In this edition of PING/PONG, your favorite debating duo John Lucas (the guy who looks like a Black Luigi) and Mr. Universal (AKA Nathan Evans when in Clark Kent mode) discuss which games might bring big bank throughout this holiday season. Call ‘em blockbusters, call ‘em hits, call ‘em million-sellers but whatever you do stay tuned to see if we called ‘em right. Prepare to climb walls of text…NOW.
Videogame Hits of the Holiday Season 2011
Well, unlike past holiday seasons during this generation, this one seems pretty cut and dry. Fairly textbook in my eyes. There’s no doubt that first and foremost, we’re going to be looking at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 as THE PREMIERE blockbuster hit of the season. It’s not even Black Friday yet and that thing has already sold 6.5 million copies in ONE DAY all platforms combined between the United States and the United Kingdom! I refuse to hype up revenue sales with that “biggest entertainment launch” nonsense. It’s just hype to make the videogame industry look as powerful as the movie industry (which it isn’t). Movies sell at around $10 per ticket. These games sell at $60 AT LEAST. The money sales don’t matter. It’s the UNIT sales that matter and Modern Warfare 3 is continuing to break the top-heavy front-loaded sale records of its predecessors.
Any hopes Electronic Arts had of outdoing MW3 on the headlines with Battlefield 3 are totally demolished now. MW3 is going to be the top holiday seller, no milk-bones about it. How MW3’s presence affects its forerunner, Call of Duty: Black Ops, will be interesting in the long term (series backup developer Treyarch vs. series founding developer Infinity Ward). But the short term story shows yet another round of Call of Duty FPS madness to potentially fund Activision’s Call of Duty Elite addict roundup. What say you, Mr. Universal?
I agree with not trumpeting this ridiculous (and grossly misleading) “biggest entertainment launch” ever nonsense, especially when you’ve got several versions of a single game selling at so many different price-points. Granted, the bar for success was much lower for EA’s Battlefield 3 than Modern Warfare 3 (so many threes), but predicting which game would actually ‘sell’ better was really a no-brainer. That said, I can’t help but think of George Carlin’s “bigger you-know-what theory” about the whole thing.
Hey, even I’ll admit that it’s been perversely interesting watching both Activision and EA engage in what might go down as the most pointless, idiotic PR-driven hyperbabble of an ‘argument’ that I’ve ever seen. For months now we’ve had to endure grown men acting like babies, slinging their digital feces at one another as they attempt to delude anyone who’ll listen that they’re selling something other than just another brown-colored first-person shooter. All this talk about judging a game’s merits on Metacritic averages, first-day/week/month sales, or whose Limited/Hardened/Whatever Edition is the baddest or most epic of them all is ridiculous. Its like two rats fighting over the same piece of cheese, which went moldy a long time ago.
By all measures – Metacritic included – both games were something of a disappointment, at least if we’re judging the actual games. On the sales front, both were huge blockbusters and made bank. And that’s all that really matters these days, right?
If only, if only, Mr. Universal. Because you see, all these genitalia-waving stats are for the all-important HEADLINES that populate both the gaming press and general press. Those headlines scream the message “Buy it TODAY! Buy it NOW!” If they don’t play these hype games, the games just won’t sell as much. Think of it as the extended marketing budget. The press headlines serve as unofficial commercials so it’s no wonder we will see this kind of behavior.
But there’re more games that will make those headlines this holiday season. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is most definitely one. And unlike with MW3 and Battlefield 3, this one doesn’t seem to need the marketing juggernaut behind it. It comes prepackaged with a natural built-in anticipation. Fans of this series have been waiting 5 years for this one to come out and the new changes to the gameplay adds necessary freshness to build that anticipation. While I don’t think Skyrim has as much power to reach new audiences, it definitely delivers a sermon to the choir. And the wide open exploration the Elder Scrolls series is known for will probably make this game more of a lifestyle than a pastime. Those who somehow didn’t pre-order it and wait in lines out in the cold will most certainly snag this up big-time for the holidays. Those are who I like to call the ‘broke folks’. They wanted to get it on launch day but their money just wasn’t right at the time.
Skyrim is definitely one of those front-loaded games which make most of their lifetime sales in the first few weeks. What other games do you think will have impact like this, Universal?
It’s difficult to separate the hype from the natural these days, but when you clear that mental clutter from your mind it’s easy to see where the real excitement is. I think this is the season when console-exclusives will finally get a chance to shine, and there are fewer out there shining more brightly than Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception for the PlayStation 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for Wii.
With Uncharted 3, Sony finally gets to capitalize on years of deserved hype that can only come from satisfied fans and consistent quality throughout the franchise’s relatively short lifespan. The second game remains one of the best produced this generation, and while I personally felt that Drake’s Deception couldn’t quite match its predecessor, it’s still one of the most thrilling and fun adventures I’ve played this year. No game franchise does cinematic storytelling and excitement better than Uncharted, and I think even a moderately disappointing chapter should still be more than enough to keep hardcore Nathan Drake fans very happy this holiday season, and possibly make a few more.
With Skyward Sword, Nintendo is essentially closing out the Wii console the same way it began, with a new Zelda game. Only this is the first made specifically for the hardware, utilizing better motion-controls through MotionPlus, and featuring a mostly-orchestrated soundtrack – a first for the franchise. I’ve done my best to avoid watching our own Namreh play through the game these past few weeks, but from what I’ve seen it simply looks (and sounds) incredible. Herman says it’s miles better than Twilight Princess, and is also the longest game in the series’ 25 year history. I agree there should have been a Gold Wii console to help commemorate Zelda’s quarter century anniversary, but I don’t think it’ll take much to get fans hyped about the possibility that a new Zelda game may be better (heresy!) than Ocarina of Time.
