John Lucas Avatar Posted on 9/12/2011 by John Lucas

The absence of Madden causes industry revenues to once again become the lowest since October 2006! The third time this year!

Written by John Lucas (editor-at-large)

No Pigskins? Decline.

It was a hairy situation for football fans this year. The fate of the 2011 NFL season was in limbo due to the recently averted NFL lockout. Players and owners couldn’t see eye to eye on who gets paid what and fans wondered if they would need to switchover to that arena football action. The drama got even more intense when legal officials got involved. On April 25th, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson (District of Minnesota) tossed out the lockout and ordered the NFL back into operation (collective bargaining agreement or not). League officials protested to the Eighth Court of Appeals and 4 days later the court stayed Judge Nelson’s ruling resuming the lockout (ruling invalidated altogether on July 8th).

By July, retired NFL players added their own lawsuit against the NFL (in solidarity with the current players) and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sought investigation into possible antitrust violations on the NFL’s part. And just when the struggle between the millionaires and the billionaires looked permanent, suddenly it was over. An agreement was made on the last week of July and the season was back on (with only one cancelled casualty, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game). The national sports religion would get to save economies of all kinds one more time.

But there’s one economy the NFL season would not get to save and that’s the videogame industry’s according to the latest figures from The NPD Group. August is traditionally Madden month in the world of videogames but with the uncertainty of the NFL situation, the yearly football simulation was similarly left in limbo. By the time the NFL issue was settled, Madden NFL 12’s release had to be pushed back to August 30th…just outside of the August NPD tracking period (July 31st to August 27th). Because of this, overall sales for the month were quarterback sacked. Once again, sales have reached the lowest point since October 2006 (which stood at $642 million)! That’s the 3rd time this year! Lower than May, lower than July. October 2006 is used as the measurement since that was the last month before Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PlayStation 3 entered the market. When sales get as low as this WITH all 3 competitors in the market, you know it’s bad. Lockout on the Blackout! Let’s reenter negotiations and come to terms with this month’s guesstimates from the NPD.

Microsoft’s XBox 360 successfully argued down the ref’s call with 308,000 corset-waisted time wasters sold in August, month of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream Day. In July, month of Independence Day, Console X sold 277,000 of its leading kind showing a small increase. The 360 is still the king of home consoles for the 8th month in a row (read that as the entire year so far). The U.S.A. console definitely rules the U.S.A. market. How is it doing in the rest of the world, I wonder? It’s still a non-factor in Japan and is slightly under 2nd place Wii in the overall Europe/PAL-TV market. This reality only makes it more important that the 360 secures the American market for itself.

The Japanese situation is so bad that retailers in the region are taking 360 games and consoles off the shelves. After 5 ½ years on the Japanese market, the system has only sold a little over 1.5 million consoles (the poor-selling 3DS sold that in about half a year). But Microsoft refuses to throw in the towel and, desperately, is putting out a bundle featuring a 250GB console plastered with a Monster Hunter Frontier logo on the box. It’s a trial pack for that online massive multiplayer which gives you a download code to play a sample of the game and get free in-game armors and weapons. Oh, Monster Hunter is big biz in Japan. Ask the PSP.

But that’s probably too little too late so it’s up to America to keep the system strong. Here’s one way to get it done. For a limited time, there will be a special Kinect bundle featuring Kinect Adventures! and a code to download Child of Eden all for the same $150 price. Microsoft has kept saying for months how they would triple Kinect’s game library by the end of 2011 (along with monthly Kinect-compatible XBox Live Arcade games to come). That can’t be a bad thing with Gears of War 3 ready to kick off the 360’s fall season in September. That rolls right into the holidays where games like 360 exclusive Forza Motorsport 4 (October) and highly anticipated multi-platform The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (November) will help boost software and hopefully hardware (don’t forget about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3). Perhaps this boosted audience can be added to the nearly 35 million users of XBox Live that Microsoft announced. Can the 360’s fall/holiday momentum help pick up what looks to be a sagging year? This is the 360’s test. Are they a true leader or are they just the neck of a headless body? Whether head or neck, it will have a matte-black finish. Say goodbye to the glossy shiny stuff in the next few weeks. That stuff costs!

