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Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

ODST's won the day, but was September a turning point for Sony in the war?

ODST's won the day, but was September a turning point for Sony in the war?

The NPD Group’s US Video Game Report for September just hit my inbox last night, and it may be an early indicator of the exciting fourth quarter predicted by some pretty smart cats.  We saw increases across most categories from September ’08’s numbers, but not enough to pull the year-on-year numbers out of their recession doldrums.  However, Sony’s got several reasons to smile, in spite of Halo 3: ODST nabbing the top spot on this month’s Software Top 10:

Rank Title Platform Units
1 HALO 3:ODST 360 1.52M
2 WII SPORTS RESORT WII 442.9K
3 MADDEN NFL 10 360 289.6K
4 MARIO & LUIGI:BOWSER’S INSIDE STORY DS 258.1K
5 THE BEATLES:ROCK BAND 360 254.0K
6 MADDEN NFL 10 PS3 246.5K
7 MARVEL:ULTIMATE ALLIANCE 2 360 236.0K
8 BATMAN:ARKHAM ASYLUM PS3 212.5K
9 GUITAR HERO 5 360 210.8K
10 THE BEATLES:ROCK BAND WII 208.6K

Yes, there are only two PS3 titles in the top 10 this month, but looking at this list, you can practically see the purchase behavior!  Madden and Arkham Asylum both shipped to decent numbers on the PS3  in August, but not enough to overtake their respective Xbox 360 counterparts.  These particular games’ second month in the Top 10, despite the PS3’s much smaller installed base, is a clear indicator of a positive trend in hardware sales for Sony.  More casual gamers that only buy one or two pieces of software a year religiously get Madden, and strong word of mouth among hardcore gamers (not to mention a pretty good ad campaign) for Arkham Asylum has made that a must-have title for anyone just purchasing a current gen system.  So gamers that were holding out for a price drop seem to be gravitating towards the PS3, and they’ve essentially created their own hardware bundle in the process.

The price drop and slim hardware proved to be exactly the 1-2 punch Sony needed.  Take it away, NPD analyst Anita Frazier!

“Compared to last September, the PS3 was the big winner, more than doubling last year’s sales.  This portrays a very strong consumer reaction to the price decrease as August and September both realized a lift of more than 70% over the prior month.  This is the first month that the PS3 has captured the top spot in console hardware sales.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft rolls out a new hardware bundle or retailer discount for the holiday.  This very well could be the PS3’s year.

In other news, this month’s NPD report saw Wii Fit fall out of the Top 10 for the first time since its introduction 15 months ago.  Of course, it was immediately replaced in the Top 10 by Wii sports Resort.  But for a $90 game to spend 15 months in the Top 10, where even a soft month has the floor somewhere around 200K units, is impressive.  Just like the home crowd standing up for their starter during his 7th inning exit, I’ve got to salute Nintendo on this one.  Well done.standing o

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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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While I didn’t get out to last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E³), I was really glad to see the show return to the more recognizable “under the big top” format.  At a time when just about everyone is forced to cut costs wherever possible, it was nice to see some of the industry’s big hitters pull out all the stops once again.  At the very least, it gave us all a lot more to watch than the very weird “editorial speed dating in office parks” feel of the last two years.

This year’s show was poised for success from the start – we’re far enough into this console generation that most developers understand how to get the most out of the hardware, but we’re not quite to the point where everyone expects to see new all-new consoles unveiled.  E³ 2005 was the most boring show I’ve been to, with the big reveal of the PS3 and all the tech demos and non-games that came with it.  This year was mostly focused on the games.  Be sure to check out the big honkin’ E³ coverage summaries over at Kotaku and Joystiq, just in case you missed anything.  Read on for my highlights (and a few not-so-highlights) from the big keynotes of the show.

MICROSOFT

beatles RB sullivanThe Good: M-soft came out strong right out of the gate with The Beatles: Rock Band.  They managed to have Paul McCartney and Ringo Star onstage, turning an otherwise ho-hum demo into a newsworthy event for even non-game press.  Perhaps most importantly, they created the most newsworthy event of the show for non-enthusiast press, and managed to have the surviving Beatles on stage with all sorts of Xbox branding behind them.  It’s a multiplatform title – in fact, the first Rock Band to ship day and date on the Wii as well as the PS3 and 360.  But Microsoft has managed to “own” this game in the minds of exactly the type of casual gamers that will eat up The Beatles: Rock Band — and a system to play it on.

The Bad: Microsoft managed to grab headlines with their project Natal camera system.  Essentially, at-home, real-time motion capture for gesture controls in games.  It looks like it works pretty well, and is much easier to set up than Microsoft’s earlier efforts with the Live Vision camera.  But I still can’t get excited about applying that technology to games.  I guess time will tell, as no release date or even a price point are in sight yet.

The Rest: All in all, Microsoft had a strong showing with those two reveals, and then a lot of smaller, fan service announcements.  The first ever Final Fantasy game on Xbox, a Metal Gear Solid multiplatform title, and a ton of sequels to familiar Xbox franchises rounded out their hour.

