I do think that my projection of 1.1 million units makes sense. It could be a bit more than that, but realistically not as high as the 1.5 million I was thinking about earlier this month. I do think that tight supply could potentially lead to hazardous situations at retail, with increased risk for robberies both in-store and in parking lots. Resale prices for WiiU could be huge if supply is super-tight, so they’re perfect targets for criminals.
Lastly, I know that I’ve come down hard on the PlayStation 3. It’s not that I don’t like (or want to like) the platform, because I do. I own one, I use it considerably more than my Xbox 360, and I think that PlayStation Plus is a fantastic program. Unfortunately, while I understand the pricing strategy for PlayStation 3 in Q4, I think that it’s a wasted opportunity to build penetration even at this very late stage of the console generation. $200 would have great. An even lower price would have been better. Neither of those things happened, and there simply isn’t a major selling point for the PlayStation 3 this season. The WiiU will be the main attraction as the new hardware platform and will be difficult to find. The Xbox 360 will almost certainly be the best-selling platform this season with a strong software lineup and continued brand recognition. The PlayStation 3 has neither of these advantages, and unimpressive sales will be the result instead of a resurgence during the busiest period of the year.
I hope that you’ll check out the piece. Feel free to tell me what you think, either here or via the comments section over at Popzara.
Look for more new content here next week, too.
Popzara Press recently published two articles of mine that I wrote in order to get the E3 ball rolling there.
The first one is from an analyst perspective, breaking down each of the three hardware companies: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Microsoft was the easiest of the three to talk about, though I found it interesting that early fears of a strong focus on non-game entertainment seem to have cooled with word of several big third-party game announcements during the Monday morning presser. I think that we might be surprised with what Microsoft brings to the table, but I’m not sure whether it makes a difference in terms of hardware sales for 2012 given the saturation status of the platform. Sony’s event could be the most intriguing, as there are several possible storylines. How will Sony address the Vita situation? What of this rumored cloud-based gaming acquisition that we’ve been hearing about? Is a revamp of PlayStation Plus in the cards? I’m personally very interested in what comes from that event Monday night. Finally, Nintendo’s true unveiling of the WiiU is extremely important. Nintendo needs to start selling the world on what WiiU is, and this is the company’s first big chance to do that. Launch date and pricing won’t be revealed, but games and hardware capability will be center stage.
My other piece has to do with some downloadable games that I’m looking to see on the show floor. I named three in particular. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a personal selection. I hold this series in very high regard and am excited to see the work that Josh Tsui and his team at Robomodo have put so much effort into. I’ve been following the progress of THPSHD since it was announced last December; from what I’ve seen, this has the potential to be one of this summer’s bigger releases. Zen Pinball 2 is another game that I’m looking forward to seeing. If you know me, you know I’m a bit of a pinball freak… and it’s great that the PlayStation 3 is finally getting its own Pinball FX2 kind of upgrade from Zen Pinball. Hopefully I’ll get a peek at the new Avengers tables, too. Finally, Double Dragon: NEON is an appointment that I set up because of my arcade roots. WayForward has done some great things with arcade IP in the past (Contra 4, anyone?) and I’m eager to see what they’ve done with Double Dragon here.
I hope that you’ll take a look at both pieces, and I invite you to comment on either or both.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that most of my writing for the next couple of weeks will be for Popzara Press. I’m not sure how much extra writing time I’ll have during the event, and I’m going to be playing catch-up for another week or so after I return from Los Angeles. I will post some more personal stories and content from the trip here as time allows, though, and most definitely after my Popzara workload slows down a bit. If you’re interested in more frequent updates from me during E3, I recommend following me on Twitter. You can follow along as I’m terrified during my flight, you can find out what I’m playing and who I’ve met, and it’ll basically be a running diary of my experience.
Although the thought of flying to Los Angeles is still freaking me out, I’m extremely excited to be able to attend E3 this year. It’s going to be a big show and I am even more excited to be able to share my experience with so many people. Some call this work– and it certainly is– but I consider it an honor.
I just finished my analysis of April’s NPD sales data for Popzara Press. To go along with that piece, I have five observations that I’m going to expand upon for you here.
