Entries from May 2008 ↓

The Olympic games, another old man criticises video games

The average Olympic contestant is 24, the average Olympic viewer is 46 and the average International Olympic Committee member is 61.7. And their president, 66 year old Jacques Rogge, is worried about the competition from video games:  “Kids are attracted to visual, interactive forms of communication. It’s not going to be easy for sport to counter that.”

But, worryingly, he then goes on to say: “You won’t hear me saying sport is not fun – it is. But it requires austerity and discipline. The answer is achievement. You will never achieve in a video game. It is not really success.” But, presumably he thinks that sports are. And this demonstrates just how out of touch with reality he is.

To me a top professional video gamer, like Jonathan Wendel, is exactly the same as an Olympian. They take a mundane entertainment that we can all do and reach a stratospherically higher level that only a handful of people on the planet can achieve. They inspire by taking the human condition to rarefied places.

But surely being an Olympian or a professional gamer is not achievement or real success. It is just taking a form of entertainment to the nth degree. Real achievement or success is raising chidren to be good citizens, building a business from nothing, serving your community well or advancing an area of human knowledge.

And the Olympics lost all credibility when they started dishing out half a dozen gold medals to one person. For swimming.

Great Ubisoft interview

Ubisoft are probably the best all round game publisher at the moment so it is great to get insight into their inner workings. This interview is of Laurent Detoc, Ubisoft North America president and appeared in SFGate.com.

Their emphasis on organic growth is fantastic. Far better to make something exactly right than to buy something someone else has made: “I don’t think we will focus on acquisitions unless it makes sense for us we’re not a reactive company, we’re builders.”

Casual games contributed an impressive quarter of Ubisoft’s revenue: “We feel that’s a good opportunity for us. People want games that are more accessible and less intimidating. We have been exploring a lot in that space and we think we will have an advantage as that group gets bigger.”

Though casual games are cheaper to develop than hardcore games they still need marketing. Zero marketing = zero sales. “The margins on these games are good when you look at development, but it takes a lot of marketing dollars. It’s like packaged goods. You have to think about marketing, retail space, branding.”

And as for the Wii, Ubisoft have the same problem as other non Nintendo developers with it generating just 10% of their revenue.

All fascinating stuff, especially the marketing needs of casual games, something many casual publishers do not appreciate.

Eight news stories 22.5

Is XaviX where Nintendo get their Wii ideas from?

Baseball (2004), Bowling (2004), Bass Fishing (2006), Tennis (2004) and Golf (2005) all with their own motion sensing gesture controllers. Then there is Eyehand (which looks a bit like Minority Report), Lifestyle Manager, the J Mat (2005) and Powerboxing. A lot of excellent, innovative stuff.

As you can see these considerably predate their Nintendo Wii equivalents.

They are proud of their innovation “In the eleven years since inception, SSD has remained faithful to its original founding spirit, and has consistently developed new products and new element technologies that possess both immediate as well as potential value.” And very ambitious: “We will also be expanding our reach into information, communications, healthcare, industry, and other business sectors worldwide.”

XaviX are based in Kusatsu Japan which is right next to Kyoto, where Nintendo is. So obviously Nintendo must be very aware indeed of XaviX, their products and their technology. It would be interesting to know if they pay license fees to Xavix to use these ideas. And looking at XaviX products might give us some very good clues as to what Nintendo will do next.

Violent games cut crime

Yes it’s true, violent games cut crime. The exact opposite of what Hillary Clinton, Gordon Brown, Jack Thompson and a myriad of opportunist ignorant journalists have been saying. This is the finding of Patrick Kierkegaard of the University of Essex in report in the International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry.

“Violent crime, particularly among the young, has decreased dramatically since the early 1990s, while video games have steadily increased in popularity and use.” “With millions of sales of violent games, the world should be seeing an epidemic of violence. Instead, violence has declined.” Obvious truths that politicians and journalists choose to ignore.

