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Posted by Sunjammer

So here’s a thing that’s been bothering me for a while.

PlayStation Vita sales struggling in Europe

Comparing Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft Black Friday Sales

Nintendo’s Wii U sales struggle

3DS sales struggle in recent weeks

My perception of this is probably somewhat skewed but I’ll talk about this anyway: I think for as long as I can remember, every system launch has been paired with a games press that is, it seems, real happy to be discussing hardware sales numbers. I cannot fathom why this information is of any value to consumers, and indeed if it isn’t actually detrimental.

The most recent pair of “ailing” products (they are not ailing) are the PlayStation Vita and the Wii U. System sales are one thing, but then we get into a lack of exclusives, or exclusives going multi-plat. I can’t help but think that any product fresh out of the gates will have a challenge ahead of it to build a user base, and that everyone involved in that product is taking a risk.

I think the games press is hurting the industry by reporting so gleefully on the failings of a platform.

It’s not even a particularly wide leap to make; If everybody says a system sells poorly or lacks value, then less people are going to invest in it. The relationship in terms of marketing is practically 1:1. It is, however, “marketing” over which the platform holder or their third parties hold little immediate agency. Building a user base is pretty tough business.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s perfectly laudable to report on the Wii U crashing, or Diablo 3′s connection problems and so forth. But reporting on those things are not directly counterproductive to solving those issues.

I’m torn. And maybe there just isn’t a good way around this.

I’m doing a lot of game development these days, and it takes a long, long time to finish something. I mean really finish. As in having something up to Nintendo scratch, and you just know it’s going to be fantastic for everyone who plays it. I’d even say you can’t realistically meet that goal unless the stars are perfect and you have some substantial savings. Then there’s the question about profitability.

Here’s my (possibly naive) business plan.

  1. Within a reasonable budget, make a game that encapsulates the essence of what I want to create (realizing that there will always be more things I want to do with it)
  2. Put it up for sale in a fun, stable state.
  3. View user comments and reviews.
  4. Spend income on updates to add content and fix any objective flaws.

This ties into another plan, which is to never do a title update simply for bug fixes. Every update should include a content update of some sort. This both to reward users for keeping up to date (with more than just bug fixes), but also to keep myself lean and mean (to myself).

If I got consistent press immediately after launch about how few features my game had, or how poorly it ran on device x, I’d likely have less sales, and less opportunity to rectify. The product would just die, and my reputation as a developer would be tarnished.

I guess I just believe a craftsman should be given the opportunity to redeem himself for his mistakes, and by reporting on ailing sales, I feel the games press is not affording the platform holders that opportunity. It looks like the games press meddling with fundamental platform marketing, and it stinks to see the apparently joyful way that information propagates through the media.

I think the press should at the very least be considerate of what they publish in terms of sales statistics, and consider the wider effects of such information elevated to such prominence. I’d expect something like Gamesindustry.biz to report on this stuff. I have no idea why Eurogamer or IGN believes the gaming consumer should give a fuck.

Posted by wemibelec90

It most likely does have an effect. I've known a few people who refuse to buy handhelds because all the talk around them is always gloomy. They think they shouldn't bother investing in a dead platform; unfortunately, this doesn't really help them flourish. I also can't really blame developers/publishers for not wanting to spend time and money developing games for such small install bases. It's the never ending paradox - a system needs good games to survive but good games aren't made for poor selling systems.

At the same time, news outlets for games have to report on this numbers. It's their jobs, to give us the information we want. If they didn't tell us these things or outright lied, we wouldn't trust them to report on other things truthfully. You make a good point of outlets not immediately condemning a system tonally when talking about poor sales figures and I agree with that. To be fair, though, it's not the outlets' faults.

Posted by Sunjammer

@wemibelec90: Yeah it's difficult to rationalize any perspective on it really.. The games press exists to report on the industry, but the press also exists because the industry is healthy. It seems like there needs to be some sort of TLC between the two, or some "gentleman's agreement". Heck, I don't know. But it bugs me an awful lot these days.

I'm a multiplat guy anyway, I buy all the systems and all the games and I want everything to be healthy and nice, so consumers have lots of choice and developers have lots of work. "Picking on the new guy" seems like a Bad Thing.

Posted by FierceDeity

Sure, I can see how reporting on bad sales can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But to play devil's advocate, I think it's useful, as a consumer, to know if console x or y is going to have larger install base and hence a presumably larger amount of game development dedicated to it.

Posted by Sunjammer

@FierceDeity: Well that's concerning ;-(

Posted by bushpusherr

Poor sales lead to price cuts, could potentially lead to a lack of development efforts from third parties, or worse could foreshadow a total lack of support from the top if it does poorly enough. Of course I want to know this shit before shelling out a ton of money on something.

Edited by Sunjammer

@bushpusherr: But you do see that makes you part of the problem too?

For the record, I'm one of those that held off on my Wii U purchase to see how it's going, and the press has not been particularly comforting. When I now read about how shitty sales are resulting in worse sales, it makes me wonder how complicit I am in that, being one of the, er, waiters.

