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GDC: How important review scores are to game sales

Mar 09
// Dale North
In a morning GDC session packed full of interesting game sales trend data, EEDAR's Geoffrey Zatkin shared some research on how important game review scores are for sales. While it would stand to reason that highly rated ...

GDC: EEDAR's five universal truths for top-rated games

Mar 09
// Dale North
Research firm EEDAR tracks just about every quantifiable attribute of videogames and then mines that data to help their clients, which includes developers and publishers. In a GDC session on how games get reviewed, Erik Brudv...

Divnich Divines: Do Japanese Vita sales spell trouble?

Jan 14 // Maurice Tan
"The lifeline of any new hardware comes down to the software," Divnich points out. "If Sony can launch with strong first and third-party content, I don't see any cause for concern with the Vita. Their keystone title Uncharted: Golden Abyss is already getting rave reviews; a title that is more targeted towards the Western markets than Eastern ones. "The Western and Eastern markets operate very differently, and success in one doesn't always translate to success in the other -- the same is true of failure. It would be erroneous for consumers to take any positive or negative sentiment coming out of Japan for the Vita and apply it to the Western markets." Since sales in the Eastern markets are not a good indicator for the potential of the new handheld's success in the West, we can stop worrying about those Japanese sales numbers. But what about the potential of the hardware itself? And will the Vita need a price drop relatively shortly after its launch, similar to the 3DS, in order to stay afloat? "I certainly wouldn't write off the Vita so quickly," Divnich says. "From the titles I've played at various PR events, I am quite impressed with the technologies and capabilities of the Vita hardware. The hardware really does give third-party developers a blank canvas to create some truly amazing and innovative products for the Vita platform. "I don't necessarily believe that pricing is a concern at the moment. Again, it really comes down to the quality of the software and while what happened with the 3DS early on was concerning, I think we can all agree that the slow start of the 3DS was primarily the result of the software line-up, and not the price point of the hardware. Even when the 3DS dropped to $169, it still didn't move and it wasn't until a few strong first-party titles came out that the 3DS hardware began to take-off." Divnich's comments touch on four important aspects: the strength of the software line-up, third-party developers, pricing, and developers embracing the hardware. As Dale has stated as well, the software line-up for the 3DS was initially lacking and after there were a lot more quality titles to choose from, it started selling better. The PlayStation Vita's launch line-up is looking pretty strong, and several big IPs -- both from first and third-party studios -- are already in the pipeline for a Vita release in the months and years ahead. Besides, you know there will be a Vita iteration of any Sony IP that did well on the PSP.  (God of War, anyone?) As Divnich points out, the pricing is not the biggest issue for a handheld as long as the quality of the software supports it. Perhaps none of the launch titles stir your nether regions right now, but unless you hate handhelds, there's a good chance you'll slowly start to rationalize the price of entry as more games from your favorite genres are released. It's the same process we all go through whenever there is a new console or handheld. The question is how long that process will take for the Western market as a whole. So the price is not as important as the software that supports it and the potential for a strong software line-up from both first-party and third-party studios is looking good. What about the hardware? The Vita's marriage of touch controls with traditional controls certainly allows for innovative new ways of play. Whether we'll see a large amount of games that will actually offer truly new kinds of gameplay that will blow us away, as opposed to just implementing some unnecessary touch elements to what could otherwise simply be a shinier PSP game, that's something time will have to tell. Another aspect we shouldn't overlook is the PSN store. This gives the Vita access to a more matured digital distribution platform besides retail, and adds to the total amount of available software to support the handheld on the whole, but it also has the potential to make it easier for popular mobile games to make the jump to the PSN store down the line. Although some mobile games are fine as they are with touch controls alone, some others could definitely benefit from some analog sticks and buttons. An entire generation of kids might be growing up with mobile and iPad games right now, but that doesn't mean people won't want to play an even better version on a handheld for a few bucks more. I don't think any of us are really craving an Angry Birds Vita, but a Vita version of Chaos Rings for a few bucks more? Sure! As long as proper developer support and forward thinking on Sony's side allows for it, the tired argument of "mobile vs. handheld" may even cease to exist in the near future. For now, the outlook for the PlayStation Vita is still pretty positive. Let's not focus too much on those continuous weekly Japanese sales numbers from now on, and just see where we are a year from now.