1. Gotta predict ‘em all!
As it turns out, I correctly predicted the ranking order for hardware sales in April: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, 3DS, Wii, then Vita. I came within about 20,000 units of predicting the actual Xbox 360 sales number of 236,000. I overshot it– as I did with the other platforms– but feel pretty good about getting more right than wrong when it comes to predicting hardware. I’ve had a decent record doing this, but predictions are only part of what I’m doing.
2. No Portal Kombat means sliding sales.
Mortal Kombat and Portal 2 combined last April to move well over 1.5 million units. Compare the significance of those two games with Kinect Star Wars, and Prototype 2. You really can’t. Even adding The Witcher 2 to the mix, these games simply don’t have the same kind of selling power as last April’s slate of game releases. Without prominent and captivating game releases, consumers aren’t going to spend money on software… or hardware, for that matter. Perhaps May will bring a better result with two releases potentially coming close to or exceeding a million units sold.
3. What’s wrong with the 3DS?
The 3DS has been a huge hit in Japan in 2012, but here in the US, it’s languishing. Sales of the handheld here in April were less than 150,000 units, which is about half of what it sold in Nintendo’s home territory. Defenders of the platform continue to fall back on the DS comparison and how 3DS is outperforming it within the first year, but most of those sales were in Q4 2011. Lack of significant new software is one possible reason for the malaise, but other factors like consumer moves to iOS/Android need to be considered. Perhaps a spike will come this month with the release of Mario Tennis Open, but Nintendo is going to have to deliver more games for the 3DS and try to encourage more output from its third-party publishing partners. Without games, there’s no reason to spend the $170 on new hardware.
4. “PS Vita is gaining momentum”? No. No, it isn’t.
It’s already difficult enough for those who don’t have access to raw NPD data to have Sony continually refuse to share sales specifics publicly, but it’s worse when Sony’s Corporate Communications arm delivers NPD reaction that uses dozens of words to say nothing at all. The quote above is pulled from Dan Race, Senior Director of Corporate Communications for SCEA. Unfortunately for Mr. Race, leaked NPD data shows that if Vita is “gaining momentum”, it’s not pertaining to unit sales. Vita unit sales tanked in April, falling below 100,000 units after spending its first two NPD reporting periods over 200,000 units. At least in terms of retail sales, software is seemingly non-existent after the initial wave of launch titles. Yes, it’s early, but very few consumers who haven’t already bought a Vita are going to drop $250+ on a device that has very little going for it at this point. Even if E3 delivers promises of new Vita games– which should happen– there’s no reason to buy near-term. There isn’t a killer app out there right now, and until one becomes more than just a “Coming Soon” placeholder, sales of Vita hardware will continue to struggle. Even a speculated price drop may not do much without games to support it. Vita needs to be Sony’s focus at E3, without question.
5. Are we saturated yet?
The Xbox recorded negative YOY hardware sales results for a fifth straight month, so it’s been argued that the hardware is approaching a saturation point. I think that there’s some merit to this argument, given that we’re going to be entering its seventh year on the market and that 2011 sales of Xbox 360 hardware were very impressive. That 2011 success is also a bit of a monkey on Microsoft’s back, since comps are hard to achieve a year later. Is it realistic to expect Xbox 360 sales to remain steady or improve this late in the console cycle? I don’t really think it is. Having said that, I do believe that the negative sales trend will continue and that I’m seeing a parallel to what we saw with the Wii. Waiting too long to act when your current console’s sales begin to fall can be costly. Even with a recommended price drop, I don’t see sales reacting positively for very long. Even when Halo 4 hits in November, can we expect another 1.7 million Xbox 360 units to sell? I’ll answer that question very plainly: No.
Hopefully things will improve this month. Diablo III and Max Payne 3 show promise. Will they be enough to break this losing streak? We’ll find out in a few weeks’ time.
Pinball Arcade is a very good explanation of why Farsight Studios– the team behind the excellent Pinball Hall of Fame series– has been out of the spotlight for quite some time. Rather than producing a new disc-based experience with several tables to choose from, Farsight has borrowed a page from Zen Studios and has delivered an experience that is very open-ended with more tables expected in the coming months. The overall Pinball Arcade package doesn’t have the bells and whistles that Pinball FX2 has, but it does deliver realism with proper ball and table physics and actual tables straight out of the arcade.