Posted by algertman

Gaming press has a turned a blind eye toward Vita. Mostly because it is dead.

Posted by bushpusherr

@Sunjammer said:

@bushpusherr: But you do see that makes you part of the problem too?

For the record, I'm one of those that held off on my Wii U purchase to see how it's going, and the press has not been particularly comforting. When I now read about how shitty sales are resulting in worse sales, it makes me wonder how complicit I am in that, being one of the, er, waiters.

You don't owe Nintendo anything. They failed to impress you ( and a lot of people ) enough to push more units. That isn't anyone's fault but their own.

Posted by Sunjammer

@bushpusherr: I don't? Hm.

I always thought of games as an even trade. I keep them alive, they give me things I love. If either side breaks their part of the bargain, it falls apart. I think the "hard core consumers" if you will, owe the industry a certain vote of confidence. It doesn't make sense to me to not buy a system and then be pissed it's not selling well, and then be pissed it's not getting better games, service or more exclusives. Games platforms are services, they are pretty much desperate for income to improve.

I think I look at platforms as different from the games that run on them. I don't owe a developer I've never heard of a damn thing, and I certainly don't owe a developer of poorly received games any clemency just to "give them a break". For games systems though, that's a little tricky. I think you'd have to be a pretty jaded duder to look at the Wii U and not think okay, there's some potential here. Fact of the matter is, nothing has really delivered on that potential yet, and there are system stability issues that hold it back. All these things are true, and good reasons to hold off on your purchase.

But I don't think simply trusting the herd is good enough a reason to not buy it yourself if you have the itch to pick up a unit. "I really want one, but nobody else does, that makes me feel uncomfortable!" That just strikes me as the games press short circuiting the natural order (stability, game quality, word of mouth) and instead simply saying that the thing doesn't sell well, QED. It doesn't inform anyone other than inject further doubt and insecurity. I'd prefer that doubt to come from the attributes of the system in question, not from some sort of idea derived from sales statistics.

I probably overthink this. Like everything else :-/

Posted by bushpusherr

@Sunjammer said:

I always thought of games as an even trade. I keep them alive, they give me things I love. If either side breaks their part of the bargain, it falls apart.

[...] For games systems though, that's a little tricky. I think you'd have to be a pretty jaded duder to look at the Wii U and not think okay, there's some potential here. Fact of the matter is, nothing has really delivered on that potential yet, and there are system stability issues that hold it back. All these things are true, and good reasons to hold off on your purchase.

You've pretty much proved my point. I don't know anyone who looks at sales numbers as the exclusive factor determining whether they buy something or not. I don't have any interest in the Wii U whatsoever until there are some games that I feel I just absolutely have to play (which isn't a guarantee). I have no responsibility to give Nintendo my money for a product I don't think deserves it. Hearing sales numbers is just a general gauge of how the industry is receiving the hardware, and what we might expect moving forward. It isn't a call to arms to boycott anything, or doom a company.

Posted by frankfartmouth

I've bought systems that had great initial numbers and then flopped (Dreamcast), as well as systems that had shitty numbers all along but I loved anyway (Turbografx-16). Sales figures are obviously important, but they're just as obviously not everything. I'm not going to write a system off just because it has some bad press, but I also don't want to get stuck with another Atari Jaguar.

I read what's going on out there and then make an informed decision. I definitely agree with you that the press has a tendency to over-report these things, but I don't think it's as detrimental as you're saying it might be.

Posted by Slag

@Sunjammer said:

My perception of this is probably somewhat skewed but I’ll talk about this anyway: I think for as long as I can remember, every system launch has been paired with a games press that is, it seems, real happy to be discussing hardware sales numbers. I cannot fathom why this information is of any value to consumers, and indeed if it isn’t actually detrimental.

...

I think the games press is hurting the industry by reporting so gleefully on the failings of a platform.

I guess I just believe a craftsman should be given the opportunity to redeem himself for his mistakes, and by reporting on ailing sales, I feel the games press is not affording the platform holders that opportunity. It looks like the games press meddling with fundamental platform marketing, and it stinks to see the apparently joyful way that information propagates through the media.

I think the press should at the very least be considerate of what they publish in terms of sales statistics, and consider the wider effects of such information elevated to such prominence. I’d expect something like Gamesindustry.biz to report on this stuff. I have no idea why Eurogamer or IGN believes the gaming consumer should give a fuck.

What else are they going to talk about at launch? And they are only gleeful because they like excitement. FWIW they went apeshit over the the Wii's positive sales numbers back in the day. So it goes both ways.

Besides Install base matters to consumers, a lot actually. This is one of the primary things any consumers on the fence wants to know about at launch.If I read the N-Gage is selling very poorly, then I know there is a good chance developers will not support the platform. If I Read the Playstation 2 is selling like bananas then I can infer lots of more games are on the way for it. This information may not dictate decisions but it certainly is a big part of it for many folks for understandable reasons.

New hardware is a substantial investment for consumers. They are expensive and they generally only have (at least until lately) a single use.

I didn't buy a WiiU either, why? 4 reasons

1- I didn't see any games I wanted to play yet

2- I am not excited about the controller, or other features about the WiiU

3- Lately Nintendo's signature series haven't had the same magic for me they used to

4- I am doubtful about the console's future due to competitive reality and my take on the first three factors + sales figures.

Given all that I can't justify the expense of (what would be for me) a single use console at this time.

It's not the presses job to be considerate or act as boosters for gaming companies, it's their job to give their readers useful and accurate information. They are not a PR company. It's up to the hardware makers to accurately predict consumer wants and to market that appropriately.

Let's look at the Vita- No marketing virtually at all, no first party exclusives of note, no killer gimmick.

Now compare that to the 3DS (little marketing, great first party exclusives, only 3d handheld). Is it any wonder which is suceeding?

Or let's say the WiiU - branding confusion with the Wii, little to no TV ads, little to no system selling software beyond a mediocre tech demo, advertised features that don't impress average consumers (wow 2 players at the same time!) increased discretionary income competition from mobile. Any surprise there?

Think about what you are suggesting here, you are actually suggesting that these websites lie and obscure the truth from their readers.The only alternatives to reporting on this are to not to mention sales figures (which their readers want to know), lie about them (which readers will quickly figure out) or downplay them (which readers will also quickly figure out). How long do you think they will keep those readers if they just sacrifice all of their integrity like that?

I'm sorry if reality makes your job tougher, but that's on you guys to deal with it just like it is on every other industry to win over consumers.

If I got consistent press immediately after launch about how few features my game had, or how poorly it ran on device x, I’d likely have less sales, and less opportunity to rectify. The product would just die, and my reputation as a developer would be tarnished.

Well then you better make sure the product is finished before launching haven't you?

What do you think would happen to Pringle's potato chips if they shipped the product with no lid? Probably get ridiculed in the press, recalled by the manufacturer, possibly dropped from store shelves and sell like crap right?

Or a fan that had no on/off switch. Or Homes with no doors. Or a Movie that has a character that the public ends up hating (like Jar jar Binks). Or a Book that features a tone of typos. Or a Stapler that jams after every 4th staple.

That's how life works man.

I'd love for people to get chances to fix things and will give people second chances, but you know if you ship an incomplete/broken/flawed product at full price what do you really expect? Get it right the first time. You only have once chance to make a first impression. That's what beta testing is for. That's what 99% of the world has to do and that's what consumers expect.

Here’s my (possibly naive) business plan.
  1. Within a reasonable budget, make a game that encapsulates the essence of what I want to create (realizing that there will always be more things I want to do with it)
  1. Put it up for sale in a fun, stable state.
  1. View user comments and reviews.
  1. Spend income on updates to add content and fix any objective flaws.

I wouldn't say it's naive, but I do think you need to take into consideration what market/consumer preferences are before step 1. You need to establish that that there is a market for the game first. Without customers you have no chance.

Once you find where the market is, then do steps 1-4.

e.g. you probably did not consider developing your game for an Arcade. Obvious right? since they basically don't exists anymore. I think similar questions need to be continually asked about any platform before developers choose which plat to develop for. In your shoes mobile and PC/Steam seem a lot safer than the consoles right now fwiw. Is that true? You would know better than I, but that's the kind of thing you need to ask yourself everytime you make a game. It is arguably the most important decision in the whole process.

Sorry if I've sounded harsh, I do wish you well. I know development is tough, very tough. But I do think you need to face capitalist market reality a bit here and realize what you are asking for would be special treatment.

Edited by Sunjammer

To be clear, I'm in no way suggesting this information be hidden. I'm questioning the value of its prominent reporting by mainstream consumer-oriented press, and whether doing so indiscriminately, especially in an environment frequented by loud fanboys, is beneficial to the industry.

Posted by Slag

@Sunjammer said:

To be clear, I'm in no way suggesting this information be hidden. I'm questioning the value of its prominent reporting by mainstream consumer-oriented press, and whether doing so indiscriminately, especially in an environment frequented by loud fanboys, is beneficial to the industry.

Then with all due respect what exactly are you suggesting?

How should they be reporting this? It seems pretty straightforward to me that they are in this case just providing what their readers ask them to.

It is also worth noting that isn't the media's job to look out for the benefit of the industry. Their job is to generate page views, reads etc for their ad clients (many of whom are likely in the industry), which they do through printing stories of accurate high interest to readers. (whether they suceeed in doing this is another discussion altogether)

But the Media isn't PR., they don't work for the industry. They cover the industry. Big big difference. They have to maintain the trust of their readers which means reporting things accurately and as prominently as they should be reported. Which I think would be severely compromised if to help the industry they started burying stories of high interest to readers.

Posted by coakroach

Maybe sales are low because the new consoles are shitty and dont have any decent games?

With the exception of maybe the 3DS but that might have more to do with phones encroaching on handhelds' traditional spot in the market.

Either way it's the console makers that are fucking up, not the press.

Posted by august

If there were only someone willing to defend these new consoles in the press... a Defense Force if you will.

Posted by TentPole

I shall join the defense force. I never cared much for used games anyhow.