Counterpoint: Boom Blox didn’t fail nothin’

Infendo

225_donkey.jpgI’m reading a really good book right now, called Predictably Irrational. The first chapter is about how we humans tend to assign “anchors” to things, like price, and how we start to base future decisions off of our first impressions, even if at second glance those decisions start to look pretty stupid (I should probably dust off my copy of Strunk and White, too, after re-reading that double negative headline).

After reading analyst Evan “ZOMG the sky is falling” Wilson’s NPD analysis this morning, I’m beginning to understand this irrational “Wii bubble is about to burst” mentality that still grips the entire industry, even today. The only test that was failed this week was the one Wilson took when he wrote that research note.

For the uninformed, Wilson said this: “Boom Blox was a true test of the potential for third-party success on Nintendo Wii. It appears that success on the Wii will remain difficult to achieve.”

True test? Where can I take this test? Who made it? Where did it come from? Did the Nintendo DS take this test when it first came out?

Like Derek pointed out, Pacific Crest grossly over projected Boom Blox’s numbers for May. They said 250,000, based on what I don’t know, and now that the game did not reach the number they conveniently cover their ass by lambasting the title for not meeting their own expectations. Is your head spinning yet? Why are we even listening to them? Time and time again, the only thing any gaming analyst has proven to me, at least, is that they are incredible deft at saying something stupid one day, and making everyone forget about it the next by coming “sort of” close to getting something right. In this case, Wilson does neither.

Why? First, who’s to say 60,000 units sold is a failure? When Blair Witch Project first came out, it didn’t sell as many tickets as, say, Iron Man, but it made its money back and then some because the stupid thing cost $40,000 to make. Any guesses how much Iron Man cost?

Now, how about Boom Blox? Any guesses as to how that game’s budget compared to Grand Theft Auto IV? Any guesses as to how their internal projected sales figures differed? I’m going to throw out a guess: both categories were about as similar as Catholics and Atheists. Again, my guess is that EA and Steven Spielberg ARE happy with the sales of Boom Blox. Even in the bargain bin, that title is going to make them money. Hell, I’d argue that IN the bargain bin the game makes MORE money than it did on the New Releases rack! And yet, here we are today, criticizing Nintendo’s “lack” of third party support, because it’s the easy thing to do.

And that’s where I head back to the book I’m reading. For a long while now, we’ve judged the success or failure of a game based pretty much on whether or not it can attain Grand Theft Auto numbers, with Grand Theft Auto type budgets. Only 60,000 units in the first week? FAILURE!

Well, that party’s over. I’ll get the “first week” part of that later, but for now, small budget games with big budget ideas, designed for the mass market are the future. And don;t go insulting everyone by thinking that means “casual games,” or that “gaming is doomed” if that’s true. If so, you’re doing Sony and MS’s work for them, unpaid! It’s simple Long Tail economics, and Nintendo’s first party titles are proving it. Mario Kart Wii? Top of the charts again two months in a row. Big budget blockbusters? Sorry, but they blow their load in a week, drop out of sight–and they don’t even push hardware off the shelves.

On a related note, I got in trouble the other day at one of my freelance gigs for writing this headline: “Epic Fail: Grand Theft Auto IV doesn’t sell more hardware.” The argument was that GTAIV, as a game, sold incredibly well, but it failed to do the job. It failed to be a killer app, because if you look up the literal definition of that word, it means an irresistible application that sells more hardware. Meta Gear Solid 4? Debatably another good game, but the story’s the same: Every person who wants a horsepower system has one, and they probably bought the game. This is the opposite of the Wii dynamic, which is great games sell more hardware. And yet, no one can see this for some reason. It’s always labeled a fluke, or a gimmick, or a passing fad.

Now, Boom Blox is by no means a killer app, but it is a Long Tail game, and over time (not up front!), its sales will probably be comparable to a decent top 20 video game (it’s already broken the top 10, lest we forget). However, in Pacific Crest Land, that’s unacceptable. The short-sighted video game media and analyst cabal want results NOW, and in record numbers. Trouble is, the everyday gamer could care less. They don’t wait in lines, and they aren’t early adopters. Guess what? Most people fall into this category. As another freelancing coworker of mine wrote last Sunday, a lot of people are ULA’s, or Ultra Late Adopters. To them, Boom Blox is a Sunday afternoon purchase at Target; one they’ve probably heard about now ad nauseum from guys like David, Blake, or their neighbors, and they will grab alongside some patio furniture. If EA were smart, they’d heavily promote Boom Blox again this holiday season, complete with holiday seasoning pricing. It will sell, especially as all those people who can’t find a system get one. Finally.

And speaking of EA…

For once, I’m going to come to the defense of EA. You have no idea how long it took to write that sentence. As a caveat, I’m going to bash them over something about Boom Blox soon after, so all will be well again. Anyway, for all their follies and football game monopolies, EA, at least in the press, is starting to “get it.”

EA CEO John Riccitiello, tired of attempting to explain his company to biased journalists has officially labeled them incredibly accurately: The Cult (and I’m jealous I didn’t think of it).

“And you sort of feel a little bit like a twit getting out ahead of it because there’s a certain cadre of journalists that would love to prove me wrong,” he said. “EA doesn’t usually get the benefit of the cult – ‘everybody has to rate it a hundred’ thing going on — that happens sometimes even when they may not, based on the review, have played more than the first fifteen minutes of the game. But that’s a separate issue.”