This leaves Microsoft as the odd-man out. I actually think their biggest console-exclusive for the Xbox 360 this year is the one they’re hardly promoting: Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster for the Kinect. Reviews have been solid, and it’s got a great pedigree with development by Double Fine Productions, a fantastic concept, and what’s not to love about controlling Elmo and Cookie Monster? This may be the first time in the Xbox’s lifespan that a ‘new’ Halo game, the 10-year Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary edition, fails to attract much attention from users who have already moved onto Call of Duty or Battlefield. Microsoft spent big on telling us why the Kinect is the real-deal, and they should be knocking themselves over telling people how to get to Sesame Street.
I’m thinking that Microsoft is wary of “kiddifying” their established macho image for the 360. It’s one thing to have Sesame Street on your system, it’s another to have baby-voiced Elmo screaming his happy voice all over a Xbox 360 logo. They’re definitely going for the quiet subdued promotion route for this one. Anything to make sure they don’t get saddled with the “kiddie” image people associate Nintendo with (which is foolish since kids are vital to a console’s success). It’s a shame since that Sesame Street game got my interest too. Muppets will ALWAYS be cool to me. I’m sure all the grown-ups wearing Muppets on their shirts and hats will agree.
Luckily Nintendo doesn’t have those hangups and I await Skyward Sword with a passion. Gold Zelda-fied Wiis this Christmas, Nintendo, or bust! Get it done! No Family Edition crap either! But you know it’s not only Zelda that will help Wii survive the holiday season. We’re forgetting about Just Dance 3. The first 2 mainline editions are a big part of why Wii still has the little sales it does right now and I don’t think Just Dance 3 will be any different. Sure, Ubisoft will eventually ‘Guitar Hero’ the series out but until then I believe the third time will be just as charming. But I’m most interested in seeing how this former Wii exclusive series does on the Kinect-connected 360. Dance Central was good but people just preferred playing Just Dance 2 on the Wii more. Now Microsoft’s machine has the original phenomenon. If the Sesame Street game isn’t the one Microsoft’s betting its Kinect cookies on, then will it be Just Dance 3? For the short-term and the long-term, I’m interested in seeing which version ends up with the most sales power.
Now while games like Kirby’s Return to Dreamland will pad Nintendo’s fairly bare holiday lineup for the Wii, Nintendo is counting on exactly TWO games to hold down their handheld front. The first is Super Mario 3D Land and the second is Mario Kart 7 for the 3DS. Mario is going to save Nintendo’s bacon one more time and daggone if they didn’t pick a hell of a bacon-saver especially with Super Mario 3D Land. After 3DS’s horrible HORRIBLE launch, these 2 games can mark the turning point in the handheld’s shaky fortunes. Those games will help sell the highlights of 3DS’s small library and get this system moving with rocket power. And since Sony is missing the entire holiday season (outside of Japan) with their PlayStation Vita, Nintendo can entrench the 3DS into shoppers’ hearts without any distractions from direct rivals. A good showing this holiday season can prove why a traditional handheld console should exist in the face of Apple’s all-in-one platforms. Any thoughts, Uni-man?
I agree completely about the 3DS titles, especially Super Mario Land 3D, which is actually one of my favorite games of the year. I love my iProducts, but after months of playing the best they have to offer, Mario just feels like a full course of magical happiness and sunshine. I have no doubt that it’ll sell well; it’s Mario in a retail box, which is infinitely more heart-warming than a few iTunes Gift Cards. But a quick nod to that that other great platformer, Ubisoft’s Rayman Origins, which might fall below the radar, but is seriously one of the best 2D games that I’ve played in years, and is worth a serious shout-out here.
But hey, let’s not forget some of the year’s better games that got obscured by the idiotic ‘brown first-person shooter’ battle, like the so-difficult-it-hurts-yet-I-keep-playing Dark Souls, finally on both Xbox 360 and PS3, and possibly the year’s best action-adventure, Batman: Arkham City. I can’t say enough good things about Rocksteady’s super-sequel, as few games give players the respect of actually ‘playing’ a game these days. I enjoyed Uncharted 3, but I genuinely loved the Bat’s second outing.
Also, let’s not forget of the sports titles out there, and I don’t just mean those with the EA Sports logo. Sure, this year’s FIFA/PGA Tour/NHL etc. editions have all sold well, but mostly that’s the EA Marketing Machine (trademark) at work. What’s really amazing is that 2K Sports seems to have done the impossible by making a sports franchise with legs past its first month, and I can see why EA was quick to shut down their superior NFL2K franchise while they still could (love those exclusivity deals!). No such luck with the NBA license, and with the full season looking more and more like a complete bust, watch fans turn to NBA 2K12 for their b-ball thrills and chills, especially with Fire Jordan on the cover and the NBA Greats in the game.
For a year that started off so badly, I’m just glad that there’s plenty of good stuff to choose from at the end, and that bodes well for an industry that’s been in the dumps lately. When people ask me what games I’d recommend picking up this year, there’s not a single one that I wouldn’t buy for myself. Sadly, I’ve already seen most of what’s out there already, but plan on sharing greatly when the post-Turkey Day sales kick in. Any final thoughts on such crass capitalism?
Uhh, don’t remind me. I have to deal with the crassness of Black Friday in my non-Popzara life. Anyway, with Nintendo prematurely cutting short the life of the Wii and the DS in natural decline, there’s no way this holiday season’s sales will make the year 2011 match up to the year 2010. The best they can do is come close and that’s all the industry officials can hope for while Recession Depression goes on and on. For the people out there who can still spare a little of those discretionary funds, there’s a lot of good games that can fit into your entertainment budget. Happy shopping, everybody!