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.

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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.

What’s next for SquareEnix?

It can’t be argued that the sales of Final Fantasy XIII-2 are disappointing. SquareEnix now has to move on taking into account that its star franchise is not getting the support it used to, but where does it head for? 

First, there’s that strong inclination towards westernization : the Japanese (?) company is now focused on two AAA titles directed to the US and European market. I mean of course Tomb Raider and Hitman Absolution, games that the publisher intends to sell by millions to the numerous fans of the action/adventure genre. SquareEnix is so deeply involved in this approach that it has just ressurected the True Crime franchise to as a new project.

In Japan, players will have to make do with non-ambitious titles such as Theatrythm, Lord of Apocalypse, Bravery Default, Heroes of Ruin or the laughable Army Corps of Hell. Not to mention the childish Kingdom Hearts 3D, which pales in comparison with former entries of the series. Dragon Quest X should once more lure many Japanese fans, despite increasingly poorer content and an expensive subscription bill.

FF-centric news are no better : Type-0 looks more or less canned in the West, and there’s not been even a tiny bit of information on VersusXIII for a year. FFXIII-2 should get DLCs of unequal interest in the months to come.

SquareEnix, split between the promise of a Western EL Dorado and the financial security of immediately profitable spin-offs, seem to have lost sight of its fanbase, a scattered diaspora that doesn’t weight anymore in provisional budgets. Let’s hope the firm surprises us by E3 2012, or else someone will have to call Squaresoft’s funeral…

Review – Xenoblade

Best-rated RPG of this generation, Xenoblade was reason enough for me to consider getting a used Wii. But was it worth this investment?

The first contact with Xenoblade is disappointing. It’s nothing very serious, but the SD graphics and the clumsy character modeling hurts the HD-conditioned eye. However, when you get accustomed to it, you realize that Xenoblade deserves your praise : Monolith Software transcended the Wii hardware and achieved beautiful backgrounds. The developers also made wonders in the animation department because the ingrated a lot of small details that makes the whole thing astonishingly lively : just watch Sharla reload her bolt-action or cool it off and you’ll understand why Xenoblade, even though on Wii, is pleasure for the eye. It is also a pleasure to hear, sound & music are very cleverly chosen throughout the story, and the OST is pure joy.

The storyline, mixing revenge and theology, isn’t very complex or remarkable in itself, but it remains effective as “classic” JRPG story. Understand by this that it has this little thing you could feel in old Final Fantasy games, the one you can’t put into words but which makes a story truly unforgettable. The epic cutscenes clearly help : I was really stuck to my screen during the critical events and few games actually felt that great to watch. Not to mention the great care put in character design. Xenoblade has some of the most charismatic villains in JRPG history, the Mechons, cruel, cynical and unforgiving. The good guys are extremely nice as well : I especially fancy Sharla and her Barrett-like sniper rifle, Dunban is admirable, Fiora’s destiny is touching, Melia and Riki were a huge laugh.

Xenoblade is a bit more inconsistent when it comes to gameplay : the first half of the game is really easy. By leveling and completing quests, you become too strong for bosses (let alone normal enemies) and they just keep missing you! Because of that, it’s hard to appreciate the subtle battle system. But once you reach Valak mountains, the difficulty suddenly increases tenfold and from there it takes a great deal of patience to progress. At the end of the game, the difficulty crosses the borders of sanity : bosses need 10,20 or 30 tries to beat, even after doing hours of XP. Exhausted in both my body and mind, I threw the towel when I realized I could barely hurt the final boss. This schizophrenic difficulty setting is easily the weakest point of Xenoblade, because it’s nothing but frustration. However, the advantage of this is that you come to enjoy making strategies by mixing the various abilities of your characters, and make a correct use of the foreseeing capabilities of the Monado. Your sword, Monado, can tell you when one of your character is going to fall because of an enemy’s attack : up to you to cast a protective spell, heal your character or launch a preemptive attack to change the course of events. The IA of your allies is little weak, which is a shame, because they rarely use the best art to adapt the situation (i.e. the one you would want them to), and even wouldn’t do anything at times… The accessory system is also a little annoying, the best items available sometimes make your character look ridiculous. That said, some of the oufits are truly great, like Fiora’s Mecha-armor or this one of Melia’s above (^o^)/