“However, it is possible that certain types of video game could affect emotions, views, beahviour and attitudes”. “Similar to books, video games permeate a person’s life and will likely interact with numerous other factors”.  It’s nice to see someone at last realising that games are just another form of popular entertainment media. It is about time that politicians and journalists also realised this.

I have always thought that games act as a catharsis, as way for people to let off steam. This is suppored by anecdotal evidence in Grand Theft Childhood and by this new report. But obviously the effect of games on people can be complex, depend on a whole load of other factors and vary widely between individuals. In his report Patrick Kierkegaard says: “Computer games can, of course, lead to violent behaviour under certain circumstances – such as triggering aggression in certain people that are already predisposed to violence.” It seems that the door is open for a lot more research.

A very interesting point is that this report has been very lightly covered by the British media. If it had concluded the opposite it would have been all over the front pages.


April NPD

NPD sales figures for America, the reporting period includes 5 days of GTA IV sales.

714k – Nintendo Wii
415k – Nintendo DS
193k – Sony PSP
188k – Microsoft Xbox 360
187k – Sony PlayStation 3
124k – Sony PlayStation 2

So the Nintendo steamroller continues, what is frightening is that the 714K is supply constrained. If they could have made more they would have sold more, how long till every home in America has one? It is statistically impossible to continue for ever at this rate unless people start buying multiple Wiis per household. So just when will Wii sales hit the brick wall? Not soon because we have the Wii fit phenomenon which reaches a whole new demographic.

 The PSP is having a major resurgence but it doesn’t have much to do with games, it has become the low cost media player of choice.

The Sony PS3 figures are excellent, especially when you compare price. This reflects the fact that the PS3 is at long last starting to be worth buying as a gaming machine with the catalogue of games beginning to look half decent. And the PS2 just keeps on selling. It is a great pity that Microsoft couldn’t (or wouldn’t) buy the chip rights to the original Xbox to keep it going as part of a two product lineup, the results would have been very interesting.

And Microsoft must be wondering what they have to do to win.Their machine is the best value for money, has a far better game lineup than the PS3 and a vastly superior online offering in Live. Even with GTA IV the exclusive content isn’t giving them a higher attatch rate than for the PS3. It is getting increasingly difficult for their marketing people to construct good news stories. Which brings us to the software sales figures.

1.85m – GTA IV (360)
1.12m – Mario Kart (Wii)
1.00m – GTA IV (PS3)
360k – Wii Play (Wii)
326k – Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
224k – Gran Turismo 5: Prologue (PS3)
202k – Pokemon MD: Explorers of Darkness (DS)
202k – Pokemon MD: Explorers of Time (DS)
152k – Guitar Hero III (Wii)
141k – Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360)

Where the big surprise is Mario Kart, released on the same day as GTA IV and slipping under everyone’s radar, except for the 1.12 million people who bought it.

What is for sure is that gaming is immensely strong as it continues it’s push into mainstream.

Sony Playstation 2 outsells Playstation 3

Sony’s full year financial results, for the period ending March 31st, 2008 make interesting reading. During this period they sold 13.73 million Playstation 2s and 9.24  million Playstation 3s. This, possibly, tells us some or all of the following.

  • The Playstation 2 to 3 transition has not been the bloodbath that the PSX to PS2 transition was.
  • Publishers who desert platforms early in the transition lose out.
  • HDTV is maybe not yet such a critical USP.
  • The PS3 is still far too expensive for a lot of people.
  • Current generation consoles, the Xbox 360 and PS3, are eventually going to be a lot bigger than people think when eventually all these people upgrade.
  • There is more to the games industry than Europe, America and Japan. A lot of these PS2 sales will be in less developed economies.
  • Presuming that the whole PS2 operation is now vastly profitable the PS3 losses are a lot worse than they look as they are being subsidised by the PS2.
  • Maybe the PS3 catalogue of games doesn’t yet contain enough system sellers.

To look at this from the publishing side we have Electronic Arts’ figures for the same period. They show PS2 revenue at $601million against PS3 revenue of $284 million. So more than double. And I wonder how accurately all of this was predicted by the analysts.