Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Dog Days of Summer

Who would have thought? Nintendogs, Nintendo’s Tamagotchi, pet simulation, non-game, whatever you want to call it is probably the biggest surprise for the market this summer. Dismissed months before its release and mocked by hard-core gamers as a flop in waiting, Nintendogs has sold well over 500,000 copies in Japan. It has boosted the Nintendo DS’s fortunes as the DS continue to outsell the PSP by substantial margins on a weekly basis since late spring of this year.

When the game was preparing for launch in North America two weeks ago, the same people surfaced and made slightly revised but similar predictions. “Nintendogs was a success in Japan, but it’s a Japanese thing. It will never do well in North America.” Some predictions called for as little as 80,000 units sold in the first week. And for a while they seem to have been right. After all, the underlying assumption wasn’t completely made up. There are indeed strong cultural differences between Japan and North America. Games that do well here, mainly First Person Shooters, don’t do quite as well in Japan. And some genres, such as the PC strategy/god games don’t even show up on the radar of Japanese gaming. But the assumption is highly selective. Over the years, there have been several trans-pacific successes. The rise of the RPG as a major genre in North America, the success of Pokemon, the surprise success of Grand Theft Auto in Japan and the old stalwarts Sonic and Mario all point to underlying similarities and convergence of the gaming public in both territories.

So it might have surprised a few people when Nintendo of America announced this week that Nintendogs sold through 250,000 copies in North America in its first week on sale, selling to 15% of the Nintendo DS installed base. But this should be hardly surprising. The Nintendo DS has been cultivating an image that seems to make it appeal to female gamers and more casual gamers. This strategy did not win it many supporters in the hard-core community but it has translated into sales. Consider that hard-core community have previously supported games such as Radiant Silvergun, Phantom Brave and Psychonauts with what seemed like overwhelming praise on the Internet but none of that translated into strong sales. Even strong hard-core favorites that became sleeper hits, such as Nintendo's own Animal Crossing, took several months of steady sales to hit 300,000 units sold. Nintendogs is poised to break that mark in less than 2 weeks time. The game also sold more units in its first week than Advance Wars DS. The game was released in the same week and was a far more popular game among the hard-core DS owners.

If I can be cynical, it can be said the hard-core pundits no longer run the heart and minds of the industry and at best, they’re trendsetters for the early adopters and in a very limited capacity at that. Alternatively, we can also say that Nintendo has so successfully reached a new audience with the Nintendo DS that the hard-core pundits no longer have a good read of the industry when it comes to the DS but given our batting average with a number of games on the home consoles, it may be more appropriate to say that hard-cores no longer have a good read of the industry in general.

Lastly, I just received word that Cyan Worlds Inc., the studio famous for their Myst franchise has closed down, laying off every employee except for two people. I was never into Myst and I only have the Sega Saturn version of the game as a collectible. However, I’ve always admired the game. The game also holds a place in history as it will forever be tied up with the PC gaming scene of the early 90s and the nostalgic memories I have of gaming in general during that period. For more information, check out the Cyan FAQ as well as Grey Dragon’s blog.

No comments: