No miracle for Professor Layton on 3DS

layton eng

One year ago, I was telling you how the success of Professor Layton had been slowly waning. True, the first one was a major hit, and the series still belong to the high-seller club. But the transition to 3DS has obviously been difficult.

Having launched with 3DS in Japan, Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracles (5th of the series) suffered from Nintendo’s failed strategy at that time. Vgchartz estimates that it sold only half of The Last Specter and Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney low initial sales suggest a downward trend in its home market. The game does seem to have legs but is likely to remain below the average of both series. The Mask of Miracles benefits from a cheaper digital version on the e-shop to gain further sales. Nothing at stake though, because the upcoming 6th installment will be the last one.

However sad it wight be, our time cracking Layton’s cases are soon over. The latest game didn’t drive hardware at all in the US, as sales are as poor as last year. In Europe, the series’ biggest market, the 5th Layton did only one third of what The Last Specter sold during the Christmas period. Everywhere and although it remains one of the biggest games on the system, the Layton series keeps losing ground.

It can mean only one thing : casual gamers that had come on board with DS haven’t upgraded to 3DS. To this audience, Professor Layton as well as video games were no more than a fleeting trend in which there is no reason to invest 170€ again. For their kiddies, the obvious choice will be mario. Layton’s misfortune illustrates how difficult it has become for Nintendo to go beyond mario. Nevertheless, Satoru Iwata is aware of that and seems ready to tackle the challenge of diversity. The large promotion campaign around Fire Emblem and future releases such as Project X Zone or Rune Factory 4 tend to show that guenuine efforts are being made.

That leaves only faithful fans of the Professor, who buy all the games day one and are craving for more. Let’s hope that PlvsAA and the 6th Layton at least cross the borders and reach them.

Advertisements

My favorites games of 2012 (GoTY 2012)

Rules reminder : I’m picking from the games I’ve played in 2012, even if they were released in 2011 or if they’re yet to be announced in the West.

Best action game

Liberation Maiden (3DS)

I’ve always wanted to experience the action scenes from Evangelion in video game. With Liberation Maiden, no need to search further. This shoot’em up is a nearly exact transcript of the legendary anime. True, not the same scenario, not the same characters, a rather short story, but the spirit of Evangelion is here : the ferocious aliens, the awesome sound, the non-stop action. All those priceless things you can get for only 8 euros.

Runner-up : Senran Kagura Burst (3DS)

Best shooter

Call of Duty – Black Ops II (PS3)

Although Call of Duty did poorly with Modern Warfare 3, Treyarch made the wise choices to turn the situation over. An innovating campaign and a reborn quality multiplayer make Black Ops II the king this year.

Runner-up : Call of Duty – Black Ops Declassified (PSVita)

Best fighting game

Kasumi Ayane

Dead or Alive 5 (PS3)

Dead or Alive 5 deals a powerful blow to a competition mostly asleep at the wheel. At last effort is rewarded and improvisation useless. The gameplay is complex, even too complex, but the competition is sane and the noobs have been driven away. Graphically outsanting, with high value and a flurry of adorable characters, DOA5 takes the crown, and for a long time.

Runner-up : none

Best strategy game

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Like every time, it’s hard to resist to Fire Emblem once you have it whithin your reach. The clever gameplay is further enhanced by the support system and the unit management has some amazing surprises. CG scenes are beautiful and the art direction the best to date.

Runner-up : none

Best puzzle game

Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (3DS)

True, PlvsAA won’t melt your brain like past episodes did. But its breathtaking story and lovable characters make up for the lesser difficulty settings.

Runner-up : If I were in a sealed room with a girl I would… (3DS)

Best RPG

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Atelier Totori made history imho, and only logical that its sequel would take the title if it lives up to it. Actually, Atelier Meruru does even better in music, gameplay, management, battles, character design… Seldom did I feel such self-fulfillment with one game.

Runner-up : Tales of Xillia (PS3)

Best Music

Project Diva f (PSVita)

Project Diva f (PSVita)

Let’s get this straight : it’s gonna be hard for any game to compete here as long as Hatsune Miku is in the place. Not when brilliant composers like the vocaloid god Wowaka delivers such goodness as Unhappy Refrain.

