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March 06, 2004

Comments

Mark Nau

I keep showing up as the villain who smashes some dearly held theory and then vanishes into the dark. If I didn't really exist, you'd have to invent me.

ANYHOW.

The "balkanization" thing makes sense, especially when you consider that that's probably the case for every other media. A great selling movie gets, what, 10% of everyone seeing it? A great selling book even less. The only things I can think of that get better penetration than that are TV shows, and they GIVE THOSE AWAY FOR FREE.

Each customer has a virtual preference profile, and the better your game fits it, the better the chance is he'll buy it. I really liked "Lost in Translation." "Pirates" or another "Matrix" movie? No chance. And games provide even more axes of differentiation than movies or books do.

tlo

I just wanted to add that the "Customers who bought this item also bought these items" feature on Amazon.com could be based only on sales in a certain timeframe (such as the last month) instead of lifetime sales. Had you checked this feature near Spider-Man's release, it could have looked much different. In fact, it will be interesting to check what this list looks like for Spider-Man 2 when it is released. However, that could be affected by the "active" portion of the installed base being more casual at that point (especially if console prices are cut to $149 by then).

Going back to Spider-Man, one thing that all the games on that list share in common is that they are all now budget-priced titles. Furthermore, they are kid-friendly games. So what I think this list could be representing is value minded parents buying recognizable products for their kids. That could also explain why The Two Towers is not on the list. If you look at what other games people who are buying the Two Towers now are also buying (Fellowship of the Ring by VU Games, Return of the King, and Enter the Matrix), it appears to be appealing to a different, and older, demographic.

However, if you look at what else people who are now buying Return of the King (willing to pay $49 for it) are buying, you get an eclectic list (Rising Sun, Harry Potter Quidditch, Two Towers, Jak II, THUG & FFX2). A couple original IP games, a couple licensed IP games, games across multiple genres (FPS, action, platform, RPG, extreme sports, etc). One thing that all the games share in common however, is that they are all full-priced (except for The Two Towers which purchasers of Return of the King are obviously likely to buy also). So what this suggests to me is that people who are willing to pay full price for a game are perhaps not as balkanized as you believe (at least not in terms of which genres they will buy). Perhaps you can simply consider this another form of balkanization - broken down into value minded buyers (who are balkanized genre-wise) and early adopters (who are not).

Lastly, it is interesting to look at what else purchasers of Vice City and GTA3 are buying. If you look at Vice City, the other products they purchased were memory card, PS2 console, dual shock 2 controller, GTA3 & 2 Pack memory card - no other games on the list. What this suggests to me is that Vice City did have widespread appeal among "casuals", people who might not even have been into videogaming before. Vice City might even be the sole reason many of them bought a console. If you consider the person who has never played videogames before most representative of "everybody" (ie they have no established genre preference as they were not even into video games before) then you could for the most part say that GTA appealed to "everybody". I think further proof of this is that you see the design principles of GTA being applied to multiple genres from your own Spider-Man 2 (licensed IP/superhero/action) to RPGs (Star Wars KotOR, Deus Ex) to simulations (Crimson Skies and upcoming Mech Assault 2) to kids games (Simpson's Hit and Run), etc. So in that sense I believe you can also say that GTA appealed to "everybody" because a large part of what made GTA so popular (it's go anywhere, do anything gameplay) is being worked into other genres of games.

nic

Doesn't surprise me at all. Spiderman is marketed to kids/parents, as are The Hulk, Potter, Nemo and Doo.

Also - all those movies have a kid/parent friendly, hyper-real look to them, as do the games. Had The Hulk, for instance, had a more gritty/realistic look (like the EA Lord of the Rings game for example) maybe it wouldn't have been on the list.

They are all what I like to call 'soft' games. Designed for a mass market, built around a successful IP, and are reasonably fun.

As a designer I think we put too much emphasis on what WE consider to be good games. POP is a perfect example. Ticked all the right boxes in terms of execution - but the average consumer wasn't interested.

Maybe think of it this way.

Spiderman, Hulk, Potter, Scooby, and Nemo are 'Dude where’s my car?' and MGS, POP etc are '21 Grams'.

Film buffs can give you a million reasons why 21 Grams is a far better film - but I bet more people have seen and enjoyed Dude.

nic.

tlo

You know, I really am amazed by how many people connected to the industry (developers, gaming sites, etc) were surprised by the poor sales performance of PoP. I was aware of all the hype, played the demo on the OXM demo disc before the game was released, agreed it was great and all that, and came to the conclusion that it could garner excellent reviews and still not be a big hit (I can point to the post I made on the subject before the fact to prove it, as well). The reason? People now have for the most part grown tired of platform jumping puzzles and trap-dodging. Even if that isn't a completely fair characterization of the game, I believe that was the perception.

