Counterpoint: Boom Blox didn’t fail nothin’

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.

30 Responses to Counterpoint: Boom Blox didn’t fail nothin’

  1. Roddy says:

    Wonderful article. I can use myself as an example to the point you made: I’m still after Zack & Wiki. Haven’t been able to get it yet, but I will. Eventually, I’ll add to the overall number. So people should look at the whole picture instead of just the beginning.

  2. Blake says:

    Nice counterpoint, J. But again, GTA4’s job was to make Rockstar a lot of money (which it did), not Sony or Microsoft. So calling the game a failure is dishonest.

    But I digress, third-party Wii support isn’t as bad as internet intelligence suggests, but it does lack a little right now when compared to Xbox 360 and PS3. But that’s because third-parties got caught with their pants down on Wii’s success (I suspect mucho third-party Wii announcements at E3).

  3. Jack says:

    OK OK. The game “failed” to increase hardware sales for the two consoles. That’s pretty accurate, IMO.

  4. David says:

    Boom Blox is as rich and full of an experience as GTA4. There are SOOOOooo many game modes, it’s like buying an entire toy chest in one game. And I haven’t even touched the creation mode yet!

  5. Phil Myth says:

    Good article and you make a lot of sense!

    Another point I would like to make is that there are quite a few third AND first party games out there which I still want to get, but I can’t afford all of them at once:

    Boom Blox
    Zack and Wiki
    Trauma Center
    Battalion Wars 2
    Medal of Honour

    And I won’t be able to get any of these next week either as my cash is reserved for Smash Bros.
    Perhaps the reason why first week sales aren’t as massive on the Wii is because we actually have a load of great software to choose from but can’t afford to lay out 2/300 notes for them all in one go. As a result we’ll buy Mario Kart one month, wait until the next time we have some disposable income then pick up No More Heroes (which is what I did).

    The difference being, as there doesn’t seem to be more than 3 or 4 awesome titles available on the 360 or PS3, people haven’t spent their money and can afford to go out and pick up the next decent game on release day.

  6. Joltman says:

    Well said; this touches upon everything I say in my retaliation in the forums. Great job!

  7. Used Cisco says:

    Another reason Wii sales curves are different is the mentality of the Wii owner vs. the mentality of the average PS3 and particulary 360 owner. The average 360 owner is much more likely to be at the absolute front of the gaming curve, meaning they are absolutely interested in the games that are “hot” right now and aren’t as interested in “older” games from even just a few months ago. This means they are constantly waiting with baited breathe for whatever is just around the corner, consuming it immediately upon release and then forgetting it as the next media darling title is announced.

    Also, Children of Men is a perfect example of a movie that is loved by “the cult”. It really wasn’t very good.

  8. Richter says:

    To be fair, I did buy a PS3 for MGS4. Sadly, it’ll be one of the few games I ever own for that system in all likelihood.

  9. Jack says:

    Bollocks, Cisco. CoM was a great story, superb acting, and incredible film making/cinematography. There are two scenes in that movie where the camera doesn’t cut once for more than 10 minutes!

  10. Great article. Since the movie industry has grown careful to qualify their proclamations with “Box office failure” or “soft opening week”, perhaps the game analysts should drink the same stuff. A movie can be a box office failure and a DVD hit, just like a game can be sleeper and come out strong.

    The trouble I see with the long tail and games is what Roddy said at the top – it’s hard to FIND games after they’ve had a bad start. Clubhouse games, for example, had a rocky start and I couldn’t find it for ages until they figured out it was catching on. The gaming industry needs the “burn-on-demand” sort of thing that the book industry has so we can find these sleeper hits any time we want.

  11. TWhite says:

    @Richter…I bought a PS3 after playing GTAIV on my friends 360. I always knew I would get a PS3 eventually (had only Wii for a year and a half) once some good games came for the system. MGS4 is incredible, some other GREAT games (I own, and would highly recommend to any PS3 owner) are Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank, and GTAIV. These 4 games so far have made me completely satisfied with my purchase.

  12. Richter says:

    Never cared much for Ratchet & Clank, but I may try it. GTA4, the next iteration of Madden, Uncharted, and maybe Resistance are the games I was looking at. Really though, I just want to play MGS4.

  13. Used Cisco says:

    @Jack,
    I love you man and generally agree with you, but I have to say you’re in the cult on this one.