Pinball Arcade costs 800 Microsoft Points via Xbox LIVE Arcade, or $9.99 on the PlayStation Store. The purchase entitles players immediate access to four tables: Tales of the Arabian Nights, Black Hole, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and Theatre of Magic. The first two tables should sound familiar to those of you who have played the two Pinball Hall of Fame games. Arabian Nights was part of the Williams Collection and Black Hole was found on the lesser-known Gottlieb Collection. The other two tables are completely new, and they’re quite good. Two more tables, Medieval Madness (a returning table from the Williams Collection) and Bride of Pinbot (a new table) will be the first DLC tables available, likely arriving in May.
Of the four initial tables offered in Pinball Arcade, Theatre of Magic is the most attractive and most accessible to all skill levels. Scores are high, flippers are long, and the table objectives are pretty straightforward. Racking up a billion points or more can be a common occurrence once you learn the ins and outs of the table, and there are some neat secrets to unlock. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is another very good table, although it’s not nearly as easy to learn. It does have a rather interesting sense of humor and a jewel collection system that can open up some nice bonuses, such as double scoring, Super Jackpot shots, a Million Plus shot, and more. Black Hole, for the uninitiated, is highlighted by a separate lower playfield that is basically played upside down. Flippers are at the top and having the ball drain without opening the right outlane gate (via drop targets) beforehand leads to disaster. Finally, Tales of the Arabian Nights challenges players to collect jewels and save a princess from an evil genie. A spinning lamp shot in the upper middle of the playfield is key to earning big end-of-ball bonuses and learning the timing for specific ramp shots is vital to mounting a run at a high score.
One fact needs to be understood when talking about Pinball Arcade: It’s not Pinball FX2, Marvel Pinball, or Zen Pinball.
Zen Studios has made very impressive strides in delivering quality pinball experiences, but Zen’s strength has been making pinball accessible to everyone and very social. If you try Pinball Arcade after having spent many hours playing Zen’s pinball games, you’re going to probably get rather angry. Balls tend to be lost a lot quicker. Scores tend to be lower on at least three of the four current tables. The social element has been replaced by a crude user interface that doesn’t really promote a community. At the same time, for those players out there who have had experience with actual pinball machines, Pinball Arcade is very close to the real deal and a fair amount of skill is required to score well.
The ball physics in Pinball Arcade are slower than what we’ve seen from Zen Studios. It will take time to adapt to the slower speed and calculate shots accordingly. Some players may prefer Zen’s faster pace, but faster and lighter physics aren’t realistic. If you’ve had a chance to hold a pinball before, you’d know that they’re quite heavy. Heavier objects tend to move slower. It’s not impossible for ball speeds to increase, especially when it’s been affected by bumpers or gaining speed off of a ramp, but speeds on actual pinball machines tend to be a bit slower than what we’ve seen in most pinball simulations.
The physics engine in Pinball Arcade is excellent, but the game isn’t without its problems. Some players may have a hard time finding a camera angle that is comfortable. Varying camera angles for plunger skill shots are missing, for whatever reason. This leads to a lot of trial and error when trying to execute them. There are also some bugs that can affect the game, such as balls hopping over flippers. So far, these haven’t been anything more than an annoyance; however, until a patch resolves bugs like these, it’s important to note that they do exist.
Each table is accurately modeled after its real-life counterpart. You’ll notice little visual touches like light reflections and moving parts on certain playfields. In my experience, the frame rate has been very consistent, even in multiball situations. There have been times when the action will stop for a moment, especially when balls are being launched into multiball play. This has thrown off my concentration at times, but it hasn’t been a game-breaking problem. The in-game scoreboard has been smoothed for high-definition. I tend to prefer the option of keeping it more pixelated, but no such option exists here. This is a minor stylistic quibble, but one that I was nonetheless surprised to see.