Not to pick on your company, but I made a similar prediction (also documented before the fact) about ATVI's lineup of extreme sports games prior to their poor sales performance which led to ATVI's warning in December of 2002. It was obvious that games like Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer and Shaun Murray's Pro Wakeboarder/Wakeboarding Unleased were going to be flops. I read one of your blogs on the subject where you mentioned that you felt that positioning and branding dilution were partially repsonsible for their failures. To me, the reason was more simple. Far more people skateboard than surf or wakeboard. Those sports are far more expensive and less accessible than skateboarding, and thus are way too niche. Even a change in positioning and branding for Wakeboarding Unleashed didn't help. They ditched the Shaun Murray's Pro Wakeboarding title and went with the more differentiated title. The game was well reviewed as well, and that still didn't help. It averaged 82% and 80.5% on XBox and PS2, respectively, on gamerankings. I believe you said in another blog that ATVI has a rule of thumb that games that average above 80% on gamerankings tend to be hits. You concluded that that isn't always true, and Wakeboarding Unleashed proved that.

Anyways, if things like this are an indication, it seems the industry is in need of some common-sense people, especially those who greenlight what concepts go into production. The only company that seemed to figure it out long ago is EA.

I've got another prediction. A large number of copies of Ninja Gaiden will end up being traded in. I have been anticipating this game's release for a long time. Now, after I finally got it and played through about 4 chapters, I traded it back in. The game is simply too frustrating. I mean 'throw your controller at the TV' type of frustrating. The game is hard. It's hard from the very beginning. Save points are poorly implemented. I found myself either having to play fairly lengthy stretches of the game over and over and over again, or instead backtracking long distances after clearing a few groups of enemies to go back to the save point. Neither of which is fun. Even that didn't work all the time because some rooms spawned enemies infinitely, so sometimes all that happened was I lost some health and/or depleted my supply of healing potions just trying to get back to the save point. Compounding this frustration is that there was no way to simply quit and go back to the main menu or to load a saved game without dying! (at least none that I easily found). So, for example, let's say I loaded my last saved game, fought a few enemies prior to the boss, and decided that I lost too much health to be able to proceed, there was no way for me to simply quit at that point and immediately load my last saved game. I had to continue playing until I found the next set of enemies and let them kill me! That only added to the feeling of frustration and disappointment. Despite this, I kept playing the game through the first 4 chapters because the game was otherwise so awesome. I finally threw in the towel and decided to trade in the game when I reached a point in Chapter 4 where I decided that even restarting from the save point I had in that chapter would not be sufficient becuase I was too low on health and healing potions. In order to be able to pass that chapter I determined that it would have been necessary to play Chapter 3 over again in order to go into chapter 4 in better shape. In addition, I was always spending all my money on healing potions that I felt I would never be able to afford to buy some of the cooler items.

I wouldn't really consider myself weak either when it comes to gameplaying skill. I buy maybe 12 games a year (between PC and console) and have to date finished every game I was interested in (usually in a few days, on normal level, without having to look-up hints in game-guides, and including some games I have seen others describe as tough). Ninja Gaiden is the first game I was really interested in which I decided wasn't worth the effort. Playing the game felt more like work than fun (oh no, I've got to do that whole stretch over again!). I don't think that most gamers today (both young and old) have the patience or time to put up with that kind of game design anymore.

I'm not saying that I think Ninja Gaiden will be a poor seller. In fact I think it will sell quite well, especially initially. It's a highly anticipated console exclusive, it's got the hype and is in a genre (action) to appeal to a wide audience. Also, I believe that the XBox demographic is still a little more hardcore as well. So I think the game will do better than it would have if it were also available on PS2. However, I do think alot of casuals who the game possibly drew in will end up returning the game. Or if they're not the trading-in type, maybe they'll just shelve it. Either way, I think it will affect the legs that this game will have.

HoGJoNNy

The term Killer App as applied in the gaming market is the title that drives sales of hardware. This is true for consoles as well as PC hardware, which is why even though you don't see that many big game/video card bundles like you used to... ATI and Nvidia still want to sleep with Doom3 and HL2.

Just a thought, but how many of the buyers of GTA also bought their hardware simply to play it, versus other titles. Which titles directly sold more hardware? This is probably an even more important number.

5 million is far from shabby and sales are all relative. You consider that most publishers for a decent PC title are happy selling a couple hundred thousand... let alone a million. Anyone who says "All games are colossal failures." might possibly be skewing their viewpoint from the wrong direction.

There is probably a bell curve on the penetration into any market. You get to a peak, where you are spending more money, time and resources trying to market to and attract new consumers to your product, then you are making in profit on the individual sales... it is a diminishing return that becomes counter productive.

I'm not saying we have hit that peak. I fact, I'd be interested on any data or projections out there.

With the sheer number of releases annually, not to include DVDs and other content to dillute consumers wallet, I am still amazed that GTA and other "killer apps" are able to leap and bound the baseline AAA sales numbers by the margins that they do.

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game