But the most striking trait of Xenoblade is its IMMENSE world : every environnement takes hours to visit entirely and has tons of sidequests. The world in Xenoblade is roughly 2 or 3 times bigger than the one in FFXII! Monolith’s game takes exploration farer than any game I know : environnements are not just vast, they also have a complex design, with treacheous cliff paths and unbelievable slopes. Walking around in Xenoblade just feels awesome and you can’t stop exploring until you reach the end of the line. The world in a whole is extremly rich but yet very coherent, featuring different tribes, some impressive towns, a flurry of NPCs and a remarkable fauna.

The answer is clear : Xenoblade is worth buying at least a dozen of Wii. Colossal achievement in its story and art direction, it revives the classic JRPG genre and by that might simply be the best of this generation, even if it’s one of those games I couldn’t finish. Here you have it guys, hurry up and make Xenoblade a success!

2011, a year in games sales

That’s it guys, 2011 is finally over with the publication today of the final figures. Which games were on top? Which system won? Find out below.

/!\WARNING/!\ These charts are based on games released in 2011 ONLY, and due to changes on Vgchartz I had to browse through the entire software database so mistakes are possible. Tell me in the comments if you see one!

Japan (in millions)

  1. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) – 1.08
  2. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) – 1.04
  3. Monster Hunter 3G (3DS) – 1.02
  4. Final Fantasy Type-0 (PSP) – 0.75
  5. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3) – 0.72
  6. Rhythm Heaven Fever (Wii) – 0.63
  7. Tales of Xilia (PS3) – 0.62
  8. Final Fantasy Dissidia Duodecim (PSP) – 0.46
  9. Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) – 0.45
  10. Monster Hunter Freedom 3rd HD (PS3) – 0.43
  1. 3DS – 4.13
  2. PSP – 1.96
  3. PS3 – 1.47
  4. Wii – 0.94
  5. DS – 0.71
  6. PSVita – 0.4
  7. X360 – 0.11

Highlights :

  • 3DS flattened the competition

  • PS3 tops Wii for the first time

  • RPGs were dominant over others genres
  • No Western game charted
  • Ni no Kuni PS3 failed to sell
Despite falling quickly after launch, 3DS ruled the Japanese market this year thanks to its price cut, Monster Hunter and Mario games. However, Nintendo already dominant position on its new system leaves little room for 3rd party games. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in 2012, which would sadly make 3DS as irrelevant as Wii by 2013. PS3 was the top home system and outsold a collapsing Wii by 50%. PSVita sales plummeted in 2nd and 3rd week, leaving an uncertain future looming ahead for Sony’s new handheld. Of course, Xbox360 was non-existent.

United States (in millions)

  1. Modern Warfare 3 (X360) – 7.37
  2. Modern Warfare 3 (PS3) – 4.26
  3. Pokemon Black&White (DS) – 3.83
  4. Just Dance 3 (Wii) – 3.81
  5. Gears of Wars 3 (X360) – 3.3
  6. Battlefield 3 (X360) – 2.89
  7. Elder Scrolls V Skyrim (X360) – 2.6
  8. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) – 2.44
  9. Battlefield 3 (PS3) – 1.67
  10. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) – 1.63

No hardware figures yet :(

Highlights :

  • Modern Warfare 3 flattened the competition

  • HD systems were dominant

  • Shooters were dominant over others genres

Crushing victory for X360 in the US this year : already strong among gamers in its home market, Microsoft’s system is also starting to crunch aggressively in the casual market. X360 knew its biggest month ever last November and Kinect Adventures is the best-selling title of the system. Wii was almost invisible in its last year and surfaced only thanks to Just Dance 3 and Skyward Sword.

