Sony, the total supremacy

 

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It’s over. Nintendo bought as much time as it could. The entire gaming world had hold its breath for months, but now everybody has shown his hand. The situation is clear, there is no doubt on the current status of the gaming market : Sony has achieved crushing dominance over its rivals. Nintendo Switch is weak, its line-up even more so and its so-called partners are doing nothing but lip-service. How did we get to that, and where are we going?

To find some answers, let’s first have a look to Famitsu’s top 100 chart, published in a recent issue. How can Switch seem so feeble when top ten rankings show Nintendo owning Japan? It’s very trivial : developers and publishers, unlike journalists don’t simply look at top ten. So let’s borrow their point of view and observe the top 50 (49 actually because of the title line) of combined SKUs. As usual, the sources are GAF, Vgchartz’s digital sales thread and Dengeki’s weekly rankings.

The first thing to notice besides the (deserved) domination of the superb Pokemon Sun&Moon, is that Sony now has a majority of games here : 29 PSV/PS3/PS4 games against 20 on 3DS/WiiU. If you look in detail, you’ll also notice that 9 out of 20 games on Nintendo systems are from Nintendo itself, whereas there’s only one first party game (Uncharted 4) in the Playstation best-sellers. Third parties have therefore a lot more business opportunities on PSVita or PS4 (knowing that PS3 is almost phased out). Another parameter of growing importance : the digital purchase rate is quite higher on Playstation platforms, around 10% (22% for The Division!). Digital reduces variable costs and improves the margin. Publishers love that.

Japanese publishers came to be wary of the 3DS/WiiU audience, hungry for kiddy games which is rarely what 3rd party developers want to do. A major part of the 3DS/WiiU best-sellers is aimed at children (but also at adults in the case of Pokemon) so Japanese 3rd parties naturally prefer addressing and older and more core audience, and that audience plays on Playstation. Best proof of that is Level-5 : hugely successful on 3DS with Yôkai Watch, the company didn’t go as far as announcing Ni no Kuni Revenant Kingdom for Nintendo Switch. As a side-note, observe that both Dragon Quest Heroes II and Dragon Quest Builders sold more than Dragon Quest Monster Joker 3 : Nintendo consoles are no longer the home of SquareEnix’s famous series.

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So what happened on 1/13? Everyone was hoping/expecting Nintendo to turn the tides with a flurry of powerful exclusives. That failed to happen, and it’s the direct consequence of what we’ve seen above. Big games are still pretty far away : Xenoblade 2 (splendid character design this time around) gets a vague 2017 and Fire Emblem Warriors looks like development has barely started (EDIT : it’s confirmed for fall, so things are looking up slightly). The launch line-up is downright ridiculous : besides Zelda Breath of the Wild and 1 2 Switch, some party game looking like the despicable Wii Sports, all games are ports from PS4. Nintendo has lost the initiative, they’re completely out of the race.

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The third party part of the conference is ice cold. Atlus quickly mentions a new Shin Megami Tensei project for Switch, but also confirms a 3DS one, just in case… As a consequence, the exciting Project ReFantasy must be for PS4. Many wondered what Nippon Ichi Software (whose clients have been Playstation players for years of not decades) could do on Switch, and the publisher answered by saying they were providing «serious» support. It so happens that the only thing NIS has in store for Switch is a Disgaea 5 port, that is to say their biggest commercial failure. Switch is not getting NIS’s brand new games The Witch and the 100 Knights 2 (PS4) or Exile Election(‘PS4/PSVita). Far from being serious in its support, NIS actually seriously makes a fool of Nintendo.

SquareEnix has more in the works. Dragon Quest XI for Switch is briefly talked about, and Dragon Quest Heroes I&II are confirmed as launch games. Then comes Octopath Traveler, a 2D JRPG very much like Grand Kingdom and made by the developer of Bravely Default (which confirms the latter as deceased). However, nowhere in the Famitsu article it is mentioned to be exclusive. A PS4 or PSVita port could come quickly. No other JRPG is scheduled for Switch, and that won’t come as a surprise if you look at the chart. In the top 50, major 3DS JRPGs (Shin Megami Tensei IV Final, Etrian Odyssey) are flattened by numerous competitors on Playstation platforms, including the disappointing Star Ocean 5 and the discreet World of Final Fantasy. The big names of JRPGs sell better on Playstation and 2016 showed that again : Persona 5 beats the series’ record and Tales of Berseria is more or less flat compared to Tales of Zestiria.

