Going Gold

Going Gold
The Conventional Wisdom

Christian Ward | 6 May 2009 17:00
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Stop me if you think you've heard this one before.

  • Nobody buys games on the PSP (except for the 2.3 million copies of Daxter, to name just one).
  • The PS3 is a sales flop (except that it has sold more units at this stage of its life than the Xbox 360 had).
  • The Xbox 360 offers nothing unless you're an FPS fan (I don't even know where to start on this one).

Constant conversation and fanboyism in the games industry has a habit of turning statistical blips into cold, hard facts, the kind that can be brought up in a flame war to prove your point. There seems to be some inherent need of gamers to turn the industry into a great soap opera of good guys and bad guys, to pick sides and defend them. Oftentimes it seems that in many sections of the gaming media, news is not intended to inform but cherry-picked to defend a viewpoint.

It's a pattern that has been repeating itself for as long as I've been a gamer, a pattern born in the schoolyard and fed by insecurities. What's strange is that there are still so many places and people who should have outgrown these schoolyard fights long ago.

The latest piece of popular wisdom is this: So-called "mature" games don't sell on Nintendo consoles. This wisdom stems from the disappointing early sales of two games: Sega's MadWorld, which sold 66,000 copies in its first month of release in the US, and GTA: Chinatown Wars, which sold 89,000.

Both games were popular with critics and garnered a lot of attention from the gaming press prior to release, making their lack of success something of a puzzle to those who watch the market pressed right up against its shop window. The answer they have come up with is that these two games demonstrate that "mature" titles don't sell on Nintendo consoles.

By this logic, the sales failure of MadWorld proves something about the Wii that the success of a game like Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition does not. We are told that the market doesn't exist for mature games on the DS, without any regard to the potential for a game like GTA to create one, the way games like Liberty City Stories did for the PSP.

The sales of a game like MadWorld say precisely nothing about the state of "mature" games on the Wii. After all, no one said that the poor commercial showing of God Hand on the PS2, a violent action game from the same producer and many of the same staff, said anything about the state of the market for "mature" games on PS2. In fact, with the small sampling of mature titles that actually exist on Nintendo consoles, it seems rather futile to judge anything about the fate of mature titles on the Wii or DS. For every MadWorld there is a Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition; for every Chinatown Wars, a Call of Duty 4 that sold poorly in its first weeks but just kept on selling. Are these exceptions to the rule? How would we know? There aren't enough games out there to make a rule yet. The lesson from MadWorld might just as well be that black-and-white games don't sell in March.

There are, however, two lessons from the reaction to MadWorldand Chinatown Wars that we could learn, but that seem to have been overlooked.

The first is one we presumably should have learned a long time ago from games like Ico, Zack & Wiki and Psychonauts: internet hype does not equal sales. MadWorld is another example of the divergence between games journalism and the games people actually buy. To read about MadWorld in the specialist press, one would have thought it to be the biggest title of the year - but did anybody seriously expect MadWorld, an esoteric game from some of the most esoteric of esoteric developers, to be a smash hit? It has all the trappings of a game that wants to be a cult classic.

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