Europe (in millions)

  1. Modern Warfare 3 (PS3) – 3.41
  2. Modern Warfare 3 (X360) – 3.21
  3. Pokemon Black&White (DS) – 2.5
  4. Just Dance 3 (Wii) – 2.36
  5. Elder Scrolls V Skyrim (X360) – 1.48
  6. Battlefield 3 (PS3) – 1.45
  7. Battlefield 3 (X360) – 1.32
  8. Gears of Wars 3 (X360) – 1.26
  9. Uncharted 3 (PS3) – 1.24
  10. Professor Layton and the Last Specter (DS) – 1.16

No hardware figures yet :(

Highlights :

  • Modern Warfare 3 flattened the competition

  • HD systems were dominant

  • Shooters were dominant over others genres

  • No Mario game charted :)

Roughly the same as in the US, save that PS3 mattered more. 3DS was strong but had less success than elsewhere and, more than anywhere else, relied on Mario games to sell. With a low proportion of core gamers buying the system, 3DS may be weak until the next holiday season kicks off. Xenoblade was acclaimed by the critics and made the news, but failed to move important volumes (160K, which is nevertheless outstanding for a JRPG in Europe).

Worldwide (in millions)

  1. Modern Warfare 3 (X360) – 11.95
  2. Modern Warfare 3 (PS3) – 9.72
  3. Just Dance 3 (Wii) – 6.76
  4. Gears of Wars 3 (X360) – 5.16
  5. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) – 5.14
  6. Battlefield 3 (X360) – 5.0
  7. Elder Scrolls V Skyrim (X360) – 4.95
  8. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) – 4.46
  9. Battlefield 3 (PS3) – 4.1
  10. Uncharted 3 (PS3) – 3.29

No hardware figures yet :(

Highlights :

  • Modern Warfare 3 flattened the competition

  • HD systems were dominant

  • Shooters were dominant over others genres

Nintendo showed that they can achieve nothing without their licenses : they rushed the development of 3DS Mario games to make them ready for Xmas and lift the alarming sales of their new handheld. There dependency on casual gaming lead to a software drought on Wii. Meanwhile, innovation, variety and new IPs have been almost exclusively delivered by PS3 and X360, which logically lead throughout the year. However, Sony is also recycling games on Vita, so they share a part of the blame. 2011 also shows casual gamers starting to shift from Wii to Kinect (at least in the US).

2012 should see the release of WiiU, but Nintendo’s eerie silence on their new system doesn’t bode well : the manufacturer is probably having a hard time convincing 3rd parties to develop for it. With no significant evolution from Wii and a higher price, casual gamers might also ignore it to turn themselves towards a cheaper X360+Kinect or an already (too) much casualised 3DS. WiiU is the only question mark this year : Vita will fail in the West and X360/PS3 should continue to be the leading systems in pretty much every aspect.

Xenoblade gaminglive and first impressions

This one is kind of late, because I recorded in early september and just finished editing. The thruth is that I went to Japan a few days after recording and came back with Hyperdimension Neptune Mk2. So Xenoblade had to wait. 

I know it’s a little rude, given how famous Xenoblade has become thanks to top marks and wide coverage of Operation Rainfall, but I personnally. The new RPG from Monolith has lot of qualities : graphically speaking, the overall design and the wonderful environments makes you forget the awful feeling of playing in SD. Day and night, as well as weather chage in real time, the characters’ animations are extremely detailed, music and sound are near perfect, making Xenoblade a truly immersive experience. 

However imho, gameplay lacks depth : whatever the character, you input the same skills ever and ever, with sometimes Shulk seeing a comrade’s death in the future, making it possible to prevent it. Excellent at first, I find this system a little vague as you progress in the game. Add to this a difficulty set too low (I hardly had any problems against bosses), and you have why imho Xenoblade won’t set new standards or become the new reference for JRPGs. 

Xenoblade still has a classic but powerful scenario, the most immense world of any JRPG in game history and a flurry of sidequests which makes it a lot of unrivaled pleasure for dozens of hours.