    “CoM was a great story(if you like cliches about dystopian futures where people can’t reproduce/are clones/are eating humans as food, etc), superb acting(if you consider “deadpan” to be supurb), and incredible film making/cinematography”(I’ll concede this point, with the caveat that long takes don’t guarantee compelling viewing, SEE: Timecode/Russian Ark/The Conversation episode of Mad ABout You.)

  14. DonWii says:

    Bravo Jack, and thanks for the Malstrom Link.

  15. Kannon says:

    Well said.

    I’ve been fighting with myself for weeks now to buy this game but as time goes by more and more games keep looking good that prevent me from getting it. Also so many times do I buy a game the first day only to have it go down in price (almost 50%) within a week or so.

    I bought No More Heroes, day one, Battalion Wars 2, day one and Zack and Wiki, the first week all at full price, only to find that prices were cut in half very soon afterward. That for me is the biggest deterrent to purchasing this game now as in the near future I may be paying significantly less.

    But this Blast Works and Endless Ocean are right on the top of the list once I come into some real money.

  16. Roddy says:

    Oh, that episode of Mad About You is gret, so tense and funny and sad all at the same time! After I became a father I “got it” even more.

  17. gametaku says:

    I’m interested in the game, but it costs too much. Plus it released too clost to Blastworks. I’m getting that sucker on Friday and having a good time.

  18. Used Cisco says:

    @Roddy,

    shhhhhh! You’re not helping!
    😉

  19. Great article as always.

    I was going to post this on Malstrom’s news section; but it was probably closed. So here’s my take: The hardcore have played this absurd game of TEST OF DOOM since Wii’s release began. From Red Steel to Bloom Blox; every game that remotely fits the elite’s hardcore view is under the microscope and despite succeeding in the end and making a lot of profit (Heck; look at Guitar Hero 3 which still sells today); the hardcore proclaims that the game fails the test. Malstorm proclaims that journalists and hardcore do not make up the test and that it is the market who makes the test; the real question should be: Do you WANT the hardcore to create such a test? The hardcore cannot even apply their test in a consistent manner which is not only downright bush league; it’s something that is borderline close to something I see on a website like WorldNetDaily which is notorious for their one-sided narrow hardcore view. Thank goodness the market does the tests or I would swear that I was living in a gaming theocracy.

  20. droop4 says:

    Great read, and totally agree… in fact, this has been my thinking since the DS and early Wii days, i just didnt know how to put it, so thank you Jack!!

  21. HelixRocker says:

    Jack, can I say I generally like your articles. I have been tired of the these applied “tests” of success. It seems that the industry jornalist, if they can be called that, focus on the short term and never on the long term. Long term is where you usually find sustainable success, not selling X units week one and then sell much less after that. I wish that more mainstream media outlets would get this as well. Then, maybe there could be serious jornalism in this industry.

  22. RoyalRook says:

    dude I am not even going to say anything, b/c I love this website now. I have never wrote any free lane articles for any web site, but if I can contribute anything for this site, please let me know.

  23. Carlos says:

    So… Metal Gear 4 IS NOT driving PS3 sales?

    Japanese hardware sales (6/9 6/15)

    PS3 75,311
    PSP 64,675
    Wii 45,564
    DS Lite 39,201
    PS2 7,297
    Xbox 360 2,163

  24. Jack says:

    Carlos, get back to me in a month, and tell me that Metal Gear Solid 4 is still driving PS3 sales; or if it’s still driving sales in a year. THAT was the point of the article, and THAT is the definition of a killer application.

    Example: Mario Kart DS, which is still in the Japan Top 30 sales numbers you just got that information from.

  25. Carlos says:

    Jack, i love the article, but i could not resist..
    You Said:
    “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.

    The Fact is that MGS4 drive 7% more hardware in one month. You never mention that a killer app would need to continous drive hardware sales in a X period of time.
    You are comparing a Handheld priced at $130 and a $35 software versus the most expensive console of this generation, and a $60 game.

    I understand your point, but im not that idealistic…. lets wait another month and we well see…. and wait Takken6 GT5 and FFXIII and watch those PS3 sales.

    About Boom Blox, for me, it is a success,,, drive 60k copies in a month with competitors like Mario Kart Wii, Wii Fit, WiiWare titles and SSBB discounts is amazing.