[In Divnich Divines, EEDAR Vice President and videogame analyst Jesse Divnich traverses the bogs of sales data, hype, and good old fashioned game geekery to give you his two cents on hot topics in the games industry] The...


EEDAR: 51% of gamers bought DLC this past year

Oct 19
// Dale North
Wow. I didn't know this DLC thing was catching on. I knew that everyone was making DLC, but I thought we were all just letting it float by like trash in a river. Oh, did I say that out loud?  I'm kidding! Kind of. There'...

Divnich Divines: What makes an original IP successful?

Sep 23 // Maurice Tan
Divnich: "There are literally thousands of factors that determine whether an original IP will fail or succeed at retail, but the majority of factors can be broken down into four categories.1.  How many consumers will be interested and capable of purchasing my game (Market Potential)?2.  Will consumers enjoy it (Quality)?3.  How will you tell your consumers you exist (Marketing)?4.  What are my competitors doing (Competition)?"The better you position yourself within those categories, the higher the likelihood you will succeed. However, one doesn't necessarily need to exceed expectations in each category to realize market success; neither does focusing only on one category lead to success. It is always a careful balancing act, since trying to exceed in all categories comes at a high cost, but we can look at a few examples to see how these four factors play a role in a game's success."  "Let's first start with Rise of Nightmares, a Kinect required game. Currently, there are about 6 million active Kinect consumers in the market (note: there is a difference between a total install base and those actively purchasing titles on said platform). Of these 6 million active consumers, likely only 50% would be interested in a Mature rated Kinect game, bringing the total market potential to about 3 million units. This means that even if Rise of Nightmares would end up being the best Kinect game ever, had an extravagant marketing campaign and faced no competition, the total potential for sales is 3 million units. When you do take into account the game's quality, marketing, and competitive factors, you end up with sales expectations well under 1 million units. "Homefront is another great example. While many considered Homefront to be an "average" modern shooter, a lot of people were surprised that it has sold over 3 million units to date, but on paper it completely makes senses. We know that Call of Duty sells nearly 30 million units per release, making the market potential 30 million consumers. Once you discount Homefront for its review score and marketing (relative to the market leader Call of Duty), it isn't a far stretch to assume Homefront would produce 3 million units. "Lastly, one extreme example is Demon's Souls which had virtually no marketing, was a new original IP, launched in the holiday season where competition is at its highest, but achieved one of the highest reviews scores of a PS3 title. Total sales to date are roughly 800k in the Western markets, but again, on paper it makes sense. Upon its release the total active PS3 install base was only 20 million consumers, of which only 4 million would be interested in an RPG game. Once you discount the lack of marketing, the fierce competition and a slight discount because it wasn't a "perfect" RPG, 800k in sales begins to make sense." "One large factor I've neglected to talk about is how original IPs (whether new or existing) become successful in the first place. It all has to do with being the first to excel at taking advantage of a new technology or software feature. Every new hardware launch (or major software update) opens up new features to developers and if we look back the last 15 years, we see a pattern where the top brands of today where the first to exploit those new features successfully. "Why did the Call of Duty series catapult in sales between Call of Duty 3 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare? Because it was one of the first titles to take advantage of the new Xbox Live and PSN multiplayer features. Halo, the first great shooter game to bring first-person shooters to the consoles; Wii Fit, the first fitness game to take advantage of a new technology (Wii Balance Board); Guitar Hero, plastic guitar peripherals; Grand Theft Auto 3, first great 3D sand-box game; Just Dance, the first to incorporate licensed music into a rhythm based Wii game. The list can go on and on." "A Kingdom for Keflings is another great example. In November of 2008, Microsoft updated its Xbox Live platform to allow the use of avatars inside games. By no coincidence, at the same time A Kingdom for Keflings was released, which made use of the new in-game avatar feature and despite moderate review scores (76/100) it is one of the top 20 selling XBLA games of all time. I simply have to ask myself, would A Kingdom for Keflings have been as successful without the in-game avatar feature and the marketing power Microsoft supported it with as a result? The answer, of course, is no. "This same rule applies across all entertainment as well. Take the movie Avatar for example. If Avatar was launched today, would it have achieved similar box office success? Keeping in mind that all the other 3D titles have already launched (e.g., Piranha 3D, StreetDance 3D, Disney movies, etc.)