NINTENDO

The Good: Last year, the enthusiast press felt abondoned by Nintendo, with their keynote centered around Wii Motion Plus and the pack-in game, Wii Sports Resort.  This year, they made sure to take care of the hardcore set, with ample stage time given to a new Metroid game by Tecmo’s Team Ninja, The return of Mario Galaxy, and the very classic feeling New Super Mario Bros. finally brought to the big screen as a fun coop game for up to 4 players.  Charming, timeless IP goes a long way toward keeping the Big N in good graces with their loyal fans, and they delivered quite a bit of love for them this year.

wii_vitality_1The Bad: The Wii Vitality Sensor is… puzzling at best.  I’m an unabashed Nintendo fan, and I stand by the notion that failures along the way like the Virtual Boy are essential for a company to foster the free thinking brand of R&D that could deliver the Wii unto us.  But the idea of a peripheral that pinches you on the finger so it can get a read on your pulse… I just can’t see the application here into anything that would make a fun game.  I’ve been wrong before and I really hope I am in this case, but Nintendo certainly didn’t help its cause by not even really demoing this at the show.

The Rest: I was honestly hoping for a little more of a preview of what’s coming down the pipe for DSiWare and WiiWare.  They’re both underutilized networks on the best-selling pieces of hardware out there.  Beyond that, 6 new exercises and 15 minigames added to Wii Fit Plus doesn’t sound like very much new content to me.  I’d prefer to see them deliver more exercises throughout the year as DLC.

SONY

The Good: Team Ico revealed The Last Guardian, the sequel to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. True to form, this one will be a PS3 exclusive, and looks to be hauntingly beautiful.  I will probably buy it on launch day, and cry at least once by the time I beat it.  So will you, if you happen to have a soul and a PS3.

The Bad: Sony’s gesture control (was this a requirement to present his year!?) just seems way too early to show to the public, and I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t have if Microsoft hadn’t made such a big splash with Natal.

The Rest: I’m intrigued by the PSP Go.  That tiny form factor looks to solve a lot of the issues the original design (and subsequent iterations) had to deal with, but not all.  The screen’s still not protected in your pocket, which is a much bigger deal to me than the fact that there’s only one analog nub.  Sorry, FPS fans.

It’s puzzling to me that the PSP, which has had such a hard time reaching any audience other than teenage boys is the first to market with a download-only portable system.  Not to mention, one with a $250 price tag at launch.  If they don’t market the Go hardware the right way, they could be left with a diminishing audience that feels burned about all the useless UMD’s they bought to go with their original hardware.

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Following the always-timely Stephen Totilo’s Multiplayer Twitter feed, I caught the news just a couple minutes ago about Will Wright leaving EA Maxis to commit fully to his multimedia IP think tank, Stupid Fun Club. For the record, Totilo was seven minutes ahead of EA’s official Twitter.

stupid fun club logoI’m not entirely surprised with the move. DRM controversy aside, Spore made a tremendous splash with critics and consumers alike, and it really felt like the culmination of everything he’s done in the Sim lineage.  There were elements of big sellers like The Sims and SimCity in there, and even some of the quirkier titles like SimFarm, SimAnt and SimEarth. I don’t really see a need for Spore 2, and I’m willing to bet Wright feels the same way.  Then again, when has that stopped anyone?

Without a doubt, Wright can say he was with EA during a transformative period for the company.  EA bought Maxis in ’97, so you’ve got the rise of Sony and the PlayStation brand, and EA’s embracing that technology to become an undisputed superpower in development during that time.  The advancement of Western development and evntual industry shift to cater to US-centric tastes.  The PR backlash against “big, bad EA” and the EA Spouse Livejournal giving a voice to the workforce rights issue that could no longer be ignored.  The end of Sega as a hardware manufacturer (catalyzed by EA’s lack of support for the Dreamcast) and the entrance of Microsoft on the console scene.  Countless top personnel moves, exclusive licensing deals won (NFL) and lost (MLB), and the will-they-won’t-they? circus of EA’s move to acquire Take2.

Will Wright managed to keep himself and his studio remarkably clear of everything that went down at the parent company during that time.  They managed to stick to resonable release schedules and get quality games to market every few years.  EA has a stake Stupid Fun Club, and it sounds like they retain rights of first refusal on their videogame projects.  I hope it works out well for all involved, and am really excited to see what their first projects look like.

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When the most beloved game designer of all time thinks your product is crap, you may have an issue on your hands.

I think it’s time for the ESA to hang it up on E3.  The fact is, our audience is too far ahead of the curve, in terms of media consumption, to be well-served by a show like this.  The big 3’s press conferences all fell flat this year, mostly because the hardcore fanbase has already heard everything they had to say.  According to ubiquitous super-analyst Michael Pachter, “E3 is headed for extinction, unless the publishers and console manufacturers wake up to the fact that nobody cares about the show anymore.”

I would argue that the extinction of E3 as we know it is not only a good thing, but the natural evolution of the industry.  We’ve enjoyed the attention of a fervent, die-hard fanbase for decades, and it’s only through their passionate attention following (and the rise of citizen journalism) that the old E3 format became so ridiculously expensive in the first place.  After all, it was hard to keep the numbers down on an “open to all press & industry” show once every fan got the power to become press (with nifty blogs just like this one).