Runner-up : Project Diva Extend (PSP)

Best game no one bought

たっち,しょー Love Application (PS3)

Love Application literally crashed in Japanese charts. The audience for dating sim has never been that high so it might have been OK. Anyway, the amount value and fun crammed is this game is more than worth the few thousands yens.

Runner-up : Hyperdimension Neptune Victory

Best game you might never play

Ace Attorney Investigations 2 (DS)

The title I chose last year in this category, Final Fantasy Type-0, still hasn’t made it west. Released in Japan last year, Ace Attorney Investigations 2 probably won’t be luckier and might well end up being the only title in the series to skip the west too. A real shame when you think it’s the most brilliant Ace Attorney so far.

Runner-up : Shining Blade (PSP)

Most disappointing

SoulCalibur V (PS3)

An abysmal campaign and a dismal multiplayer. That’s all I could think of this 5th iteration of a series had enjoyed so much. Everything that made the glory of the past ones, including characters and gameplay, has been reshuffled for the worst as armies of noobs increasingly took the power.

Runner-up : Ciel no Sourge (PSVita)

Most innovating

Gravity Daze (PSVita)

Gravity Daze (PSVita)

Mastering gravity. That’s what Gravity Daze is about. This game achieve the outstanding performance of having a unique, exhilarating and yet simple gameplay. Add to that an art direction that is one of the best this year, and you have the ultimate must-have on PSVita.

Runner-up : The Unfinished Swann (PS3)

Best graphics

Tales of Xillia (PS3)

A small step for the PS3, but a giant leap for the Tales of series. Tales of Graces F, which wasn’t exactly ugly, is merely a sketch of what awaits you in Tales of Xillia. Never had the anime style been so detailed, seldom could you enjoy such a flurry of colors and light.

Runner-up : Gravity Daze (PSVita)

 Game of the year

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Can the Atelier series win for the second year in a row? YES! You do have one of the finest management-strategy-RPG ever. Characters, battles, music, side-quests, everything is as good as it can get. With games like these, there are no such things as eating or sleeping : Atelier Meruru nurtures your soul to delight.

 Project Diva f (PSVita)

 Tales of Xillia (PS3)

 Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Does the crisis affect the video games market?

Notice : this article is a translation from the French version of this blog, references may be in French or based on French figures.

For several months now, I’ve been reading articles reporting sluggish sales in the video games market, which would be reason enough to call it a crisis. Those so-called journalists never stop short of writing bullshit when it comes to selling their papers. They really should analyze the figures before commmenting.

Les Echos, a French economic newspaper, goes wild when home console sales in France are down 20% year on year in 2012 (software sales are down 10%). But what Les Echos fails to mention is that Nintendo alone bears most of the decline. From the data I took from Vgchartz, we can see that yoy PS3 is down by only 11%, X360 falls 23% and Wii plummet by 48%. PS3 software sales are flat +1%, X360 software grows by 3% and Wii games sales collapses by 38%. So the overall decline is nothing more than the burst of the casual bubble that allowed rapid growth in 2007 (Gamasutra says +41%) and in 2008 (+23%). During the PS2 era, home console sold slightly over 200 million units. In this generation, which won’t be over before 2014 at best, we already have a 230-million install base. We can’t say the same for every economic segment : car manufacturers are cutting jobs despite public bailouts and consumer electronics declines 5-10% in one quarter. Not to mention the press, which loses every year so many advertisers and readers that many papers go bust. In short, it’s the folks who have to survive on rutabagas that write that kind of nonsense. I can understand their frustration, but they really should mind their own business rather than spelling doom on others. The Wii-collapse is the rightful punishment of Nintendo’s short-term policy that consists only in luring gullible but volatile casual gamers, while the hardcore gamer segment of the industry still flourish despite the lesser number of releases. Furthermore, reports show that accessory sales are up 23%, mainly thanks to Kinect and Move. Direct extension of PS3 and X360 hardware, those ones cannot be left out of the market as a whole. Finally, it’s interesting to notice that the Japanese market grew in 2011, after several years of decline.