? Of course not. What about if Avatar launched in 2009, as it did, but did not make use of 3D technology? Again, no. Avatar was successful for one reason, it was a great movie that made use of a new technology that had a high market size potential. "And once the market leaders are established, it is very difficult for second entrants to surpass the incumbent brand. That is why Guitar Hero outsold Rock Band 2 to 1, despite Rock Band achieving higher critical acclaim, and why Call of Duty will continue to outsell Battlefield (on consoles) throughout this generation." "For a recent presentation in San Jose on Cloud Gaming, I went back and labeled each new IP as launching early, mid or late in a technology cycle, and to no surprise, 30% of new IPs that launched early in a technology cycle were successful, 9% if launched mid and only 4% if they launched late. "There is nothing wrong with following the status quo, especially when the size of the potential market is quite large (e.g., modern day shooters), but if publishers and developers truly want to rocket a new original (or even existing) IP into the sales stratosphere, it is always best to be the first to be great at exploiting a new game feature or technology. "I think we'll see this phenomenon in practice quite soon with the launch of the iPhone 5. For the last year the top 25 in the App Store has pretty much remained constant, but I bet that within 3 months of the iPhone 5's launch, we'll see a huge shake-up in the ranks as games that take advantage of whatever new features become available will skyrocket into success. Remember the whole "Retina display" that the iPhone 4 offered? Games that offered this new HD "Retina" display quality rocketed to the top of the charts.  You can bet the same will occur with the iPhone 5 and whatever new gaming features it opens up to developers." Divnich's insights provide a clear picture for those of us who complain loudly whenever a new IP tries and fails at retail. But whether we like it or not, games are still entertainment products bound largely to the same business rules and practices seen in other branches of entertainment. You have your audience, your budget, and your good old marketing mix to considera alongside a wealth of other factors. That doesn't mean there is no room for a great and original IP, however. It just means there are key factors to consider if you actually want to sell enough units to start a new franchise. If we take a look at Minecraft using Divnich's four categories, it becomes a bit clearer how it was able to become a runaway success before the game is actually finished. Minecraft had little to no practical competition, benefited from a savvy business model that in turn created a wealth of word-of-mouth buzz that spread like wildfire, has an audience that is willing to forgive its "shortcomings" in quality (selling in alpha and beta stages) due to the enjoyment of the product in their hands -- and a promise of more to come -- and can be played properly on most PCs. Perhaps Notch didn't think of this beforehand, but his game fits the requirements for competition, marketing, quality, and market potential which can help explain how he was able to sell millions of copies of an unfinished game. Compare that to Enslaved, which was positioned in a genre where people are less willing to forgive the slightest shortcomings, launched at a terrible time with a lot of competition from established action/adventure franchises, suffered from a lackluster marketing strategy that didn't capitalize properly on the game's strengths that set it apart, and failed at retail despite critical praise. With these tools in hand, we can still lament and complain about a lack of original IPs because this is the Internet. But the next time a publisher, developer or studio complains about the state of the industry with regard to new IPs, while in retrospect their decisions and strategy may have doomed their previous games' success at retail from the start, we can be armed with more than just a snappy comment and a funny picture.