Nintendo’s 3DS luckily dodged a penalty with 235,000 price-plummeted platforms sold in the month of Roller Coaster Day. In the month of All or Nothing Day, the 3DS sold an unknown unreported amount of consoles which most likely shows a strong increase. There’s no telling what the 3DS sold last month but Nintendo’s silence suggests a sad 5-digit figure in the ten-thousands column. So that must mean this month’s total is a positive sign, right? Right? Wrong. The only thing that’s surprising about drastic price drops is if the product DIDN’T sell any better. I drop a product’s price down by $80 and there’s no way I SHOULDN’T see a boost. Hewlett-Packard is another recent example of this kind of event. After making the decision this August to exit the personal computer business (blame Apple’s iPads and iPhones), HP price dropped their tablets from $500 to $100 in a fire sale that showed shoppers blazing into stores for the ‘suddenly’ red hot gadgets. Going out of business and selling your stuff in emergency clearance is not the sign of a healthy boost. If anything, the boost wasn’t high enough for the level of price cut.

But what could be expected? I left this out last month (so much was going on with 3DS) but in July President Satoru Iwata said that the 3DS’ software wasn’t strong enough for the system’s launch. Really? Really now, Iwata. You don’t say. Hopefully, Nintendo’s hometown fall/holiday lineup can foster lasting improvement for the handheld. Currently selling pretty much on the strength of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, September sees another remake in Star Fox 64 3D, October sees Tetris: Axis and Pokémon Rumble Blast, November sees the eternally-awaited Kid Icarus: Uprising and Super Mario 3DLand, and December sees the surefire Mario Kart 7. With that and the other 3rd party support, 3DS finally gets a chance to become ‘strong’. A price like that and a lineup like this should give the handheld a lasting boost for years to come. Oh, and it can’t hurt to put out a new color so it can become even stronger. On September 9th, North Americans get to own the Flame Red model of 3DS (already released in Japan this July as the Flare Red). Colors, lower price, and better lineup. THIS is how the 3DS should have launched. The new handheld’s problems can still somehow be fixed but time is absolutely essential. They have a breather with the PlayStation Vita not in the American picture this year so now’s the time to hit it strong, hit it fast. There’s simply no other option with the state the company’s in right now. 3DS MUST succeed...or else.

Sony’s PlayStation 3 disputed the referee’s call in timeout with 218,000 price-dropped PlayStations sold in the month of National Radio Day. In the month of Pandemonium Day, the system that only does everything sold 148,000 of its striving kind showing a good increase. FINALLY! On August 16th, Sony threw shoppers a bone by dropping the PS3’s price by $50 (both 160 GB and 320GB models) at the end of their Gamescom conference. How long have I been calling for them to drop the PS3’s price? Oh yeah, since last December and this January. Hmm, it’s a pretty skimpy drop though. Only $50?? If they dropped it by $100, they could have had the 160GB model for $200, the 320GB model for $250 and really put the pressure on the XBox 360. Maybe it’s all they could afford with Vita’s production costs and the damage from April’s hack attack. I’ll take what I can get!

Skimpy or not, it should give the PS3 a leg up for the next few months at least. September will bring PS3 fans the exclusive Resistance 3; October will bring Batman: Arkham City (sequel to 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum); while November will bring the exclusive Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and of course, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Pretty meat lineup and a good way to anchor down the rest of the year. And with ‘Kevin Butler’ back in the Sony fold (quit by Twitter on the 26th, returned to Sony on the 30th in new commercial), PS3 fans will certainly be saying “Long Live Play…Station” all through 2011. Even LG Corp. dropped its beef with Sony with the two agreeing to a cross-licensing deal over the disputed patented technologies (including Blu-ray). See there? Drop the price and look at all the good stuff that comes your way, Sony.