In the short term, there will be much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the death of such a tentpole event.  But the industry is proving to be bulletproof in the face of a dwindling evonomy, and we should all rejoice in that.  We’re seeing a truly stable marketplace sustaining three home consoles for the second year of this generation.

Perhaps most importantly, the Wii, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 all feature direct media channels to reach out to gamers, and potential gamers by extension.  There’s still room for a small, no-frills show for retail buyers and analysts, but now that all three first-party companies (and presumably third-parties) can get an undiluted message to the audience via their consoles, they’re taken care of.

Bottom line, the kid’s alright.  The fact that we don’t need an annual show to circle the wagons is the symptom of a very healthy, growing industry.

And if you need more proof than that, plunk down some Xbox Live points for Castle Crashers in a few weeks. At one point I was playing it in front of two designers from a completely different company, a fellow marketer, and a respected games journalist.  We all loved it.  When was the last time the year’s top box office picture recieved glowing reviews AND the Best Picture Oscar?

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I don’t have the time (or reflexes – zing!) to post every time Sony release a firmware update.  The latest update for the PlayStation 3, version 2.40, is actually a fairly big deal for Sony and the entire industry.

They might as well have called this update “the Xbox Live patch.”  It finally adds game-specific Trophies (mechanically the same as Live’s Achievements) so borderline OCD cases competitive gamers can scour their retail games and PSN downloads to truly complete every game, and compare Trophy collections.  The real innovation, however, is the ability to access the Sony Cross-Media Bar in-game.

In-game XMB means PS3 players can finally message their friends across the entire network, regardless of what game they’re playing.  So, a player who wants some live competition in MLB 08: The Show could pause the game and drop a line to challenge anyone on his friends list.  One of his friends playing Metal Gear Solid 4 could see the message, pop in MLB, and get a game of baseball going.  It seems arbitrary, but simple functionality like this made Xbox Live the gold standard in online console gaming. 

The PlayStation 3 has supported PSN friends list since launch day, but they’ve never really mattered until now.  Under the old method, you were more likely to find a randomly matched opponent on a particular game than you were to sign on and find one of your friends waiting for you.

In-game XMB also allows you to listen to your own music library while playing, but it’s tough for me to get too excited about it.  After all, haven’t we been doing this since the first time someone turned up the stereo while playing Tecmo Bowl in a dorm room in 1989?

The fact that the PlayStation Network is now a cohesive online community that operates across the entire PS3 games library significantly levels the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 playing field.  The question is, can Sony capitalize on it and bring hardware sales up to a more respectable level?

It would seem that Sony has two significant advantages over Microsoft.  First, PSN is completely free to use, while Xbox Live Gold accounts cost $50/year.  This could be a crucial point for Sony, provided they market it well (easier said than done) AND don’t screw it up with tiered service and pricing.  Qore, their online magazine with “subscriber benefits” like access to private beta tests, is off to a rocky start.   And who knows what Sony has planned with the introduction of their Home virtual world…

Second, Sony can leverage the PSP to expand the PlayStation Network and finally deliver the portability to PSN that Microsoft has been endlessly planning for Xbox Live.  It’s a big opportunity, as Microsoft has shown zero interest in producing a handheld of their own, and even allowing the Viva Pinata characters to appear in Nintendo DS games.  Also, the PSP looks to be on an upswing, with outstanding hardware sales in the fickle Japanese market, some critically successful games on the market and in the pipeline, and a winning hardware/software bundling strategy.

The all-but-confirmed Xbox 360 price drop can’t be far off, and Sony’s unlikely to follow suit.  They already are selling the cheapest Blu-Ray player out there, and have made no secret of just how much they need to recoup as much as possible from the PS3 development costs.  It should be interesting to see how they proceed, once the momentum of Metal Gear Solid 4 wears off.

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I take great pains to avoid throwing words like “fanboy” around here too often. After all, there’s at least a little bit of a fanboy in all of us over something specific, be it sports or politics or games. And I try to cover industry news related to ALL home consoles, PC, you name it (although I know there are more than a few of you that check out each new post and say, “is he talking about the @#$% Wii AGAIN?!)

The fact is, there have been unapologetic fanboy gamers ever since the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis first arrived on the scene, and gave us all a horse to back. Sega even helped the process along, publicly vowing that the Genesis could do whatever “Nintendon’t.”

Of course, the anonymity of the internet has since turned the opinionated fanboy into some sort of annoying vitriolic supernova. Seriously, read any Kotaku comments thread that’s been up for an hour. It’s enough to make you wonder how any sane person could claim to love one console/developer/game so passionately, and yet hate another so vehemently.

Rob Walker, a regular contributor to Slate, the New York Times Magazine and blogger behind the stellar Murketing, looks at the bonds we form with what we buy in his upcoming book, Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are. It might shed some light into what causes the fanboy condition… Check out Rob’s interview with Rick over at eyecube (one of our new friends in the WordPress Marketing Bloggers Network, in the blogroll at right). It’s definitely worth a read.

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