But the most embarrassing moment is when Toshihiro Nagoshi comes on stage. The director of Yakuza games faces the public, speaks a couple of gentle words on Switch and, probably too busy counting the hefty profits made from Yakuza 6 in Asia, goes back without any confirmation he’s working on Switch at all. Suda 51, columnist extraordinaire at Dengeki, doesn’t really ease the worries : Let it Die’s creator shows a random artwork of No More Heroes while speaking some strange monologue. All this sets the eerie impression that nothing is ready, that maybe nothing is really decided for Switch. Capcom, Nintendo’s most faithful ally, is a no-show. What happens to Monster Hunter 5 and Great Ace Attorney 2? Will Switch even get them? KoeiTecmo, besides working closely with Nintendo on Fire Emblem Warriors, has Nobunaga’s Ambition Power up kit and Romance of the 3 Kingdoms Power up kit (it weakest software) for Switch. Games like Ni-Ô, Dynasty Warriors 9, Blue Reflection, Musô Stars and Nights of Azure 2 stay as Playstation exclusives. Skittish Japanese publishers are actually avoiding Nintendo as much as possible, and it’s a complete disaster for Switch : as it is now, it wouldn’t even take one customer from Vita.

The West is the biggest question mark and a huge stake for Switch. Bethesda confirms Skyrim Switch, but the game is far from ready despite being out for PS4 and XboxOne. Comes Electronic Arts, whose representative looked like at a burial : FIFA Switch is announced, but we won’t see anything of it. Despite its continuous praise for Switch, Ubisoft is not at the event Still, it has some oldies to port on Switch : Rayman Legends (remember, that WiiU exclusive), Just Dance and Steep. Pathetic is the word, Nintendo’s new system is going to be smashed into pieces on Western markets.

Nintendo mentions more than 80 titles in development for Switch, BandaiNamco promised a Tales of at some point… Sure. Crysis 3, Ghost Recon Online and Alien Colonial Marines were to be released on WiiU too. Such titles had seen their development stopped the second their publishers realized the audience didn’t fit. At least this time, Ubisoft doesn’t go as far as announcing Ghost Recon Wildlands for Switch : history shows that it would have little success on that platform, provided it could run on it. You also have to consider the issue of a new console that is coming right in the middle of a generation, which had never happened before. How should developers react? They’re already working on install bases of dozens of millions systems where the business is flourishing. Why would they make extra effort, let alone exclusives for an underpowered system that has zero install base? From a third party point of view, it’s just money thrown by the window.

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Switch’s other problem is itself. The open world (although we’re not sure of that yet) in Super Mario Odyssey is ugly and full of aliasing. It looks terrible compared to Watchdogs, a nearly three-year old PS4 game, and it so happens that precise tech specs have not been made public. Surely are they as bad as the leak published by Digital Foundry. We can now be certain that the most ambitious PS4 games cannot be be ported on Switch : forget Battlefield, Read Dead Redemption or Mass Effect Andromeda. The share button exists, but the official site already tells us that some games will block the feature. Anyone who’s tried to save a screenshot in Pokemon Sun&Moon knows how much you can trust Nintendo on that subject. The manufacturer also indicates that game «generally» won’t be region-locked. I translate that by « some games will be region-locked and you won’t be able to play them on your EU system ». So in fact region free doesn’t really exist and all this looks like a mere PR stunt. The most striking point is the total lack of trophies : why would today’s gamers even want to play their games without a centralized achievement system?