Handhelds are also down in France (-14%), the responsibility lying in PSVita this time because it doesn’t offset the decline in PSP sales. 3DS makes up for the free-fall in DS sales, but cannot alone bear the weight of a decaying segment that is no longer fit for today’s commuters. Smartphones are cannibalizing the market at an astonishing pace : they have now 57% market share in the US, while DS and PSP had 80% only two years before. Even in Japan, where handhelds rule, smartphone software sales are up 200%. In France, 14 million people play on their mobile devices as far as this year, and 35% of them purchased a game. In fact, no need for figures to understand that : just ride any metro line with a PSVita in your hands, and you will find yourself alone in the middle of people playing freecell or Angrybirds. But why do we oppose smartphones and handhelds when talking sales volumes, and compare when considering market share? Isn’t a 2D mario comparable to Fruit Ninja? It’s now common among pulishers to develop Iphone versions of their biggest Ips (ex. SquareEnix and Final Fantasy) even if it means delaying traditional home console projects (ex. SquareEnix and Final Fantasy). Smartphones and handhelds belong to the same market in which casual gamers migrate to smartphones. In the end, the mobile market keeps growing.

The whole panic around the decline of boxed games sales is also hilarious. Many actors within the industry are worried, but it’s just because they don’t know how the digital transition goes. There is no proper tracking of digital games sales, even NPD said they would eventually look into the matter. Some figures can nevertheless be found here and there : OVUM, a market research firm, estimates at 17% the annual growth for non-physical games. Steam reported 100% growth in 2011, the general percentage of digital games sold has shot up 50%, not to mention the Iphone boom I was talking about above. DLC should also be taken into account, since it’s not charity. PSN was already growing by 40% in 2010, and no doubt download-only games like Journey or Limbo do help maintain that momentum. Of course, manufacturers are aware of this. Sony didn’t design PSVita at random : most of the recent PSP games like Shining Blade, Final Fantasy Type-0 or the upcoming Sol Trigger are compatible and playable on Vita. Rather than having to carry their old PSP, Japanese Vita owners are more comfortable using Sony’s cloud and cramming all their games into the new system.

Calling those figures a crisis is exaggerated : far from a downturn, the current situation of the gaming market reflects the high mobility of the mainstream public and the rise of new distribution channels and increasingly varied forms of gaming. Generally speaking, it just illustrates that capitalism is a constant renewal, as it’s been in our economies for the past six decades.

1st half 2012 – software sales analysis

Half a year has passed. Time to see what happens on the economic side of the gaming world.

Worldwide top 10 (2012 releases only)

  1. Diablo III (PC)

  2. Mass Effect 3 (X360)

  3. Pokémon B/W2 (DS)

  4. Mario Party 9 (Wii)

  5. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3)

  6. Ghost Recon Future Soldier (X360)

  7. Max Payne (X360)

  8. Resident Evil Operation Racoon City (PS3)

  9. One Piece Pirate Warriors (PS3)

  10. Mass Effect 3 (PS3)

You can see the full top 100 on Vgchartz. Games released in 2011 remainded praticularely vivid as few 2012 games managed to steal the spotlight : in the top 20 games, only 6 were released in 2012, being Mario Party 9, Mass Effect 3, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Ghost Recon, Pokemon B/W 2 and Diablo 3. The rest of the top 20 is composed of long sellers such as Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 or evergreen casual games. I can’t deny that Mass Effect significantly overtook Final Fantasy as a leading RPG IP (if Mass Effect is still and RPG, that is). Mass Effect 3 beats Final Fantasy XIII-2 by 2 to 1 in the West and still sells more even if Japan is taken into account. FFXIII-2 nevertheless outpaces ME3 on PS3 and outsells its 360 counterpart by 2.5 to 1, proving that the audiences of the two systems are very different. FFXIII-2 on PS3 is also showing some legs : it has been staying between the 40th and the 60th rank for several weeks now. There are several DS/3DS games, but only one Vita game which is Uncharted. Two Japan-only games cracked into the top 10, showing that the Japanese market is far from dead.