On Sony’s handheld front, 3DS gets some much needed breathing room as PlayStation Vita’s launch has been pushed back to 2012 in all regions except Japan (promised to see the system by the end of 2011). Sony’s President-to-be Kaz Hirai says that it will be EARLY 2012 so the wait won’t be too much longer. Strangely, Sony still keeps plugging away with the waiting-for-burial PSP. Later this year, Europe will get yet another version of the PlayStation Portable called the E-1000 (with matte-black finish) which will only cost €99.99 (opposed to PSP-3000 model’s €129.99)! What’s the catch? No Wi-Fi capability. WHAT?! What sense does that make? Just let the PSP 3000s & PSPgos finish it out for God’s sake. Also it will only have mono speakers, no more stereo. Just nonsense. Bad habits are to break I see.

Nintendo’s Wii saw the flag thrown down on the play with 190,000 wayward widgets sold in the month of National Smile Week. In the month of National Gummi Worm Day, the faded revolutionary sold 190,000 of its waning kind showing no change. To some this may mean stability. But to those in the know Wii’s sales this month are depressing. And not just because they just missed the 200,000 mark either (for the 3rd time). After a retailer-led price drop to $169.99 upon confirmation of Wii’s successor this April, Nintendo made an official drop to $149.99 in May. However, Wal-Mart not content with that price tag took it upon themselves to price drop Wii further to $134.96 in August. Who’s gonna tell the biggest retailer on Earth what to do? So far, it looks like Wal-Mart’s acting alone in this but as the biggest retailer their act can have great impact on Wii sales. So why with that special discount did Wii only sell the same as last month? And it’s not because NPD has no direct access to Wal-Mart’s numbers. Wal-Mart lifted that old restriction in July. Now you’re beginning to understand why it’s depressing. Wal-Mart’s drop may have helped Wii get UP to that 190,000 figure.

To get uplifted from this depression, Nintendo adds more choice games to its $19.99 ‘Nintendo Selects’ lineup. How ‘bout this? Super Paper Mario, Mario Strikers Charged, Punch-Out!!, and Super Mario Galaxy! That’s a helluva deal right there! These 4 titles along with the original 4 (Wii Sports, Animal Crossing: City Folk, Mario Super Sluggers, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess) show a strategy Nintendo can use to bring a little more excitement to the fading Wii platform. Also, Nintendo is gearing up for The Legend of Zelda’s 25th Anniversary with a new website and an official release date for Zelda: Skyward Sword. The anticipation-loaded game will debut on November 20th in standalone form for $49.99 or a special bundle featuring the game and a limited edition golden Zelda-styled Wiimote Plus for $69.99. BOTH standalone and bundle versions will include an audio CD with live performances from the upcoming Zelda 25th symphony concerts. Love and happiness!! By the way, these concerts begin on October 21st in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theatre (tickets start at $35) with an October 25th date in London at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo. Full concert tour is set for 2012.

As for the fine folks of Operation Rainfall, Nintendo is beginning to hear your pleas. With Xenoblade Chronicles already released in Europe for August and The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower set for European release in 2012, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime made this comment about Operation Rainfall’s game-localization campaign in a recent IGN interview:

“We will be watching very closely what happens in Europe. Certainly if there are business opportunities and positive consumer uptake from some of those titles, that will be great data for us to consider as we look at what to do with these titles.”

If Operation Rainfall succeeds in convincing Nintendo to bring these titles to North America, then this may set a precedent for enthusiast genres which get buried in the commerce. Maybe they’d be able to do the impossible and finally get Fatal Frame IV: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse on American store shelves. Wii needs all the good games it can get now. What else is there to lose at this point?

How about backward compatibility? Wait, what?! Europe will soon get a new smaller cheaper version of the Wii called the Wii Family Edition. It will come packaged with Wii Sports and Wii Party. It will stand horizontally only instead of either vertically or horizontally like the original Wii. It will not play Gamecube games or use Gamecube peripherals (controllers, memory cards, and so on). Wait a minute now! Wii is built directly from the Gamecube architecture. The joke goes that Wii was just 2 Gamecubes duct taped together, that it was just an overclocked reshaped Gamecube. How can you strip backward compatibility out of that??? The worse news is that Nintendo is seeking to make this new Wii the standard and phase out the original Wii. God! Nintendo! They better not release this garbage in America, that’s all I gotta say. Nintendo’s totally losing it, man. I can’t believe it.