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But Nintendo might actually be targeting another audience with Switch. The conference, for most part, was focusing on Switch’s biggest innovation : playing without screen. Switch players will be invited to face each other in party games in which the screen is accessory. Table tennis, Rock/Paper/Scissors game, boxing… Switch aims at local communities rather than at solo players. In the same way, Splatoon players will be able to gather anytime, anywhere to face each other in multiplayer. In other words, Nintendo is asking casual gamers to open their wallets again to avoid facing Sony directly. Future will tell if this audience embraces the concept and if it’s large enough to make a difference. Nintendo still believes in the miraculous game/idea that sells loads of system, but nothing proves that can still happen. Rare exceptions aside, whole librairies of games sell systems, and nothing else.

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What about Microsoft then? The American recently made the brilliant decision to cancel its most hyped exclusive. From that, it’s clear that Redmond’s firm lost its will to fight : they timidly recommend Sea of Thieves and Halo Wars 2 in replacement. At best Microsoft can cling to the second place and do business in Sony’s shadow.

Miracles exist, but Nintendo Switch will need a really big one to avoid critical failure after that poor reveal conference. Sony has now more than 50 exclusives and welcomes all the commercially huge multiplatform games that Switch won’t have. Sony succeeded in taking market shares while building a win-win situation with 3rd parties, something that Nintendo is unable to do. The Kyoto-based company hence ends up totally isolated and powerless to compete. The concept of an hybrid system is really attractive, Xenoblade 2 looks awesome but Switch won’t achieve much without a strong library of games. And as a matter of fact, Nintendo has no real ally at the moment. As it is, it can just satisfy Nintendo loyalists and casual gamers not yet addicted to Super Mario Run. What is at stake for the Big N now is whether it can keep its “big” for long or if it become a regular publisher, light years behind a leader even more hegemonic than in the PS2 era.

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Is the console wars over?

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In Les Pensées, French philosopher Pascal defines Boredom as man’s great misery. To fill this void within him, the human being deploys a vast array of distractions : sports, picking up girls, gaming and, war. From Pascal’s point of view, the latter is still a distraction on the scale of mankind. But long after Pascal, mankind does realize that war brings only more misery. Then it came up with another kind of war : the console wars, the only world conflict fought 24h/24h without any casuality.

We need to re-define the reasons of the console wars (except the fact the human are liable the compete with each other). I think it’s mostly the invasion or threat directed towards natural domains. For example, the temporary exclusivity of Star Ocean The Last Hope or Tales of Vesperia on X360 ravaged the previous generation and had dramatic consequences on XboxOne’s performance in Japan. Similarly to the invasion of a physical territory, “defenders” won’t stop fighting until the enemy isn’t annihilated.

Is such a thing still possible today? The latest “war effort” form Microsoft, the temporary exclusivity of Rise of the Tomb Raider, is a huge failure. It is likely that we won’t see a similar initiative before long, and that we are entering a new phase, a cold war based on communication, partnership and natural exclusives. No one asks for Halo on PS4 or Uncharted on XboxOne, nor do people want to play Tales of Berseria on a Microsoft system. The offer of games is perfectly rationalized. Besides, as gamers get older, they tend to be able to own several systems.

In Japan, the situation has evolved in the same way. By observing the recent Japanese best sellers charts, we see that offer are more and more segmented between 3DS/WiiU that are mainly focused on kids and the mainstream public, and PS4/PSVita which receive the majority of core gamer titles. There of course are exceptions like Monster Hunter, but this is a solid trend now. Despite its heavy presence in media, Genei Ibun Roku #FE (aka Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem) flopped at home, selling a mere 24’000 copies at launch. This example alone confirms the above-mentioned trend. In 2016, the situation of the market is even clearer : 3DS barely has half a dozen third party exclusives for core gamers besides mainstream/kiddy games like Yôkai Watch 3, all the other (sixty or so) are Playstation exclusives. Needless to say, WiiU has none. Games are therefore developed on adequate systems, for the right audiences. Developers can work serenely, publishers profit, everyone wins.

Which leaves one big question mark : NX. Might Nintendo’s new system(s) rekindle the console wars? Let’s consider the 3 different options. If NX is a home console, it will have quite a hard time competing with PS4 and XboxOne, and eventually bound to become a secondary system. The reality is that PS4 headstart is immense in terms of price (Sony already has leeway to drop the price temporarily), functionalities, technology (Playstation VR) and above all : games. PS4 has the largest array of exclusives since PS2 and odds of developers taking risks on NX is low.