The sound and music for each of the four tables is accurate and authentic. Aside from Black Hole, the other tables all have great music and voice work to hear. The mechanical sounds aren’t quite as crisp as we’ve been hearing in the last few tables from Zen Studios, but this isn’t a dealbreaker by any means. It is worth noting that Black Hole has a very droning, robotic sound that plays repeatedly in the background. It probably will drive many to turn the volume down before long, but it’s certainly authentic.
I realize that Pinball Arcade isn’t perfect, but its flaws don’t prevent a recommendation from me. It’s realistic, authentic, and makes players work hard for their leaderboard spots. It doesn’t have the social or community feel that Zen Studios has worked hard to implement for its pinball experiences, but Farsight Studios does have a solid foundation in place with actual tables and the most realistic physics engine around. Whether you’re an old-school arcade rat like me, or if you’re just a fan of pinball in general, Pinball Arcade is worthy of your 40 quarters.
Note: Playing time was spent on the Xbox 360 version, which was self-purchased on April 4th. The PlayStation 3 version is available now.
Namco’s Ace Combat series has been one of my personal favorites. I have fond memories of playing Air Combat for the PlayStation just after the console launched back in 1995, but it was Ace Combat 2 that really captured my attention and made me the fan that I am today. Ace Combat 2 was just one of the many quality titles that came out for the PlayStation in 1997. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, PaRappa the Rapper, Rage Racer, Intelligent Cube, Colony Wars, and Final Fantasy VII all competed for playing time back then, but Ace Combat 2 kept drawing me back with its arcade-style gameplay and intense sorties. It was Top Gun without the over-the-top characters and real-world setting, and that suited me just fine.
After a stumble with the US version of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere on the PlayStation in 2000, Namco then delivered three fantastic Ace Combat games for the PlayStation 2. Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies landed on the PlayStation 2 in the fall of 2001 and is arguably the best entry in the series. Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War hit three years later in 2004, followed by an Unsung War semi-sequel called Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War in the spring of 2006. The series really came into its own on the PlayStation 2 platform and these three games are among my overall favorites. Namco then pulled a surprise and released Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation for the Xbox 360 (instead of the PlayStation 3) in the fall of 2007. I never completed Ace Combat 6, but the scope of the battles was larger than anything seen in the series before. Finally, last October, Namco released a non-numbered Ace Combat game called Ace Combat: Assault Horizon for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Assault Horizon drew some inspiration from Call of Duty and implemented some new gameplay ideas.
As we prepare to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Ace Combat 2 in May, I’m going to be playing each of these eight games in order and will be posting something about each game individually. These won’t be reviews, but will instead be impressions of my time with each game. I’m looking forward to playing through each of these games over the next few weeks and sharing my experiences with you.
The first sortie takes off with Air Combat this week. It’s time to kick the tires and light the fires.
I have been playing Sonic Generations this week, and wanted to share a few thoughts on it before I go back into blogging silence for the trip.
I’m glad that I was able to get Sonic Generations. I’m only a couple of bosses in (about 6 stages or so), but I already have a bit to say about the experience. On the plus side, the game really is a love letter to Sonic fans. Revisiting classic stages with new layouts has generally been great. The difference in gameplay between classic Sonic and updated Sonic is noticeable, and each poses unique challenges. Playing through Speed Highway or City Escape with the classic Sonic character shows some creativity as both stages maintain their Dreamcast feel but are adapted for a more 2D style of gameplay. Taking new Sonic through Green Hill and the Chemical Plant puts a new spin on those stages and focuses more on speed, almost like a race. The visuals are colorful and active, and the game is fast. The framerate is about the same as it was in the demo (a shade under 30 frames per second), and it does chug lower than that on occasion, but it’s generally not a hindrance. The music is fantastic as familiar themes and songs are remixed and reimagined.
Unfortunately, as I’ve progressed through the game, more problems have been popping up. The stages with new Sonic are getting frustrating as more precise platforming skill is needed, but undermined by the focus on speed. The second boss battle starts off great, as Sonic must approach and attack the creature from different angles and points of entry. When it reaches its climax, however, the focus shifts heavily to platforming and use of Sonic’s homing attack to make certain jumps. The last jump has to be just right, or else Sonic falls to his death. Boss battles should not be determined by one lousy jump– and yet this one is. This was after another leap in difficulty in the Seaside Hill stage. The curve is uneven, and that’s disappointing.
