Monday, May 18, 2009

Console Post Of The Week (#1): A Puzzling Oddity

It's been repeated so often now that it's accepted as gospel: the Wii and DS don't have games for "hardcore" gamers. They aren't "hardcore" platforms.

Okay, to begin with, I have no idea WTF "hardcore" even means anymore.

Let's say, though, for the purposes of discussion, that a "hardcore" gamer spends more his time gaming than the general population, he spends more money on games, and he's more likely to play an "M" rated game. We don't need to know the dividing lines on those categories, exactly, just that they exist.

I have no argument with the notion that games labeled as "hardcore" aren't selling well on the DS and the Wii. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the DS sold only 89,000 copies in its first two weeks after release, and it sold 74,000 copies in April (which Matt Matthews notes may have been influenced by a Best Buy sale that dropped the price to $20).

Chinatown Wars has been incredibly well-reviewed and almost universally praised.

Madworld for the Wii, a wildly exuberant game that received solid-if-not-great reviews, sold only 66,000 copies in March. I've played it, and I don't think anyone who did so would question its "hardcore" nature.

I've seen plenty of opinion pieces about these sales figures and what they mean, but there's one angle that everyone seems to be missing, and it's important.

The installed base of the DS in the U.S. is 30 million units. The installed base of the Wii in the U.S. just crossed 20 million units.

It would be laughable to allege that only the "non-hardcore" are buying these systems. Almost everyone I know who plays games has a DS, and a good percentage of those people are in the "hardcore" category. To a lesser extent, that's true of the Wii as well.

Even if only 5% of the people who buy a DS or Wii fall into the "hardcore" category, that still translates to 1.5 million DS owners and 1 million Wii owners. And I think that percentage is an incredibly low estimate, particularly for the DS.

So the story inside the story, at least to me, is that hardcore gamers who own the DS and the Wii aren't buying the hardcore games. It's not just the casual demographic ignoring the games--it's the hardcore demographic, too. Joey Hardcore, who owns a 360, PS3, and DS, and who buys M-rated games all the time, isn't buying them for his DS.

It's the same story with Madworld. If even a decent number of the "hardcore" bought Madworld, the sales numbers would have been just fine, but they didn't.

To me, that's a far more interesting story than the casual gamer not being interested in more mature content.

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