USA top 10 (2012 releases only)

  1. Mass Effect 3 (X360)

  2. Diablo III (PC)

  3. Ghost Recon Future Soldier (X360)

  4. MLB 12 : The Show (PS3)

  5. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3)

  6. Max Payne (X360)

  7. Kingdom of Alamur Reckoning (X360)

  8. Kinect Star Wars (X360)

  9. Twisted Metal (PS3)

  10. Mario Party 9 (Wii)

You can see the full top 100 on Vgchartz. Here again 2012 games fail to perform well : 6 out of 20 were released this year. JRPGs are struggling as Tales of Graces f only managed 193K so far and the much awaited Xenoblade stalls at 260K. Those are really horrible figures. I hope they still profit so that it doesn’t deter publishers for future localizations. At least, ToGf must have met Namco’s expectations since the translation of Tales of Xillia is already in the works. The casual audience still heavily dominates the Nintendo platforms : there’s no Resident Evil Revelations or Metal Gear 3D in sight.

Europe top 10 (2012 releases only)

  1. Diablo III (PC)

  2. Mass Effect 3 (X360)

  3. FIFA Street (PS3)

  4. FIFA Street (X360)

  5. Mario Party 9 (Wii)

  6. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3)

  7. Max Payne (PS3)

  8. Max Payne (X360)

  9. Mass Effect 3 (PS3)

  10. Kinect Star Wars (X360)

Again, only 6 out of the top 20 games were released in 2012. There are two funny things in this European chart :

  • Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations is the only figthing game in the 100, neither SoulCalibur V nor Street Fighter X Tekken manged to chart. Those series are declining at breackneck pace, which logically calls for new contenders.

  • PSVita put up quite a fight for it places three games in the top 100 (Uncharted, Rayman Origins and FIFA Soccer). Uncharted shots up at rank 38th, beating all the recent 3DS games.

Japan top 10 (2012 releases only)

  1. Pokémon B/W 2 (DS)

  2. One Piece Pirate Warriors (PS3)

  3. Dragon Quest Monsters : Terry’s Wonderland (3DS)

  4. Mario Party 9 (Wii)

  5. Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

  6. Resident Evil Operation Racoon City (PS3)

  7. Dai-2-Ji Super Robot Taisen Z Saisei-hen (PSP)

  8. Pokémon Nobunaga’s Ambition (DS)

  9. Kingdom Hearts 3D (3DS)

  10. Kid Icarus Uprising (3DS)

3DS dominated this first half of the year in Japan. It sells to most games despite its developping install base. Generally speaking, handhelds are still big in Japan, where even a slowing PSVita has 6 games in the top. PSP games keep reaching good figures, which in reality are even better since Vgchartz doesn’t track digital sales (and those ones have surged since Vita released). PS3 confirms its position as the top home console : it flattens Wii 3 to 1 and X360 20 to 1. On the software side, PS3 sells nearly 6 million games when Wii barely manages 2 mllion. Xbox software was non existent as usual as no game charted. This time, most of the top games are from 2012 (16 out of 20, most probably 17 or 18 with the digital sales), which suggest both a wider game offer and a more quickly renewed demand than in the West. In short, the Japanese are more active gamers than westerners. Other noticable fact, Modern Warfare 3 outsold Zelda Skyward Sword at home. Japanese gamers seem increasingly interested in western gaming (Skyrim and Battlefield 3 also make it in the top 100), even if it means ditching well-established series like Zelda.

So, what’s next in 2012? Or more precisely WHO’s next? Yes, Nintendo is next to fall. It failed to convince gamers with 3DS outside of Japan (see next post), its Wii business is collapsing like and sandcastle and its WiiU line-up is close to nothingness. WiiU is the first ever system to be released at the end of the generation it indents to compete into, which means it will face cheaper competitors with comparable specs and far richer game libraries. PS3 and X360 have gained the gamers’ faith and respect while Wii only brought frustration, defiance and anger. The former will have countless exclusives such as Hitman Absolution, Tomb raider, Dead or Alive 5, Persona 4 Arena, Medal of Honor Warfighter, Dishonored, Halo 4, The Last of Us, Crysis 3 just to name a few. WiiU will have to battle with super-late ports and TANK! TANK! TANK! If Nintendo cannot prevent casual gamers from shifting to Kinect, web browser games or cheap Iphone games, WiiU will be discontinued as soon as 2013.