While more flaws and the overall frustration level are slowly increasing, I’m still liking the Sonic Generations experience overall. There’s a lot of replayability here with challenges for each stage and a grading and scoring system that encourages multiple playthroughs. There are secrets to find, tons of content to unlock, and genuine “Wow!” moments for fans. I’m one of the rare Sonic fans who liked the Sonic Adventure games as much (if not more) than the original games on the Genesis/MegaDrive, and the nods to those games that Sonic Team put into Generations– at least so far– made me grin like a little kid. This is a family-friendly game with wide appeal and a slightly lower price point makes it an attractive holiday gift possibility. I’ll be posting more on this game after the move in complete and I get to spend more time with it.
On a personal note, it’s the night before I wipe my hard drive and sell my computer after over three years of use. Coincidentally, this is the computer that I started Consoleation on back in 2008, so it’s fitting that I write this one last blog entry on it before it goes to its new home. I’m breaking down and packing up all of my consoles and associated games within the next 24 hours as well, so I’m going to be generally offline and relatively game-less for the better part of the next 10 days. Thankfully, those days will be filled with packing, cleaning, (hopefully) selling what I can’t carry, shipping the last wave of boxes to my new place, and then the daunting drive back to Massachusetts– and the place that I lived before moving here to Arizona. There are a lot of changes going on, and it’s a lot to take in. I’ve been preparing for this, but the finality of it all is really hitting home and will be worse when I pack my games up.
I want to thank everyone for their well-wishes and positive thoughts. I’m looking forward to getting through the next couple of weeks and getting back to some semblance of normalcy. I have a lot of other topics to write about and share once the move is complete, including a take on the VGAs that I just couldn’t get to tonight.
Look for new writing in a couple of weeks. Until then, enjoy the November rush of games!
My analysis of video game sales data and trends for August is now live over at KmartGamer.
I do have a few additional thoughts to share with you, before you head over and check it out:
Microsoft should be pleased with moving another 308,000 Xbox 360 units, especially during a pretty dry month for new game releases. As I mention in the analysis piece, Microsoft will likely interpret this as a signal that a price drop isn’t needed for at least the rest of 2011. That doesn’t mean that the company won’t be offering some interesting deals. Bundle SKUs will be common, especially in Q4, so consumers looking to get an Xbox 360 will have several value choices to make. I haven’t heard anything official about a “holiday bundle” as of yet, but I do believe that one is coming.
Although Sony was the only company to not share its unit sales for last month, I can tell you that the numbers aren’t bad at all. I think that there’s a little bit of disappointment that the PlayStation 3 was unable to pull ahead of the Xbox 360 for the month, but the PS3 was only down less than 5% YOY. In a month where everyone else was off by at least 13%, that’s a good sign. Sales of PSP units were also pretty steady, which is surprising given the lack of software. Sony’s Patrick Seybold did mention that there were some “supply constraints” (again?) for the PS3, but I doubt this played a major role in the closing data.
I know that I talk a lot about the deflation of the Wii bubble, but I do believe it has a lot to do with saturation. The LTD (Life-to-Date) number for the Wii is over 35 million units, and that’s after less than six years. I think that, if the $100 Wii shows up for November or in early 2012, there’s one more spike for console sales in the offing. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a potentially significant reason to own a Wii, and as Nintendo marks down prices on re-releases going forward as part of its Wii Selects line for $20, the Wii becomes a relatively inexpensive gaming platform with other uses (such as Netflix). I don’t know for sure if we’ll see the $100 Wii here, but it makes sense to me given that the Wii U is still at least 8-14 months away from release. It bears watching.
The lack of Madden in August had a ripple effect that cannot be understated. It precluded potential hardware sales, plus it hurt software sales for Electronic Arts and for each platform. Knowing that Madden is carrying into September, however, the news should turn positive as at least two million-plus sellers should bolster the software market and Electronic Arts should bounce back nicely after a dismal YOY month. The only concern is that putting Madden so close to big sellers like Gears of War 3 and even Dead Island and Resistance 3 can eat into potential sales even though the genres are drastically different. When I receive the numbers for September, it will be interesting to see final numbers for all of these titles as all of them should make it into the Top 10.