If NX is portable, the problem is not the same but the conclusion is. If we consider that a portable NX takes off during 2017 (most likely scenario), there probably won’t be a Sony handheld competing. Everyone will be on the same “side”, so no conflict. In case of two simultaneous systems (I’d bet on that one), Nintendo can be a lot more dangerous and aggressive, so the flames of war might engulf the industry again. That said, common development would mean games visually inferior to PS4 exclusives.

I think we are for now, if not the console peace, at least in a console armistice. It might be eternal, or short-lived, depending on what Nintendo is planning for 2016-2017. True, some will say their first party games are better than those of the others, but there are good manufacturer games everywhere all that makes no sense. Some will still declare the games of other as worthless, but there is no time to waste when progress is at hand. Without reason to fight, we might as well fight boredom by enjoying our games.

Gamescom 2015, the show that missed the boat

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Gamescom was kind of the show that was destined to greatness. With 335’000 visitors in 2014 (including the mainstream public, not just the press like E3), it’s the most visited gaming event, and it made the headlines in 2014 with announcements like the (false) exclusivity of Rise of the Tomb Raider for XboxOne. In 2015, the German show just had to score again to establish itself as a major hub for European gaming, different enough from E3 to rival it. That did not happen as Cologne’s assets faded.

Microsoft was the only manufacturer to hold a conference and thus had to set the pace and give added value to Gamescom’s offering. But the reveal of Crackdown 3 or Halo Wars 2 is of little interest to the European consumers at large : far too classic to surprise or impress. Platinum Games’s Scalebound stands out but to me it is kind of a contradiction in itself. You definitely can’t pick a Heroic-Fantasy world with a cool dragon and stuff and mix it with a youngish dudebro to much like DmC’s Dante impostor.

And there is the Mafia III case. Biggest reveal of this Gamescom 2015, there had been at least one tweet per day before the show to inform us that, wow, Mafia III would be an exclusive reveal at Gamescom, of course don’t tell anyone… No seriously, Bethesda leaks during E3 were already ridiculous but 2K’s handling of this is beyond shameful.

Final Fantasy XV was supposed to be the big thing of this Gamescom, but the content shown was so little that it was barely noticeable. I won’t bother you again with the dismal Dawn trailer that tells us even less than the ones of 5 or 10 years ago. The only (and damn short) gameplay above actually informs us that 1/ the frame rate suffers hell (new thing, since it was fine in Duscae) 2/ Xylomids are back! Fantastic, it’s like saying GT7 will have tyres. We’re seriously far of the tremendous expectations FFXV triggers and the numerous questions raised by Duscae. Tabata has missed the boat despite promising a great ride, and that doesn’t bode well for FFXV development in general…

But not everything was terrible and this gameplay of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst makes no mistakes in enhancing the original experience to new generation heights : the inside of the buildings and the outside world, lightning effects are among to best ever shown on a console. The gameplay seems intact and the story darker, with more depth put into charcaters. As many reasons to save the date for it release on February 25th.

Let’s stay at DICE, the best developer on the planet from a technical point of view, with Star Wars Battlefront that presents its aerial gameplay with the usual grandeur and breathtaking style. This is very impressive and I do hope that making a dedicated mode means shifting to more accessible controls because BF4’s aerial vehicles are a real pain.

Kinda discreet showing for Metal Gear Solid V here. The trailer does have a good rhythm, lots of appealing sniper rifles, but reveals little in terms of story… That said, I had the impression I saw Psycho Mantis.

Well, that’s about it… no fresh sniper stuff for Black Ops III, everything was shown at E3, including multiplayer matches that traditionally are premiered at Gamescom. Cologne clearly lost something big here. The European event didn’t do much to promote the Japanese games on the showfloor (or is it the stupid journalists bent on their AAA games all day long?). KoeiTecmo had somewhat a big showing, with games like Samurai Warriors 4-II or Arslan Warriors (which is quite a big manga IP at the moment), and having the most striking reveal in announcing a brand-new Attack on Titan game for all Playstation platforms. Something that should matter for a show neighboring Japan-friendly countries, but nobody in the stupid European game establishment cares. Such a pity.

