Archive for the ‘Nintendo Wii’ Category


The old debate and the new one….

August 18, 2009

Over the past few weeks I have been reading views from many in this industry we like to call gaming – all commenting on the impending release of Call of Duty 6 or Modern Warfare 2 or Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare 2 or whatever it is called this week. When Activision originally announced that it was going to charge £5 more for the game when released, it seemed to go relatively un-noticed and I think some at Blizzard Activision might have thought they could dodge this bullet yet. But slowly and surely, most parties have been coming out and having their say.

To summarise so far, I think those in the developer ‘camp’ largely welcome the move and will look to the effect on the games sales performance to see whether they can follow Activision’s lead. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when we were regularly selling new release titles (not always triple A either – Turok on N64 anyone?!?!?) for north of £60.

The retail camp (for me at least) seems to fall into two sub-categories – those who take the view that increasing prices is anti-consumer and those who support price increases on the basis that they would like to return to the hey day of video gaming when they could charge the earth and the customer wouldn’t bat an eye!

So – three different views then. In camp one, developers (and publishers with them) argue that they are struggling to make profits in today’s crowded and competitive gaming market, so the move to increase prices is only natural if they are to survive. Of course, some have already done so – citing the currency fluctuations against the UK market as the reason for doing this. Nintendo’s Wii console increased in price to the trade earlier in the year and whilst we haven’t seen an increase in the retail price, there has certainly been less aggressive discounting and bundling on the Wii this year – even though the console is now available as free stock. I understand why developers and publishers are struggling but to a certain extent this situation is of their own making. For the last five years publishers have fought with each other to be the number one. EA for a long time held this crown and Ubisoft and SEGA have been pretenders to the thrown – all at one point or another at pains to point out to all who will listen that their market share is growing or was number 1 in the year so far or has been increasing year on year – or whatever. To drive this growth, they have been happy to commission title after title that is effectively a re-hash of a previous years franchise and publish licence after licence that is just a re-skinning of the same game with a different IP. So when gamers see this year after year, being asked to fork out more and more, they are bound to expect to pay less and less.

Supermarkets (and large generalist retailers) shall be know as camp two, and for years have played the role of the consumer champion so were happy to cater to this demand to pay less. By beating up the supply chain, as they have done in so many other industries, they could maintain their margins whilst offering the same to the consumer for less. Publishers offering marketing credits, campaign payments, volume discounts etc are only fanning the fire. Any retail buyer worth his or her salt will use the number of store fronts they have as a big battering ram on the publishers door. Give me the deal I want or I won’t give you the shelf space, store coverage etc you need for your second rate 2008 re-hash of four year old IP!!! Sounds harsh? – perhaps a little in the language but the point remains that as the quantity of titles published increases, the quality must diminish, and therefore the average price will too.

Don’t get me wrong – I have been as guilty as the next buyer. This is not a criticism per-se – more an observation. Economies of scale rule in the open market. Many would also argue – and I would be inclined to agree – that this is simply a sign of a maturing market and that market forces are coming to bear as technology barriars fall. More developers can do the work that only a select view were able to in the past, but that is nothing different to what has happened in a thousand other markets that have developed since time immemorial.

Camp three is the indie camp – watching all this from the outside looking in, hoping beyond hope that maybe at last after years of decline we might see an opportunity to charge customers more than we actually pay for games and make a bit of profit on new games for once. After all, those of us still here (or like Playtime, here but not in their original guise) and can remember back to the launch of the PS1 and the N64 (and others) would relish the opportunity to make those sorts of profits on new releases once again. Some have even linked this to the ‘old debate’ that keeps on raging, that is pre-owned games. After all, if we could make money on new releases again, then we wouldn’t need to offer the pre-owned route to our customers, would we. After all, it is a lot more complicated and costly to do in-store than simply selling 100’s of new release titles on release day at full retail and making 30% on each one.

But this is the nub of the issue – the market isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago. Things have moved on. Supermarkets have entered the game of selling games, general retailers too. They have taken customers away from specialists in the only ways they can – offering price and convenience advantages. Publishers (with developers in tow) fed this by conceding to retailers supply chain demands as they chased their own goals of growth and market share. Activision’s attempt to increase prices surely is a last resort in the face of inevitable downward price pressure. There can’t be any going back to the old days…..?


After the dust has settled on E3…

June 11, 2009

So the doors have closed on another E3, and once again I didnt get to go – but then again, I’ve never been so I don’t know what I’m missing!!! Which is probably for the best!

So, what did E3 tell us about what to expect in the next 12 months and beyond?

