Archive for May, 2008

Boom Blox: More Fun Than A Hat Full Of Hand Grenades

Boom Blox is the best “accessible” Wii game since Wii sports.  The play mechanics aren’t especially deep, but the multiplayer is a blast (ha ha) and content is varied enough that the single player stuff is compelling.  I haven’t touched much of the level creator, but I’ve seen some awesome results online, so I’ll no doubt give the mode a shot as time goes on.

Boom Blox

At one point, I was playing against my 12 year old brother, my girlfriend, and my 60 year old aunt, and each of us was having a great time (and legitimately competing with each other).  For once, I didn’t feel like I had to let other people win for everyone to have a good time – I had my hands full staying competitive and often ended up on the short end of the stick (without feeling cheated).  As many of you know, that’s a rare experience for seasoned gamers. 

How refreshing.

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NPD April 2008

NPD sales data for April is as follows:

Hardware Sales:

Wii: 714.2k
NDS: 414.8k
PSP: 192.7k
360: 188.0k
PS3: 187.1k
PS2: 124.4k

Weekly Sales April 08

Software Sales:

1 (360) Grand Theft Auto IV 1,850,000
2 (WII) Mario Kart 1,120,000
3 (PS3 Grand Theft Auto IV 1,000,000
4 (WII) Wii Play 360,000
5 (WII) Super Smash Bros Brawl 326,000
6 (PS3) Gran Turismo 5: Prologue 224,000
7 (NDS) Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness 202,000
8 (NDS) Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time 202,000
9 (WII) Guitar Hero III 152,000
10 (360) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 141,000

Sales Trends April 08

Nintendo’s Takeaway:

If March wasn’t proof enough, April’s results show how supply constrained Wii has been since launch.  After a stellar showing in March, Wii’s ridiculous performance in April overshot my already sky-high predictions.  Nintendo did a great job at advertising the enjoyable Mario Kart Wii, and if things weren’t scary enough for the competition, they’re doing an even better job at getting the word out on their next hot offering, Wii Fit

The balance board peripheral is tough to manufacture, so sales numbers for the title itself won’t be shocking (don’t get me wrong, they still might eclipse 1 million for the month), but the effect that it will have on Wii’s momentum will be massive.  If you thought Wii’s were hard to find in April, they’ll be much harder to find in May and June.

Further, for the first time since launch, it’ll be hard for Microsoft and Sony to ignore the negative effect that Wii is having on their businesses.  Both companies have repeatedly dismissed the notion that Nintendo’s box has taken customers out of their pockets, even going as far as to suggest that the HD consoles and Wii are attracting different markets completely.  In April, though, more dollars were spent on Wii hardware (~178 million dollars) than were spent on 360 and PS3 hardware combined (~150 million dollars).

Microsoft’s Takeaway:

Microsoft walks away from Aperil with mixed results.  On one hand, they’ve righted their early year stumble with 2 consecutive wins over PS3 from a hardware perspective, though the margin in April was extremely small.  They also saw a lot of success with Grand Theft Auto 4, which outsold it’s PS3 counterpart by a hefty margin (though reading between reveals some flies in the pudding – see the Sony analysis section for more).

But while 360 did sell better than PS3, both consoles sold poorly, especially in light of the expectations that had been put on the back of GTA4’s popularity.  In the month of the launch of arguably the most “important” HD game, both PS3 and 360 saw their numbers actually drop from the previous month.

What’s the explanation?  Part of it has to do with unrealistic expectations for Grand Theft Auto.  While the 3 games on PS2 (and later Xbox) sold very, very well, the first one released (GTA3) actually took some time to reach super blockboster sales status.  Only Vice City and San Andreas saw exceptional sales right out of the gate, and in light of April’s results, perhaps the large PS2 userbase had more to do with GTA’s success than hardcore appeal for the series. 

It’s too early to make that judgement in full (let’s give it some time to stretch its legs), but the lack of hardware sales improvement definitely raise some questions as to the future of 360 and PS3 – perhaps for the first time.  Has Nintendo actually changed the market?  Or is price still too much of a barrier for broad market penetration?  As usual, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Monthly Hardware April 08

Sony’s Takeaway:

It’s hard to judge Sony’s performance in April.  360 only narrowly edged out PS3 (less than 1 thousand units separated the two consoles), and while GTA4 performed better on 360 from a raw numbers perspective, the ratio of 360 to PS3 sales for the title was better (1.8/1) than the ratio of total HW sales in the US (2.37/1). 