  26. waltermh says:

    carlos, this has actually been discussed heavily in the media create neogaf thread.

    MGS4 did not move the hardware necessary to help the ps3 in any appreciable way. it was a failure at turning around PS3s fate.

    when people discuss a games failure to help a system, they are discussing the “Wait for …” response system fans use.

    MGS4 was the second to last game the ps3 had that could turn around the ps3s fate, and pick up its sales. but 75k unit sales is not enough to show any kind of consumer awakening. its sales will drop by half or more each week til its back to normal. its following typical historical trends right now.

    so yes, MGS4 created a sales bump, but this is not the game that gets people to take the ps3 seriously, to wake up the masses. it just caused a typical bump.

  27. You know what; I’m going to actually congradute the PlayStation 3 for a change. Instead of the usual Sony meme stuff; I’m going to break the ice in saying the following:

    Kudos to PS3 for finally selling over 75,000 units in Japan in one week for the first time ever. Kudos to PS3 for beating Wii in worldwide sales for the first time in many, many months. And kudos to Sony for making an effort not to suck for at least one week. Your effort has not gone un-noticed. Keep up the good work….

    ….before you DIE! BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    I’m sorry; I just cannot help myself! – Babs Bunny

  28. Carlos says:

    Walter:
    You said:
    so yes, MGS4 created a sales bump, but this is not the game that gets people to take the ps3 seriously, to wake up the masses. it just caused a typical bump.

    I could agree with you, but it is just an speculation, lets wait 3 months. MGS4 it is just one of the games to come, PS3 is becoming cheaper, 3rd Party are starting to get a hang of Ps3 development (it is a complicated system), and it have the horsepower to run through a 6-7 year lifespan…

    On a side note, i really dont care about sony, or Microsoft, i own a Wii, i play Nintendo since NES, and Mario Bros 3 is the best game of all time, i am an old school gamer and HATE FPS (for me Halo is the most boring game of all time).. so i root for Nintendo. But i do think PS3 will prevail in the end… just a personal speculation… we will see.

  29. Ady says:

    Views like that of our analyst friend stem from the strongly held belief in the gaming community that it’s only a matter of time before the Wii “fad” ends and Sony takes up it’s “rightful” position as the market leader, despite the PS3 now being in the same position the Gamecube was last gen (which obviously stood no chance of dominance whatsoever).

    That MGS4 causes a slight sales blip is to be expected, and anyone using their brain would recognise that it would be very unusual if an eagerly awaited and much loved franchise ::didn’t:: cause a temporary sales spike. Even Halo 3 caused the 360 to outsell other platforms for a week or so in Japan, yet I see no-one claiming that the 360 was on the verge of dominance in that territory.

    Perhaps as this gen draws to a close, people will finally realise that Sony is not indestructible and that it can’t win them all.

  30. Carlos says:

    Ady, this is not about Sony, it is about the nature of the Wii audience.

    Wii owners (Europe and America, japan is a little different) are composed by
    – Nintendo Hardcores (those who use to have a N64, GC, or even a NES or SNES and stop playing Nintendo in some point, but were intrigued by the new controls)
    – A little percentage of Xbox and PS2 owners who want to experience something different.
    – And a big percentage of casual gamers.

    Casual gamers are not dumb gamers, or people who only play party games. Casuals are gamers whose primary form of entertainment IT IS NOT gaming.

    Well, NOBODY knows how the casual market is going to react in the long term. Nodoby knows if the people who bough wii for Wii sports, and now bought wii Fit are going to keep buying games, even this kind of games.

    For some, wii is just a fashion trend, for others is just a nice experiment, and for a lot more, is just fun, but it could be replaced soon by other forms of entertainments. It could be that this casual market become, tired of party games, or by this “peripheral” madness, and never really came to love other kind of games.

    then the wii will only be left by the old nintendo hardcores, and maybe some conversos of the casuals, but who knows.

    this is again not about Sony.. but you underestimate Sony analysts, they are thinking really long term, and they know hardcores and PS2 owners, are going to support their business well beyond 2012…

    And, no, the PS3 it is not where the GC were last gen, because PS3 library is JUST to grow with the quality titles PS2 use to have when where kickin GC butt… GC couldnt grow more because of the nature of the console…

    But again we will see.

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