The worrying return of Japan-only games

The past generation was great for Japanese gaming fans, especially in RPGs : the West (well… Europe mostly) came to know famous franchises such as Wild Arms, Final Fantasy Tactics, Persona, Fire Emblem, Disgaea, Tales of, Valkyrie Profile and many others.

The current gen had started really well, since we got Valkyria Chronicles, the Arland trilogy, Hyperdimension Neptune, Trinity Universe or Resonance of Fate pretty quickly. Recently however, some publishers’ cowardice is looming ahead and this Golden Age could very well end.

SquareEnix, which keeps doing bullshit lately, announced this week that Theatrythm would come to Europe. Great news, sure, but this decision crushed all hope that Final Fantasy Type-0, far more ambitious and anticipated than the former, could be translated at last. Indeed, if the 112’000 units of Theatrythm sold in Japan are enough to trigger the localization process, Type-0, which sold 800’000 units, should be at the top of the agenda. Nothing like that, and SquareEnix has been keeping an eerie silence ever since. Type-0 is thus about to become the ONLY Final Fantasy unavailable in the West (besides Ergeizh but this particular one is more than replaced by Dissidia). And don’t go asking for VersusXIII, because they’re not allowed to talk about it.

The same day, ImageEpoch pointed out via Twitter that they had no plans for an English version of their upcoming Toki to Wa, unless it « conquers Japan ». A rather difficult task given the falling volumes on that market…

Curled on itself like its mascot, Sega has dropped all plans to localize its RPGs. While releasing Sonic games at an abusing pace and putting tremendous effort in some westernized sh**, the fomer manufacturer actually stopped the Valkyria series before the end. They made it clear that Valkyria Chronicles 3 would never be translated, giving rise to the 2500-strong Gallian Liberation Front. Not much hope for their recent Shining Blade either, despite a strong start in Japan.

We can also remember that Capcom dropped the Ace Attorney Investigations series, because Miles Edgeworth’s last adventures never left Japan. The ageing western DS actually didn’t get much content, as Fire Emblem – Monsho no Nazo and Ni no Kuni were Japan-only as well. 3DS fares a little better : even if we don’t get Beyond the Labyrinth and Senran Kagura, there will always be Kindgom Hearts 3D and Fire Emblem Awakening, which is good to take. I have to give Nintendo some credit for its efforts, because they did the job to make Xenoblade and The Last Story available all around the world.

The situtation is not that bad, partly because the Tales of series is making a glorious comeback with Tales of Graces F and Tales of the Abyss. Still, if publishers start to erect barriers between Japan and the West again, based on the fallacy that those markets are opposed, gaming has much to lose.

The curious decline of Professor Layton

When I was collecting data for my sales analysis of 2011, I came across the sales of the Professor Layton series. I was shocked (and sad) at the sight of a collapse I certainly wasn’t expecting.

The series loses ground at every iteration in every region. It drops like a rock in the United States, where to the 4th episode only sold 150’000 : 7 times less than its European sales in less time! Did Mario and Kinect games make Americans so stupid that they can’t even solve a puzzle? The situation so critical that Nintendo didn’t even mention Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracles in its 2012 3DS schedule.

This 3DS Layton game also marks a decrease in sales for the series in Japan : trapped in the initial line-up, it hasn’t benefited from the surge in 3DS hardware sales during the holidays. Like most of 3rd party games on 3DS, it suffered from the domination of the Mario games. Smartphone should be part of the explanation as well : many of those who started gaming with “The Curious Village” will have switched to this more economical way to entertain themselves when commuting.

However, the very existence of the series shouldn’t be at risk, because of still excellent overall sales. The Professor is not likely to know the same fate as Phoenix Wright, also because the two brightest intellectuals of the DS will soon create a united front to end this downward spiral.