Of the big three, Nintendo was largely a case of more of the same. Their current direction is working very well thank you very much, so for them to say anything other than “we will continue to plough this furrow” would have been insane. Follow ups to Wii Sports, Wii Fit, and Super Mario Galaxy prove that they arent going to change anything. They know their market and they are sticking with it. During their E3 press conference and since, they have said that they would like to re-engage with hard core gamers more as well, but I cannot see that happening. We know hard-core gamers and they are far too entrenched in the Microsoft and Sony camps. Even if they do look up from their GTA, COD or FIFA session, Nintendo dont seem to be offering anything along their lines.

As for Microsoft and Sony, well, I think Microsoft just edged it but both have a lot to offer the core market of gamers that we sell to.

The top ten list that IGN AU put together sums it up just fine for me – most games will come on both platforms, and where one has an exclusive like Splinter Cell: Conviction, the other has Uncharted 2. Customers often ask us which is best – 360 or PS3? And we always say “Neither – you have to have both, if you are a serious gamer”.

Exclusives will always be a part of this industry and so the only way to satisfy the addiction fully, is to make sure you get your drugs from both Microsoft and Sony. Purists like me will also say you need a Wii for the Mario/Zelda hit – and if you ask my brother, he says you need SNES, Dreamcast, NES, Megadrive etc etc etc – but that is getting off the point. This blog is about the future, not the past.

Coming back to that, both Microsoft and Sony gave tech demo’s on their answers to Nintendo’s Wiimote. Both very clever and both designed to bring more casual gamers into playing games. I have to admit – I think they both have missed the point. Although I didn’t really see it myself until earlier this week when I reflected on another presentation – Apple’s keynote at their World Wide Developer Conference. They have had huge success in a very short period of time, selling 1 Billion apps to an install base of 40 million users around the world. Not all these are gamers obviously, and certainly not hard core gamers. What some are and will increasingly be, are the casual gamers that Nintendo have succeeded in selling to and that Microsoft and Sony are courting with their tech demo’s.

As a little example, let me tell you about the picture of domestic bliss that is the Rowbotham household. I only tend to play games on 360/PS3/Wii and occasionally my PC – depending upon the latest hit that catch’s my eye. So I am core gamer – no question. My wife however over the last couple of years has drifted into the casual gamer sphere so well canvassed by Nintendo. It started with Brain Training and moved onto a bit of Wii Fit and a lot of Professor Layton – all games that have been squarely aimed at this new market that Microsoft and Sony said they are following Nintendo into. The point – well, my wife isn’t playing any of those games anymore. I bought her an iPhone for Christmas as her old phone finally died, and since then she has found a whole new world of casual apps – she spends more time on Facebook as it is convenient on her phone but she has discovered a whole new world of games from developers like PopCap that are quick and cheap to download. And now she sits happily chilling out at the end of a busy day, iPhone in hand. All of which means she has hardly picked up her Nintedo DS and the Wii Fit has got fat!!!!

And for me, this is the most interesting dynamic. Casual gamers are by their nature casual – so they will also be non-committed and transient – they will quickly move onto the next big thing. And I reckon it might just be Apple who will take all these non-core gamers away from Nintendo (and Microsoft and Sony too). A big prediction I know but no-one will hear me when I say “I told you so” in a few years – so I can pretty much say what I like really!!!

If it does happen, where does that leave our industry? And the big three of MS/Sony & Nintendo. Well, interestingly, the core gamers are still going to be here – still wanting their annual fix of COD/FIFA and bi-annual fix of GTA etc – the market may not grow by the double digit points that some shareholders might crave but it will still be strong at its heart, more than treading water thats for sure. And interestingly, Microsoft and Sony are more likely to have something to offer these guys than Nintendo. I don’t see Project Natal type interfaces opening up the market for casual gamers as much as reinforcing things for core gamers, adding more ways to interact and making games richer and more involving experiences – for those who are already hooked.

If this scenario does play out, the biggest looser here could be Nintendo – who has less to fall back on. I have played and finished every Zelda and Mario game to date, but they don’t come along often enough to keep a company the size of Nintendo going – their current market is much more reliant on casual gamers. And if Apple can distract other users like they have my wife, well who knows?


Super Smash Bros Brawl Disc error

June 28, 2008

So I took a copy of Super Smash Bros Brawl home on Friday night to play with the kids over the weekend. And I couldnt get it to work.

We saw this from Nintendo and so checked out the disc by borrowing my brother’s Wii and playing it on that.

And the disc works. As I type this, my son is playing as Kirby and beating up Link. So – if you have a dodgy disk, I’d encourage you to send off your console for the free clean. Ours is going in the post on Monday.