The Overlooked Silent Portable Market

nomusic2.jpgOsu! Tatakae! Ouendan launched in 2005 in the land of the rising sun to critical acclaim and lukewarm sales. A sizeable import market for the game facilitated the release of Elite Beat Agents in the United States in 2006, resulting in less than half of its predicted sales. How can a game that everybody loves do so poorly in the market?

A poll conducted here at Infendo said that about 78% of you played portable games with full sound, either through the speakers on the system or via headphones. However, 22% of you (myself included) revealed that you often play portable games with the sound muted. After all, who wants to be the prick on the bus/restaurant/waiting room that’s blaring Pokémon battle fanfare at top volume? In part, this is a disparity between our largely American audience and a Japanese one – also in part is a difference between your average Infendo reader and a casual portable gamer. But those figures notwithstanding, the fact cannot be denied that any audio-oriented game released for a portable system effectively cuts off about a quarter of its target market.

Imagine if you were to make a racing game, something that appealed to a broad demographic and was by all accounts the finest racing game ever created. Now imagine that in order to play this game, you would need to swipe your driver’s license every time you wanted to boot it up. The average gamer is around 40 years of age, and this absurd caveat would in the end probably restrict less people from playing your game than requiring sound on your portable venture would.

Now, truth be told, had Elite Beat Agents not required sound to play, it would probably have only shifted about 34,000 more copies at launch – Even so, this number combined with actual sales is at least over half of the expected sales for the title. And in the world of new intellectual property, every sale counts.

Ubisoft is preparing to release Jam Session for DS in the near future. And all told, it’s a wonderfully brilliant idea that both stymies innovation and will in all likelyhood move less units than Horsez. And it’s a damn shame, because analysts and producers alike will once again learn the wrong lessons from its failure at market and blame that on its “quirky” premise. Innovation is key to rising to success in this industry, but the lock in which that key fits only turns for those that understand how to market their inventions. So developers, here’s a tip: don’t make your customers be that prick on the bus. Nobody likes that guy.