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Archive for September, 2009

nintendo-wii-price-drop_2After Sony and Microsoft both announced hardware price cuts a few weeks ago, every podcast, analyst, fanboy, and even some Wall Street types focused on what Nintendo still had in its hand (other than some million dollar bills).

As of this writing, a Wii price drop is finally, officially confirmed.  And really, I think everyone saw this coming over the last few days, as some awfully official-looking channels tipped the new $200 MSRP in the US.  Still no word on other territories.

Of course, a price drop is always good news for consumers in an economy like this, and Nintendo is now the first in this hardware generation to find the magic $200 mark for their full-featured SKU.  Part of me still wonders if Nintendo really NEEDED a price drop this holiday, though.  They’ve got a solid holiday lineup with a new, critically-acclaimed Wii Sports already on shelves and a family-friendly Mario game due out in November.  Besides, the Wii flew off shelves the last 3 holiday seasons at $250.

I was actually expecting a new Wii SKU to hold the line on price, but sweeten the deal on pack-ins.  Another Wii remote & nunchuck, perhaps Motion Plus add-ons or a Balance Board would add value to that $250.

smb wiiBuried deep within the price drop announcement is a release date for New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  It’s November 15.  This is big news for yours truly, as my baby daughter’s release date is November 14.  A Super Mario game that allows up to four players simultaneously, the day after my family grows by one “player.”  Synergy!

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It’s been almost a year since I saw anything really compelling in games retail, so I was surprised to see a cool idea out of… Wal-Mart of all places.  I’ve only been inside Wal-Mart a handful of times, having grown up in southeast Michigan and thus buying everything at Meijer for the first 20 years of my life.  But Wal-Mart’s in-store “Family Night Center” sounds like it could solve some serious problems getting more casual gamers to warm up to purchasing more games throughout the year.

In a nutshell, it’s a section of the store that is full of products that could help plan a fun family night in, regardless of product category.  So you’ll find family-friendly DVD movies right next to the Doritos right next to Scattergories.  This being Wal-Mart and times being what they are, they put a $30 ceiling on everything in the section.  Smart.

If this section really takes off, it could mean big things for board and video games.  Settlers of Catan* is retailing for right around $30 now, and most of the games on my shelf could really use the boost that would come from being available at the world’s largest retailer.pandemic box

There’s tremendous potential here for the industry to embrace.  Last month, we saw Wal-Mart slash the price of Batman: Arkham Asylum at release in all of its Canadian stores to just above the $30 threshold for the Family Night Center.  It was so well-received, Canadian Gamestops had to follow suit.  I’m guessing this was a test from the überetailer to see how marquee games perform as a  loss leader in a non-holiday part of the year.

Wal-Mart tested lower pricing for the stellar Batman:AA in Canada

Wal-Mart tested lower pricing for the stellar Batman:AA in Canada

New revenue streams like in-game ads and microtransactions could make it entirely reasonable for a big publisher to put out a serious title at a price point of $30 or less, if it means achieving the scale that comes with prestige shelf position inside Wal-Mart.  We’ve already seen plenty of manufacturers create special versions of their product specifically to meet Wal-Mart’s pricing standards.  So by the same logic, couldn’t a developer like EA put together a much less feature-rich version of their next Skate game  for a lower retail price as a Wal-Mart exclusive, qualify for sale inside the Family Game Center (which no doubt boosts the hell out of sales), get a ton more customers into the game, and then reap greater awards by selling these consumers new skaters, outfits and levels a few dollars at a time?  Let’s talk, guys.

*In case you missed it, be sure to check out Andrew Curry’s excellent Wired piece on Settlers of Catan.  After years of reading about what a great game it is, and seeing so many outstanding videogame developers list Settlers among their greatest influences, it became my gateway into more elaborate games designed with adults in mind.

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bstnalbumcoverAmid all of last week’s fanfare (particularly in mainstream press) surrounding The Beatles: Rock Band release, I missed this gem – a gubernatorial proclamation from Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick making last Thursday (9.9.09) Video Game Innovation Day.

I work in marketing, and have seen my fair share of appreciation days, town takeovers, and key-to-the-city fluffy publicity stunts.  I mean, just look at some of the language in Patrick’s decree!  But Boston walks the walk in this case.  They’ve managed to retain a healthy amount of area university grads, and stay in the conversation by nurturing hot startups (like 38 Studios and pre-Guitar Hero Harmonix)  and larger studios (2K Boston).  They even flirted with the idea of tax incentives for developers last summer, and will likely revisit the issue in some form in the future.

The longer this industry weathers the economic storm, the smarter state and local officials look in investing in its future for their constituents.  There are some promising first steps to attract talent in Georgia, Louisiana, and my desperately cash-strapped home state of Michigan.  With the right participation at the University level, those investments may bear fruit and incubate a living, breathing development community between the coasts.  There are even some promising first steps being taken to organize devs in NYC.  California and Washington can only satisfy the talent needs of such a robust industry for so long.  Where will the next industry hotbed be?

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a_christmas_storyWith today’s The Beatles: Rock Band launch, I can’t help but wonder if all the cards are already on the table for what could be a very interesting Christmas’ “console war.”

Sony’s slim hardware redesign was a non-starter for me, until they blinked first and threw in a matching slimmer price point.  Microsoft followed suit almost immediately, discontinuing the Pro SKU and making the Elite model their $300 go-to.  Both good decisions.  While the Wii’s still got them both on price*, it’s a much slimmer gap now that’s more than bridged by the feature sets.

A lot of major third party releases have been pushed back into early 2010, and the ones that are still on the calendar are mostly multiplatform – The Beatles: Rock Band chief among them.  Microsoft will get another Halo title in ODST this holiday, as Playstation fans finally get their hands on Gran Turismo 5.  So we’ll have (at least) one more year where these two boxes duke it out on a fairly even playing field.

Xbox still has a more cohesive online experience, but the Playstation 3’s installed base is finally at the point where you can jump into a well-populated game at any time of day.  While I’m sure the price adjustment was a tough pill to swallow for Sony brass, they’re now offering the best value-for-dollar in gaming hardware (PS3 buyers get a Blu-Ray player while new Xbox 360 owners still need to cough up another $100 to make the thing wireless).

I’m looking forward to a well played, late generation holiday throwdown that will really put the consumers in the driver seat and rely heavily on Sony and Microsoft’s multichannel marketing effort, and maybe some cool pack-in deals.  Game.  On.

*NOTE: I know both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have limited-feature SKUs that fall below the Wii’s $250 price point, but let’s talk about the systems gamers actually want to buy here.

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