Monday, November 16, 2009

Console Post Of The Week: Once More, With Software

First off, the October NPD hardware numbers from last week:
Wii: 506,900
PlayStation 3: 320,600
Xbox 360: 249,700
PlayStation 2: 117,800

I think the only way to interpret these numbers is as follows: Microsoft has a problem.

In 2007 and 2008, the 360 sold over 350,000 units in October. This year, their pricing "action" was more a unit consolidation, and consumers don't appear to be responding.

However, Microsoft seems to have acknowledged this, at least to some degree. The November 7 promotion with Wal-Mart ($100 gift card with the purchase of an Arcade unit) was a huge discount, and with 10 units guaranteed per store (about 3,600 stores in the U.S.), that's 36,000 units. Plus Wal-Mart is apparently going to have this same deal on Black Friday.

Amazon also ran this deal (with a $100 Amazon gift card), although the total number of units involved is unknown.

So Microsoft is involved in some heavy promotional discounting, but selectively. I don't think even this discounting will help them pass the PS3 in November, though. Microsoft and Sony basically tied when the PS3 was with $50 of the primary 360 unit. Now that they're the same price (for the non-Arcade unit), Sony looks to have a monthly advantage for now.

Now, for a change, let's take a look at some software numbers, which I think are very interesting for three games: DJ Hero, Demon's Souls, and Brutal Legend.

DJ Hero sold 123,000 units on all platforms combined. Activision is claiming this game whill have a "Guitar Hero 1" kind of sales curve, which is utterly ridiculous. Guitar Hero had a very weak marketing effort behind it at first, but word of mouth was absolutely off the charts, and that's what sold the game.

DJ Hero, in contrast, has had a huge marketing effort. I've seen television commercials for the game all over the place in the last month, and I'm still seeing them regularly. Good grief, Activision could have sold 50,000 copies of Accordion Hero with that kind of marketing.

Maybe the game will do better in Europe (I expect it to), but the initial sales numbers in the U.S. are a disaster.

Like I've said on multiple occasions, I'm not implying that DJ Hero, as a game, is garbage. I think it's an honest effort to simulate a musical "activity." It's just that Activision wildly, exponentially overestimated the size of the market for this kind of game.

Moving on to Demon's Souls (PS3), which sold just over 150,000 units according to Gamasutra. Well, and Brutal Legend (360, PS3), which sold 216,000 units. Demon's Souls on the PS3 outsold Brutal Legend on the 360, and when you consider the relative installed bases, the difficulty of Demon's Souls, and the much higher profile of Brutal Legend (as well as a much stronger marketing effort), it's quite shocking.

Or not.

Here's the thing about Brutal Legend: it's funny. It's really funny. If you asked me what I thought about Brutal Legend, the first five things I would say would involve humor.

Here's the other thing about Brutal Legend, though: it's not nearly as much fun to actually play. At least, it wasn't for me. I loved getting to the next cut scene, or the next laugh, but the actual gameplay wasn't fresh or interesting or particularly polished.

I think this really created a purchasing problem. Brutal Legend couldn't "win" a comparison with other games in other genres because it was hard to even define its genre, really. "Funny game" doesn't really have a specific place. It became an extra purchase instead of a core purchase.

The ideal approach with Brutal Legend, in my mind, would have been to release it in a less congested period for new releases. The offbeat game generally does better at those times--February, for example--than when it's competing with the meat of the holiday season.

Demon's Souls also has a word that always comes up first: gameplay. The gameplay is freaking fantastic. It has some innovative play mechanics, but it's still easy to define against other games, and it will win almost any comparison. So in an either-or comparison, which is how many purchasing decisions are made, Demon's Souls would do extremely well.

Plus, and I think this is important, the game already came out in Japan, plenty of people had imported it, and the word of mouth (just like with the original Guitar Hero) was fantastic.

By almost any definition, Demon's Souls is a great game. And for once, at least, that greatness has been rewarded, because no one (to my knowledge) was expecting anywhere near the sales numbers it turned in. Even better for Atlus, I don't think many people will trade this game in, at least not for several months, which will force more people to buy new copies instead of used.

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