This Gamescom 2015 downright wasted its trump cards and potential, and went back to a status of “mini-E3”, raising concerns on Europe’s capability to set its own gaming pace without lazily receiving US trends.

PS4, Sony’s perfect plan

All the data from November, and especially NPD sales figures, confirm the extraordinary dynamic of the PS4. 2,1 million systems had been sold as for December 1st. This is the most massive launch in gaming history, and still it includes only 2 of the 3 major gaming markets. Of course, with 2 million systems sold until December 8, XboxOne is not far behind and we have to go into details to ascertain which is really in the lead.

First, PS4 sold more than XboxOne in November in the US, despite an unfavorable Black Friday and the popularity of the Xbox brand at home. Another crucial point is that PS4 is sold out EVERYWHERE. Amazon has no PS4 to sell before january, scalpers are making fortunes. In Europe right now, you have more chances to spot the Monster of the Loch Ness than a PS4. On the contrary, numerous testimonies show that XboxOne is in stock here and there in the US, and there are a small stock in the electronics shop near my working place. In also interesting to see the sales ratio of the launch titles : every single one sells more on PS4, including American sports games, and shooters (CoD Ghosts and BF4) despite ad campaigns done in association with Microsoft. In Europe, the gap is enormous, XboxOne dived 75% on second week, while PS4 sells more constantly since everyone landing on a shelf is taken at once. In Spain, PS4 sells thrice as fast as XboxOne. In Britain, land of the X360, the PS4 launch was far larger than for XboxOne. In Germany the week XboxOne released, the best-selling next-gen games were FIFA14 and Assassin’s Creed 4 on… PS4! Germans preferred staring at the PS4 box during one week rather than playing the games on XboxOne! (continued laughter) No need to elaborate on WiiU : with only 220K units sold in November in the US, it goes straight into retirement. It is rather funny that Sony sells that many PS4 with barely any TV ads (al least here in France) while Microsoft and Nintendo are flooding the channels with commercial, and yet not competing in stores. But you may know all that already. The big question is : why?

Didn’t XboxOne have the best line-up? Wasn’t Mario 3D World the “higest rated next-gen games”, as those pathetic fools like to proclaim? Wasn’t 3DS supposed to steal the spotlight with all its hits? First, consumers are not stupid enough to make their choice just he launch line-up. No, no one buys a 300, 400 or 500€ system just to play for the holidays. Gamers think in temporality : they examine the past, the present and the future before deciding.

Present, first. That is of course the launch line-up, where Sony loses, but not only. There is technology : PS4 is seen as more advanced because entirely dedicated to gaming. WiiU is out of the race, because you don’t sell current tech at for the price of the next. It’s also price, or more exactly quality/price ratio : gamers see far more value in PS4 than in WiiU. In communication, Sony has taken a clear advantage by refusing to compromise with casual gaming or general entertainment, when Nintendo keeps trying to appeal to moms and Microsoft killed it with their “TV, TV, TV!”. Sony (sincerely or not) has supported second hand games from the very beginning when Microsoft had vowed to destroy it. Indies are constantly put on the stage. In short, everything Sony has said was sweet to the early-adopters’ ear.

Future now. What will I play in 6 months, 1 year, 2 years? WiiU vanishes again, for third parties left for good and the line-up being scarce. Half a dozen of games will be no match against Destiny, DriveClub, The Witcher 3, The Order 1886, Titanfall, Star Wars Battlefront, Infamous Second Son, Quantum Break, Elder Scrolls Online, FFXV, Mirror’s Edge 2, Mass Effect 4, Kingdom Hearts 3, The Division, Thief, Metal Gear Solid 5 to mention a few. Between XboxOne and PS4, the battle is tight. Infamous, DriveClub, FFXIV, The Order, Deep Down and a distant Uncharted will face Titanfall, Quantum Break, Project Spark, Halo 5 et Sunset Overdrive.