[In Divnich Divines, EEDAR Vice President and videogame analyst Jesse Divnich traverses the bogs of sales data, hype, and good old fashioned game geekery to give you his two cents on hot topics in the game industry] It se...

Divnich Divines: Do free games make business sense?

Aug 07 // Maurice Tan
While that might be surprising in itself, the firm also found that consumer interest for other titles within the same franchises was increased in the period these games were offered for free. When marketing budgets are bloating the cost of AAA projects more and more, just to fight for the average consumer's precious bit of conscious elaboration of content, perhaps making a certain game free might end up making (or saving) you more money than you might expect. For this edition of Divnich Divines, the question for EEDAR's Jesse Divnich is: "What are the benefits of offering a game for free?" Divnich: "Unlike ten years ago, the consumer of today has a copious amount of choices when it comes to interactive entertainment and as such, traditional forms of video games must transform itself to reflect new business strategies to keep the traditional gamer engaged.  "As we noted in our July Retail Report, the PlayStation Welcome Back program produced an interesting by-product in that the free titles offered actually increased the purchase intent of their sequels, even when a sequel wasn’t available (i.e., Dead Nation 2). This has led to an idea of sequence, something that is prominent in other entertainment sectors and something missing from ours. "Movies, one of the more mature entertainment sectors, seems to have perfected this idea of sequence. "When a movie is first released, it stays in theatres for about a month where it generates the majority of its revenue (at the highest average price per user). Five months afterwards, the same movie is launched on Pay-Per-View, a month later it comes to DVD with some bonus features, and finally after a few years, when all possible revenue generation has been exploited, it lands on network television, which is free for anyone to watch." "In video games, however, this idea of sequence is nearly lacking. A game goes from premium retail shelve space, to the bargain bin, and finally out the door for ever. Sure, in a lot of cases we see a digital release on XBLA or PSN, but the content is identical and generally parodies the current retail price point. In other cases, we do see a 'Game of the Year' addition that includes all previously released DLC, but that is generally reserved for the top 1% of titles and of course still holds some form of pricing barrier. "What I believe the movie industry understands better than video games is the free sequence and its power to draw new consumers into a brand by offering no barriers of entry. A recent example is Harry Potter (or any big AAA movie series). Over the last few weeks the first two Harry Potters were made available on network television, free for anyone to watch, and while Warner Bros. received some compensation from the network, it was minimal compared to the hype and excitement it built around the new Harry Potter movie in theatres, and of course the likelihood it drew in new consumers into the Harry Potter universe, who would eventually spend  $20+ to see the newest release in theatre. "The people at Rovio understand this 'free' concept well. In a recent statement, Rovio set a goal to get over '1 billion' fans for Angry Birds. Nowhere did Rovio mention some sort of revenue target -- for good reason. Rovio understands that regardless if someone pays for Angry Birds or they receive it for free, each new set of eyeballs adds value to the Angry Birds brand. That brand value can then generate several different revenue streams, whether it be through ancillary items (plush dolls, t-shirts, movie licenses, etc.), word of mouth that brings in new (and full paying) consumers, or through generating revenue on future releases (Angry Birds 2 or the season packs)." "The results of the Welcome Back program are crystal clear, offering a free game for a limited period of time increases the awareness, engagement, and excitement around other products within the brand’s hierarchy (i.e., sequels) and if a publisher could plan a free limited time release about six to eight weeks prior to the next iterations release, the data would suggest that it would positively impact sales of the next iteration (at the benefit of a full price). "I've seen arguments where such a 'standard' would only discourage the purchase of new releases because it creates an ecosystem where consumers could simply 'wait for the free release', much like some do when it comes to a movie as it sequences to network television. The truth is, however, that if someone is truly willing to wait 2+ years to play your game, they are unlikely to have ever purchased it to begin with. I simply do not foresee any type of lose-lose scenario for game publishers or consumers. "If I had to provide an accurate but rather harsh description of the mass consumer as they relate to video games, it would be equivalent to an adult with ADD on the Las Vegas Strip, and the casino with the biggest flashing neon sign wins. Oh and I am sure there is no coincidence that aside from the word 'casino' the second most advertised word in neon on the strip is the word 'free'. "I've been very vocal on this strategy to publishers and I can only hope one takes a leap of faith and experiments with these ideas. "Free, it works." How do you look at games that become free for a (short) period? Do they remind you of IPs you had completely forgotten about? Do you simply grab a game purely because it's free while would never have considered paying for it, even though you know you'll probably still never play it? Or do you sometimes find a gem of a game that you want more of in the future, realizing you never would've known it was actually that good if it hadn't been offered for free?

[In Divnich Divines, EEDAR Vice President and videogame analyst Jesse Divnich traverses the bogs of sales data, hype, and good old fashioned game geekery to give you his two cents on hot topics in the game industry] At a t...

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