It makes a drastic difference to have all of the data (as I now have) to work from when performing analysis. There’s a lot to take in, and while it’s easy for people to pick on Michael Pachter, Jesse Divnich, or other analysts for having easy jobs– it’s still difficult to accurately predict where the industry is going. I now have a better picture of what’s happening and can make more informed opinions and predictions based on these numbers. I can also see why the data is so protected. Not only does it cost tons in employee hours, research, and effort to compile and produce… but making some of the data public could cause lots of conclusion-jumping. It’d be too easy to proclaim that the sky is falling and that the industry is in big trouble if you looked at August’s numbers alone; however, the best analysis is formed by gathering all of the data and looking at trends. August looks like a terrible month, but had Madden 12 hit stores even a week earlier, the damage would have been far more limited.
I just completed my first Armchair Analysis column for the League of One project over at KmartGamer, and I hope that it will go live in the next few days. I’ll be sure to share the link here when it does.
In the meantime, I have five points of observation that I’d like to mention here since I haven’t updated the blog yet this week.
1. It’s not so bad: Sensationalist headlines could have casual observers running for hills when it comes to how this year’s sales numbers compare with last year. Don’t fall for this. Let’s keep in mind that the newer Xbox 360 models– the Xbox 360 Slim– really flew off of store shelves last July. We’re now a year removed from that and now YOY numbers will bump into that success. Big difference between 443,500 units last year compared with 277,000 units this year. At a bare minimum, that’s a decline of $33.3 million dollars (for the $200 SKU). This should have been expected. Worse yet, Wii sales in July were about only about 190,000 units as compared with 253,900 last year. That’s -25% YOY, but it’s arguable that the Wii is at a point of saturation and is likely in its last 12 months of realistic shelf life. YOY declines for Wii should not be a surprise, either.
2. PS3 price cut needed: It’s been two years since the last PlayStation 3 price cut, and one is long overdue. PlayStation 3 sales have been stagnant to downright disappointing and it’s time for Sony to do something about it. Excuses like worrying that making the PS3 cost less than the upcoming Vita platform or that Sony wants to maintain profitability are just those– excuses. The Vita is at least 7 months away. As for profitability, if Sony hasn’t figured out how to manufacture PS3 hardware more cheaply after two years, there’s something very wrong. Sales are so bad right now that Sony is keying on increases in PlayStation Move and Sharpshooter sales as positives while hiding unit sales of its flagship platform. With great software due over the next few months, Sony could spark new hardware sales with a simple cut. The opportunities have been there, but the window for making the PlayStation 3 more than the red-headed stepchild of this console generation is closing rapidly. Action, Sony. Not spin.
3. Spread the (software) wealth: I discussed this on Twitter on Thursday, and I stand by my viewpoint: Weak results in software sales are at least partially attributable to video game publishers. The bottom line is this: If you don’t release any games in a month, nobody is going to buy any games that month. It’s common sense. The “slow season” mentality doesn’t wash with me because publishers march so many games out in such a tight span between September and November. I want to hear legitimate reasons as to why July is a taboo month, or why better planning for development can’t be carried out to ensure that a few games hit the July window. Spare me that “nobody buys games in the summer” argument, please, because that died when the average age for gaming consumers went over 18 years ago. Now Dad plays games, and he’s not on a 12-week vacation. Why wouldn’t he drop $60 on, say, War in the North if it came out in July? Instead, it’s coming out in November and will likely be forgotten or ignored at retail because there are dozens of other titles that will pique his interest. Why can’t publishers try leveling out their release calendars and maybe save some of these games that will likely fail during the holidays? I don’t get it.
4. Power of the price drop: Two unexpected games on the NPD Top 10 Software chart, Major League Baseball 2K11 and Fallout: New Vegas, enjoyed renewed success due to price cuts. MLB 2K11 dropped to $40 and Fallout: New Vegas went down to $20. The 6th position on the chart is the best that MLB 2K11 has done and also marks the first time it’s made the Top 10. Price cuts matter, especially in this economy. Combine that with a slow release month, and you get instant sales. Other publishers should take notice.
