How much has the videogame market changed in the last four years? Following on from last week’s analytical rant about the change at Nintendo, this week I’d like to illustrate some of the changes in the marketplace by looking at the UK retail charts. (The UK market is very similar to the US market, except for changes in license brand value e.g. Madden means a lot in the US but not the UK, and Football Manager means a lot in the UK but nothing at all in the US).
I’ll be using the ChartTrack data for the week ending 12/07/08. I only have chart positions, and not sales figures, but fortunately the application of a little logic allows one to unravel the situation quite comprehensively.
Here are the top 20 titles on all formats that week:
1. Wii Fit (Wii only)
2. Lego Indiana Jones (all formats)
3. Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii only)
4. Top Spin 3 (360, PS3, Wii)
5. Battlefield: Bad Company (360, PS3)
6. Big Beach Sports (Wii only)
7. Wii Play (Wii only)
8. Beijing 2008 (most formats)
9. Kung Fu Panda (all formats)
10. Mario & Sonic: Olympic Games (Wii, DS)
11. Guitar Hero III: Legends (PS2, PS3, Wii, 360)
12. Mario Kart Wii (Wii only)
13. Grand Theft Auto IV (360, PS3)
14. Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training (DS only)
15. Carnival: Fun Fair Games (Wii only)
16. Wall-E (all formats)
17. Unreal Tournament III (PC, PS3, 360)
18. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3 only)
19. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360, PS3, PC, DS)
20. FIFA 08 (all formats)
Also, here are the top titles on each platform’s separate chart:
- Wii: Wii Fit
- Nintendo DS: Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training
- PlayStation 2: Lego Indiana Jones
- PS3: Metal Gear Solid Four: Guns of the Patriots
- PSP: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
- PC: The Sims 2: Double Deluxe
- PC (budget): Football Manager 2008
- Xbox 360: Battlefield: Bad Company
What’s the first thing you notice? Not only is a Wii title number one, six of these titles are Wii exclusives (and one a DS exclusive) with the only non-Nintendo platform exclusive being Metal Gear Solid 4 which pulls in a wimpy 18th place. That’s not all the trouble in Sony-land, however, as Metal Gear Solid 4 is also the top selling title on PS3 (according to the separate PS3 chart), which means in essence Sony is doing very badly indeed with its next generation platform.
Furthermore, the PSP shows how weak it is too: it’s top charting title (Crisis Core) doesn’t even show up in the all formats Top 20, and in fact limps in at a poor 32nd place for the week in question. Still, Sony are the only company to have challenged Nintendo’s dominance of the handheld space and achieve anything more than abject failure, so the poor chart performance should be seen as reflective of their small market share and not necessarily of the failure of the PSP as a format.
But it’s not all bad news for Sony. Look at the number 2 title: Lego Indiana Jones. Number 2 fast selling title this week, but on what platform is it selling? Well to help you work this out let me point out that it doesn’t appear on the Top 10 list for the PS3, Wii, Xbox 360 or PSP at all, and it’s number 7 in the DS Top 10. Figured it out yet? Yes, Lego Indiana Jones scores second place in the all formats sales charts entirely on the back of sales on the PlayStation 2.
This actually underlines the horrible situation Sony find themselves in: their new platforms are underperforming badly, but they are still doing okay thanks to the continuing enormous success of the PlayStation 2 – this ameliorates Sony’s shame and saves their cashflow, but it shows that mass market consumers simply aren’t interested in the PS3 yet. Perhaps in a few years when Blu-Ray discs are more established, but right now Sony isn’t firing on all cylinders with its new platforms at all.
I’d like to further underline how titanically screwed Sony are right now by quoting Sony CEO Howard Stringer who this week said: “I’ve played a Nintendo Wii. I don’t see it as a competitor. It’s more of an expensive niche game device”. Yup, an expensive niche game device which is kicking your ass on all fronts. Enjoy your denial, Mr. Stringer, it’s all you’ve got to comfort you other than strong sales on your previous generation of games console.
What about Microsoft, are they doing any better? Well, since Battlefield: Bad Company is the top selling 360 title, but it’s number 4 in the PS3 charts (remembering the number 1 PS3 title is at number 18 in the all formats), one can only conclude that Microsoft while still being far, far behind Nintendo in terms of market performance is at least courting a strong gamer hobbyist following who would generally rather buy a multi-format title on the 360 than the PS3. GTA IV underlines the point: it too must be selling considerably more on the 360 versus the PS3 because it weighs in at number 13 overall, while the top PS3 title is (you’ll recall) number 18.
The funniest thing to come out of E3 this year was Microsoft’s enthusiastic display of love for itself, while simultaneously releasing their “New Xbox Experience”, which is to say, their new 360 interface which strips away the hobbyist-friendly Blade interface and replaces it with something so stunningly reminiscent of both Nintendo’s Mii’s and Sony’s Home that one can only conclude that Microsoft have absolutely no idea what they are doing when it comes to courting the mass market. Do Microsoft really believe they can draw mass market players away from the cheap and accessible Wii by copying key features? Really, this only makes Microsoft look very feeble indeed. They should realise their edge right now is that they have lured the hobbyists away from Sony and Nintendo and work hard to keep them. Trying to cash in on Nintendo’s market (while, of course, denying that Nintendo are having any success) risks alienating the very base of Microsoft’s rather marginal next generation success.
And what about Nintendo? On top of the domination of Wii exclusives (4 of the top 7 titles in the all formats are Wii only), they have Brain Training. This game has been out for two years and is still ranking in the top 20 (14 this week, 12 last week); some weeks it breaks back into the top ten – and this is, I repeat, more than twenty four months after release. This is the power of the mass market – the mass market players don’t want to buy many titles, but the titles they do want can sell in huge numbers, as Brain Training (BrainAge in the US) demonstrates.
Finally, what about the lowly PC? It’s top title – The Sims 2: Double Deluxe – doesn’t even show up in the Top 40 all formats chart at all. The PC market isn’t dead, it’s just considerably less lively than even the PlayStation 2. And let’s not forget that a lot of revenue in the PC world isn’t coming from direct retail any more but rather MMO subscriptions and ad revenues on casual games, so this somewhat obfuscates the reality of the situation.
Overall, the analysis of the market in the UK I have presented here says one thing: Nintendo can make and sell games for the mass market, and are making a fortune doing it. Everyone else is running around like a headless chicken, trying to downplay Nintendo’s extraordinary success this time around (they haven’t been this successful since the original NES back in the 1980s) while simultaneously trying to ineffectively copy Nintendo’s ideas in the hope that this will magically bring mass market players to expensive overpowered machines tailor-made for the hobbyist market.
It’s a golden age... but only if you happen to be Nintendo.