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Archive for March, 2009

The NPD report for February came out last Thursday, and if the industry keeps up this pace, I may have to issue a teary, self-depricating apology for my New Year’s rant about release scheduling.  The first quarter of the year has always been pin-drop quiet, even during some of the industry’s best years.  It gave gamers, retailers, and developers a much needed breath after the holidays.  This year?  Not so much.

On a recent visit to GameStop, I had to choose from perennial favorite MLB The Show, the long-awaited Peggle: Dual Shot, the better than expected GTA: Chinatown Wars, and Street Fighter IV.  Of course, Resident Evil 5 just dropped, and Gears 2, Little Big Planet and the rock-out-with-your-plastic-axes-out games continue to get killer DLC on an a regular basis.  It’s unlikely that such a bountiful first quarter was 100% intentional.  Holiday release schedules get ambitious, marketing budgets get slashed, and before you know it, a locked-in holiday blockbuster gets shuffled into the following year.

However, I’m willing to give Capcom the benefit of the doubt with Street Fighter IV.  All along, they’ve been favoring a hardcore gamer audience in marketing this title, with a steady flow of info from their Capcom-Unity blog and Twitter feed.  And their down ‘n dirty “Fight Club” event was just about the only pre-launch promotion this year that I really, really wished I had worked on.  At the end of the day, this title exists for that hardcore, multi-system owning gamer that purchases over a dozen games a year.  Capcom was refreshingly unapologetic about it, and I’m glad to see they were rewarded for it.

Nintendo juggernauts like Wii Fit, Wii Play, and the Mario Kart titles will (very deservedly) continue to consume the best-seller list month in and month out, because there’s a new casual gamer born every minute.  I hope third parties continue to use different parts of the year and inspired, innovative promo to show their biggest fans how much they still care.

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el-camino-back“Chicken or the Egg?”  “El Camino – car or truck?”  “Used games – great for building audience, or scourge that will bring down the industry?”  These are all Sisyphus-ian questions that only get more divisive with educated conversation.

The heat got turned up on the used games issue this week, with Amazon’s announcement of their new used games trade-in program.  Gamestop stock immediately plummeted 14% on the news, and then the real fireworks started.

Dave Perry, a guy whose opinion I respect, named names and called out the ECA on not addressing the issue with big retailers.  Dave Jaffe and GamePolitics’ Dennis McCauley also weighed in, at opposite sides of the spectrum.  Let’s face it, this issue has been simmering for over a decade now.

I hardly ever buy used, simply because I’m usually buying on release day.  I’m willing to bet this is true for most hardcore gamers.  But as Nintendo has proven time and time again in the last 3 years, casual gamers are a much bigger audience.  And there’s no way a parent will choose a $60 brand new game over a $45 used copy of the same title that’s guaranteed to work, and is available at the same store.

It would be easy to say that all this hand wringing and carrying on is worthless.  After all, used games is an issue that WILL go away eventually.  When was the last time you bought a CD?

But the seismic shift in audience we’ve seen over the last few years means the switch to all-downloadable will be even harder to flip.  Before, we could count on at least a healthy majority of console owners being tech saavy, early adopter types.  But the more casual gamers, and the people (read: parents) that make those purchasing decisions expect to walk in to a brick-and-mortar retailer or hop onto a site like Amazon and get a physical piece of media at the end of that process.  You can’t put a download-only title under the tree on Christmas morning.

For the time being, we will have to continue putting games on discs, putting discs in boxes, and relying on retail to move them off shelves.  And like it or not, there will be SOME form of reconsumption without any additional compensation to the developer.  Especially in rough economic times.  Even if the ECA strikes an unbelievable deal with every retailer under the sun tomorrow, you’ll still have rental, players swapping games with each other, and E-Bay for starters.

gta-lnd1The onus on developers is to build additional value into new copies, and create compelling downloadable content that can generate revenue from used game purchasers.  Microsoft Game Studios was really on to something when they packaged each new copy of Gears of War 2 with a unique, one-time-only redemption code for downloadable maps.  And GTAIV’s Lost and the Damned DLC will no doubt generate a ton of revenue for Rockstar, from both owned-it-since-launch-day die hards and used game bargain hunters that just picked it up this week.

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I’ve been traveling a ton lately, so I’ve been neglecting the blog (lame, I know) and playing a LOT of games on the DS and PSP.  And I’ve been having a blast.

There’s just something very lo-fi and fun about whipping out a handheld when you have a few extra minutes – no need to log in to Live or see what the guys on your friends list are playing.  It really takes me back to the days of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dr. Mario on the original GameBoy, in the backseat of my parents’ car.tmnt

This generation of handhelds is nearing its fifth year on the market, and I honestly don’t see them being phased out anytime soon – especially considering the current economic climate.  They’ve each been refreshed with newer hardware iterations over the last few years, and Nintendo’s upping the ante yet again with the DSi.  They’ve both had their time in the Rising Sun, with every new Pokemon and Monster Hunter Portable title somehow enticing millions of new hardware purchases upon release.

The PSP certainly had a hot launch year in the ‘States, but a series of odd hardware bundles and some barren years in the games department have put the very slick, sexy piece of hardware in a compromising position.

The DS has proven to be quite the cash cow for Nintendo on both sides of the Pacific.  A raft of too-cute kids’ games and shovelware may be a bit of a turnoff for hardcore gamers, but they’ve been duelly served with loving ports of SNES hits and great exclusives like the Pheonix Wright series – not to mention Nintendo’s own stable of tremendous IP.

Personally, I’ve always hoped for the best for the PSP.  It’s a really great piece of hardware, and the more recent versions have improved upon the battery life and tweaked some of the screen issues.  Playing through God of War: Chains of Olympus and GTA: Liberty City Stories shows what this system is capable of, and I feel more like a disappointed T-ball coach than an angry gamer when I see another lackluster season for the PSP come and go.

A flurry of good news for PSP owners broke late last week, with Sony’s John Koller revealing the (better late than never) PSP arrival of Little Big Planet, Assasin’s Creed, and the Rock Band franchise.

jerry_maguire-1In a seperate interview, Koller (friends call him “the faucet” ’cause he dispenses cool) confirmed that they’re pursuing developer Ready at Dawn for more PSP games.  That would be awesome because RaD’s Daxter and GoW: Chains of Olympus are two of the system’s shining stars.  Koller finished up his whirlwind media day with a pinky-swear to the entire community that Sony’s not bailing on the UMD format. That’s really awesome for me.  I have a UMD copy of Jerry Maguire and NEED Sony to stay with that format, or I may be forced to buy my 6th copy of that movie.

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