5. Just Dance just sells: Just Dance 2 is a sales monster. It’s consistently been in the Top 10 since its release last October, and this is despite sales on only one platform (Wii), as opposed to multiplatform sellers like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Mortal Kombat. The game has now sold over 5 million copies in the United States alone, which is impressive. While the effect of Just Dance 3 going multiplatform is hard to predict, I think that the IP will have continued success on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3… although the success will be lower due to the requirement of peripherals to play. Wii sales should still be strong, given the size of the Wii’s installed userbase, but it remains to be seen just how much of the Wii’s potential marketshare will be lost to high-definition competition.
I can’t wait to share my in-depth analysis once it’s posted at KmartGamer, but I hope that these five observations are enough to spark some reaction. Feel free to chime in with your own observations and analysis!
After three consecutive nights with three hours of sleep apiece, walking into a closed meeting room at 10am and seeing Star Wars Kinect didn’t seem to show much promise. After all, other sites had been less than kind to the game and the reaction during Microsoft‘s press conference wasn’t exactly warm. When I volunteered to test the game for a group of my peers and the other members of the KmartGamer team, I didn’t have high expectations… but when the demo was over and my pulse was racing, I wanted more.
The demo had two different modes of play: Jedi Training and Jedi Destiny.
Jedi Training is just as it sounds; Yoda guides the player through the control basics, including using the Force, lightsaber combat, and basic movement. It’s hard to put into words how cool it was to wield powers like Force Push and, by just using your left hand, thrust battle droids away from you. These powers have always been associated with simple button presses in the past, but with Kinect’s body tracking abilities, players can execute actions as though they really are “in the game”. Moving a downed ship from spot to spot requires more concentration (at least in theory), so both hands are used to guide the ship to its destination. It almost requires players to think like the character that they’re portraying; even the most skilled of Force wielders can’t just zip a large craft from one place to another; slower, more deliberate movement is needed. That’s what is expected and works best when performing the same action in Star Wars Kinect. Lightsaber controls are dictated by the right hand, and the tracking seemed spot on; side to side slashes, vertical cuts, and even more elaborate twirls and twists were all registered by the Kinect sensor and brought to life on the big screen.
Jedi Destiny puts the player’s training to practical use in the Cloud City of Bespin. The city is in turmoil, taken over by battle droids, and it’s up to the player to stop the invasion of the Trade Federation. The action is on rails– much like SEGA‘s Star Wars Arcade– but it’s no less fun. Combining force powers and lightsaber skills, I dispatched plenty of droids and felt unstoppable as I was able to use Force powers and lightsaber skills at the same time. Facing Destroyer droids was a more difficult task, as extra body movements were required to leap towards and over them to get an advantage. Some of the body tracking movements for side rolls and jumps did feel a little inconsistent; they were great when they worked, but the on-screen character would have been full of holes when they didn’t. Thankfully, dying in the demo wasn’t possible. I did manage a couple of impressive feats, including taking down three battle droids with a single Force Push action (something that our LucasArts guide hadn’t yet seen before), while making my way from Bespin’s exterior to inside near the infamous dining room where Lando’s betrayal takes place and various corridors.
The demo concludes inside of the Carbonite Chamber. Two hooded Sith warriors appear out of the darkness, each dual-wielding lightsabers. I stood, ready for battle… and the demo ended there. I was tired, but exhilarated. I felt like a Jedi, minus the physique and droid companions. I wanted more, but that desire would have to wait.
I completely understand that some people are expecting more out of Star Wars Kinect. After all, the arcade experience has been all but dead for years and players seem to be looking for something more. Conversely, I had an absolute blast playing the demo. The game represents a chance to get closer to unleashing your inner Jedi than ever before without the need to hold a controller or learn a button layout. Most of the controls were intuitive and easy to learn. It’s an accessible experience, even at this early stage, and we still don’t know all of the content that we be included in the retail version when it lands this holiday season.
I’m more excited for Star Wars Kinect than I was going into E3, and, to me, that indicates that the demo was a success. It wasn’t perfect, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy my time with it. The arcade experience shouldn’t be considered a detractor; if you are willing to look at the game for what it is– instead of what you think it should be– I think that there’s plenty of fun to be had later this year.