A hollow “victory” for Sony in that regard, but it at least indicates some brand association among gamers to PlayStation mainstays (Gran Tourismo, Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, etc) and shows that while Microsoft has done a good job reversing some of these brand perceptions (Madden, Guitar Hero), they still have a ways to go.

On the other hand, despite this discrepency in sales ratio, Sony now faces the same conundrum as Microsoft – hardware sales did not increase as most analysts had expected.  I was on the low end for my 360 and PS3 predictions, and yet even I was surprised by how little GTA4’s launch improved hardware sales. 

But while Microsoft has some flexibility in regards to pricing, Sony is pressed against the ropes – they’ve done a solid job at stabilizing the PlayStation brand with consistent price cuts (and introductions of new skus), but their aggresive price slashing has taken some of the air out of their tires for the forseeable future.  It will be hard for them, both from an image and fiscal perspective, to cut prices before the holiday season.

 

Overall Impressions:

-Nintendo continues to impress.  While the weak dollar might limit the supply that Nintendo sends to North America for the launch of Wii Fit, I think that they are more concerned about the big picture at this point.  There is potential for a massive month (even more massive than April’s ridiculous numbers), and I don’t think they will pass it up.

-Microsoft’s image has improved from their early 2008 stumble, but the relatively close sales ratio for Grand Theft Auto 4 versions is worrying.  Shockingly low hardware numbers will no doubt push forward plans for a price cut.

-Sony can’t be too displeased with GTA4’s performance against the 360 version, but lack of hardware improvements must be frustrating.  With their hands tied in regards to another price cut, they have no choice but to hope that the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 4 will help keep the ship afloat.

Predictions: NPD April 2008

(Updated May 9th, 2:50PM.  After some thought, I’ve revised my Wii, PS3, and 360 numbers upwards.)

NPD video game sales data for April 2008 will be released this Thursday.  My hardware predictions are as follows:

 

Predicted Total Hardware

Predicted Weekly Sales

% Change of Weekly Sales

WII

640,000

160,000

(+10.96%)

NDS

540,000

135,000

(-3.30%)

PS2

168,000

42,000

(-2.78%)

360

270,000

67,500

(+28.82%)

PS3

260,000

65,000

(+26.46%)

PSP

220,000

55,000

(-7.41%)

I’m predicting that Wii and DS will maintain (in large part) the momentum that they rode in March.  Though Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s first month sales will probably eclipse the newly released Mario Kart Wii’s first month sales, indications are that Wii stock has been replenished at brisk rates.  On the DS side, there’s been no indication that availability issues have plagued the handheld, and I expect sales to remain fairly constant.

The big story for PS3 and Xbox 360 this month is the late release of Grand Theft Auto 4.  Initial sales will favor the 360 version (see a Microsoft statement to that end here), but I’m predicting that the effect on HW sales will be similar for both consoles.  It will be interesting to see how things play out from here – there have been reports of some issues on the PS3 front performance wise, though a patch has just been released.  And don’t forget about Microsoft’s exclusive DLC that will be released later in the year.

As a bonus, here are some software predictions.  While I think long and hard about my hardware numbers, these software predictions are just for fun.

[360 Call of Duty 4] 140k
[360 GTAIV] 2350k
[360 Rainbow Six Vegas 2] 165k
[NDS Pokemon MD: Darkness] 410k
[NDS Pokemon MD: Time] 410k
[PS3 GTAIV] 1630k
[PS3 GT5: Prologue] 240k
[PSP God of War: Chains] 55k
[WII Mario Kart Wii] 1100k
[WII Super Smash Bros. Brawl] 625k
[Total SW $ in millions] $920

Actual sales data from The NPD Group will be released on Thursday, May 15th after market close (4:00 PM).

Okami Wii: First Impressions

I picked up Okami for Wii a couple of weeks ago and was pretty confident that I would love it from beginning to end.  I’m a huge Zelda fan, and everything I’ve read has favorably compared this Clover creation to Nintendo’s series – in fact, some critics and fans have even rated Okami as superior to Twilight Princess (which I adored).

Okami Wii

So oddly enough, after a few hours of play time, I’m not impressed.  The game (so far) feels like a Zelda clone – it’s got all of the pieces (including the annoying sidekick), but nothing has jumped out at me as terribly compelling from a gameplay perspective, though the paint brush mechanic does hold some promise.  And I will concede that the art style is fantastic.

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks, and I’m finally ready to jump back into things.  We’ll see how it goes –  hopefully things pick up.