Churchill used to say “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see”. That’s what the gamer will do, and this is the most important element. Who got the best exclusives? Who got the most? Where did I find the best experience? Nintendo is out once more : Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect, Battlefield, Uncharted, Naruto, Assassin’s Creed, Final Fantasy, Gran Turismo, Forza, Gears of War, Crysis, Remember Me, Metal Gear Solid, Halo, Skyrim, Tekken, Bioshock, Dead Space, Call of Duty, all those were on the on the other side. Mario and Zelda can’t do everything. Beyond that, Sony has several aces up its sleeve. Japanese games in general, because many small IPs that have a high degree of loyalty have deep roots in the Playstation ecosystem. You find Tales of, Atelier, Hyperdimension Neptune, Drakengard, Yakuza, Valkyria Chronicles, Persona, Disgea or more recent IPs like The Witch and The Hundred Knights, Toki Towa. That represents a limited number of fans, but it has some importance in terms of brand image. Similarly, there are what I call “image games” : Tearaway, Pupetter, Rain, The Unfinished Swann, Journey, Beyond among others. Those are not, I think, intended to sell any good (they don’t, actually), but are made to improve the brand image of the manufacturer. Because even if the player hasn’t purchased those games, he at least will have heard about it. He will then associate the positive feelings those games infer (risk-taking, originality, poetry, art…) with Sony’s brand image and it will help when will come the time to choose the new console. And there’s the behavior of the others : Nintendo and Microsoft have been pilfering the licenses of others to prevail, and by doing that they deceived the gamers. Microsoft has lied about Star Ocean 4, they lied about Tales of Vesperia. Nintendo lied about Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor’s Edge, they lied about Rayman Legends. Gamers remember that, why should they trust them again? No wonder Microsoft hesitates before launching XboxOne in Japan : the Japanese are outraged and ready to make them pay. Meanwhile, no PS3 exclusive has been temporary, never.

Sony took a hit with the PS3. They learned the hard way that you don’t win a generation just because you won the previous one. They worked tirelessly to make improvements in every department in order to prepare the future. They refined their strategy when their competitors were re-using old fashioned methods. Next-gen, which is now current-gen, isn’t over. It might have not even begun yet, but Sony has placed its pawns to put the others in check in every corner.

New details emerge on Tales of Vesperia for PS3

During Japan Expo (held in Paris earlier this month), some fan sites had the occasion to interview staff from NamcoBandai France, and even Hideo Baba himself, the producer of the Tales of series.

Kingdom of Tales (English at the bottom) got some answers from a NamcoBandai Partner rep. It was once more denied that Tales of Vesperia had any kind of exclusivity on Xbox360, but that some Tales of titles specifically developed for Japan make localization “longer” and “more difficult”. Tales of Vesperia on PS3 and Tales of Innocence are clearly of those, so their situation doesn’t improve dramatically. NamcoBandai assure that “they work to release games in the west as soon as possible”, which sounds good for future projects. 

The second interview, of Hideo Baba himself, makes me real mad. He points out that the simultaneous release of Tales of Vesperia for X360 had been «a burden» for the staff and that they therefore decided to «reduce that burden» but keeping the PS3 version in Japan. That means, my dear friends, that we PS3 players who are about to make them incredibly wealthy by buying wagons of Tales of Graces f and Tales of Xillia, are not worthy of their time, while Xbox players got all their care. Secondly, he thus says that the reason WE REAL FANS are not playing Tales of Vesperia lies in the little comfort of people WHO ACCEPTED MONEY TO STAB US IN THE BACK! Damn I would expect those guys to be freakin’ localizing the bloody game or die trying AS WE SPEAK if they want to atone for their treachery.

What to make of all this? Either there’s indeed Xbox exclusivity or they just don’t expect Tales of Vesperia to profit after the xbox version, which again leaves the question : why did Tales of Vesperia release on Xbox first? A shame no one had the idea to ask it… Either way, don’t give A PENNY to those miserly liars : buy all their games USED, except for Tales of.

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.