Nintendo’s DS got ejected from the game selling 165,000 duplo-screens in National Clown Week. In the month of Cow Appreciation Day, the DS Family sold at least 290,000 of its various kinds showing possibly half its previous amount! Look at this drop! The DS hasn’t sold numbers like this since the days before the DS Lite model debuted (before June 2006). Does this mean that 3DS’s boost is affecting DS sales? Or does it mean people just weren’t feeling the DS this month never mind the 3DS? Ever since 3DS’s announcement in March 2010, DS sales took an inevitable hit. But even after the successor’s debut this past March, DS sales were decent. Can’t complain about a regular 200,000-300,000 range when a system is going on 7 years old.

But Nintendo needs every bit of solid ground it can stand on right now. If this trend with the DS continues, Nintendo won’t be able to lean on this console as a PlayStation 2-like legacy machine that brings in easy money to weather the hard times. Should that be the case, then that means 3DS has to finish the succession and become the load-bearing beam it was intended to be. Either 3DS has to become a success quicker or DS has to fade slower or both. DS will have trouble as long as people see that the DSi XL costs exactly the same as the more capable 3DS (which can play DS games). Nintendo needs to make another cut for the giant DS and possibly implement a Nintendo Selects program for DS games too. How can a company have it all then lose it all so easily? Especially this company. It’s sad to watch.

Reviewing the instant replay, the U.S. videogame industry returned $648.9 million ($669.9 million including PC portion) in total sales for August, a 21% fumble from last August. Of this more than half-a-million figure, total hardware sales downed 12% to $249.4 million while total software sales grounded 34% to $264.8 million. In parallel, total accessory sales goaled 1% to $134.7 million. What a difference a Madden makes!

For the year-to-date, the industry touched back 7% to $7.91 billion [$8.17 billion including PC portion] (hardware: down 3% to $2.63 million; software: down 11% to $3.86 billion; accessories: up 6% to $1.41 billion). Remember what we learned, all percentages refer to year-to-year comparisons between August 2011 and August 2010.

Onto the games. Top dog this month was Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the third in the series and prequel to original cyberpunk classic that started it all. Without Madden in the way, August gets some new blood. Football wasn’t far behind though with NCAA Football 12 bringing you that college action. FPS fans were still rezurrecting Black Ops’ new map packs. But oddly enough 7 out of the 10 titles were either Nintendo exclusives or most dominant on Nintendo platforms. How did Phineas and Ferb get to #4? Is Cars 2 really that good? How did Just Dance: Summer Party outrank the evergreen Just Dance 2? Is there ANY movie or franchise LEGO can NOT do? How long can Ocarina of Time 3D hold up the 3DS by itself? And what kind of party is Zumba running away?

Negotiations went well? A new deal has been agreed upon? Good. Let’s get back on that field, gentlemen. Play ball!

NPD’s Top Reported Hardware Sales in August

Microsoft XBox 360 – 308,000*
Nintendo 3DS – 235,000**
Sony PlayStation 3 – 218,000†
Nintendo Wii – 190,000**
Nintendo DS – 165,000**

NeoGAF - deduction

NPD’s Top Ten Combined Software Sales in August

01. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (X360, PS3, PC) – 244,000*
02. NCAA Football 12 (X360, PS3) – 240,400*
03. Call of Duty: Black Ops (X360, PS3, DS, Wii, PC)
04. Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd (DS, Wii, PS3)
05. Cars 2 (DS, Wii, X360, PS3, PC)
06. Just Dance: Summer Party (Wii)
07. Just Dance 2 (Wii)
08. LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game (Wii, X360, DS, PS3, 3DS, PSP, PC)
09. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) – 84,000*
10. Zumba Fitness: Join the Party (Wii)


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