Riccitiello also said during a conference call with analysts that EA was pleased internally with Boom Blox’s sales. I believe him. I partially agree with my Infendo comrade Derek on his opinion of the call. Yes, CEO’s want to give their investors good news. However, having sat in on more than a few calls with big name software companies in the past, I also know that investors don’t like to be lied to. These investor calls are known for their fluff, sure, but they’re also known for their honesty. If a company is doing poorly, then the CEO has an obligation to explain that, and what he/she is going to do to fix it. The investors, after all, OWN THE COMPANY.

So, when Riccitiello says EA is satisfied with Boom Blox’s sales, I believe he is. And not because I’m some blind fanman, but because I’ve stopped looking at the sales of video games with an irrational, one-week-or-nothing, light. EA knows that mass market games like Boom Blox are slow burners; their sales will come over time. See also: Wii Play, one of the best selling video games of all time.

On the other hand, and here comes the bashing, EA marketed this game at the non-existent “casual market,” and at kids, instead of across the board like they should have. Infendo loved the game, as did the guys at Penny Arcade, and many others outside the EA Casual team’s demographic. On the marketing front, Boom Blox did indeed fail, and fail hard. Not because of the game itself, but because of EA’s inability to understand that it’s not casual versus hardcore or core, it non-gamers vs. gamers, and NOTHING ELSE.

Also, Blake said in a comment to Derek’s piece that some blame can be laid to rest on the cartoony graphics. I disagree. Mario Kart Wii is a visual clusterf**k of cartoons and squeaky voices, and yet it sold to everyone. Why? Because Nintendo will never market that game solely at kiddies. And it’s still selling today. Very well, in fact.

Here’s some free advice for anyone worried about the Wii’s third party sales right now: Instead of having all these knee jerk reactions all the time, why don’t we start looking at the whole picture? As in, there are still 12 months in a year, and many years in a console’s life, so why don’t we start acting like it?

Again, this goes back to basing the entire industry on the sales of games like Metal Gear, et al. When you compare 60,000 to 5 million in one week, well, gee, no wonder it’s so “easy” to blast the game as a failure. Meanwhile, 12 months from now, a game like Boom Blox has the potential to sell millions.

I doubt it will happen, but I’d love to see the day, in 18 months, when we learn that Boom Blox, over its life, sold more than Metal Gear Solid 4 sold in its first impressive week.

Will it? Of course it’s not guaranteed, not by any means, especially since EA marketed this title to kids. I wish I had read the article before I started writing, but Sean Malstrom touched on EA’s failed marketing strategy with Boom Blox and how that failure–not some 3rd party doldrums effect on Wii–is responsible for lower sales.

I’ve been critical of EA in their stupid ‘casual games’ division and the dumb decision to market Boom Blox to twelve year olds (instead of, like, everyone which is what Nintendo does for its expanded market games), I feel sympathy for the crew behind Boom Blox. Their poor game has become a football to be kicked around for arrogant analysts and hardcore to make their ridiculous assertions that since Boom Blox wasn’t a ‘major hit’ when it came out, it means all third parties will fail.

First, if it WAS a ‘major hit’, I would have been very worried as would EA. Expanded market game sales are not frontloaded. Carnival Games originally did around 50k I believe when it was introduced to the market (and it was cheaper). The big unreported story on Wii software is that there is significant leg action, or ’slow burning’ sales. Instead of sales going off into the abyss as they do with most Core games, the sales are consistent and often go up. How can this be? One major reason is that people who want the game cannot get the console, and once they do get the console, they buy the game. Another is that only enthusiastic gamers would realize about Boom Blox when it launched. Also, it is absurd that one game becomes the de-facto of whether third party games sell on Nintendo systems.

When you think about it, those seemingly biased fanboys crying about unfair treatment in the media for Nintendo are more right than they realize. When Heavenly Sword bombed, or when Lair laid a turd, or when Assassin’s Creed didn’t cure cancer as advertised, where were the cries of failure about PS3? Oh, and the Heavenly Sword 2 sequel was just canned this week too, due to incredibly low interest from developers and gamers alike, and all we hear is crickets from the snake oil salesmen like Michael Pachter and company.

The even-handed criticism is non-existent. As always, it’s Nintendo products that are weak on third party support and destined to fail, and it is the PS3 software that’s almost ready to crest the hill into gaming nirvana.

And silly me, if I had only known that Boom Blox was THE TITLE that would decide the fate of the Wii, I would have bought a few copies and encased them in Carbonite for safe keeping. Then, in a few decades, I could have trucked them out for the kids and spun them an old timer’s yarn about Pacific Crest Securities, and how it made the prediction of the century.

“Lookie here, kiddies, at this here game Boom Blox. It decided the console war!” Does this sound ridiculous yet? No? Then you obviously know nothing about the DS, which is continually forgotten month after month by these “analysts,” who are now literally incapable of flipping their calendars back more than a month or using a search engine.

Lastly, I’m going to have to punch a hole in a least one part of what is overall a well-thought-out, research article from Derek. My argument goes thusly: “Who cares if Game Party outsold Boom Blox?”

Metacritic’s “based on biased ‘hardcore’ gaming journalists scores” argument aside, Game Party is a throw away title if I’ve ever seen one. It’s $20 (even less used), and it’s an exclusive for a system that boasts the largest, most diverse audience in video games today. Guess what? Enchanted made more money than Children of Men. To me it’s a travesty, but outside the bubble of passionate film discussion it makes perfect sense. Game Party was marketed at everyone (mini-games), while Boom Blox was pegged as a kid’s game from EA Casual. Is it really that much of a surprise which one has sold better?

To conclude, I revisit the question: Boom Blox failed? According to who?

The time of games making their mark in one week or less is over. Boom Blox will sell, and sell just fine, but it won’t be to the irrational, backward ways thinking of today’s experts. The great games of the future are the ones that sell well all the time, not just within some close-minded analyst cadre’s one-week splooge window.