July 31, 2009

Video game weekend: The PS3 really does suck, and the Wii really does rule

First, let me state at the outset that I don't own any of the current-generation home consoles, although I do own a Nintendo DS. My Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, TurboGrafx 16, and Game Boy Player for the GameCube offer a superior library of games. So I have no stake in who wins the current console competition (let's leave the phrase "X wars" in the '90s where it belongs). Instead, I simply consider sales data from market research group NPD, as reported in the latest issue of Game Informer -- and as hand-checked by me (5 of the 20 data were errors!).

The list only includes the top 20 best-selling games (in units sold) of May 2009; obviously it would be better to have a more complete list. Still, this will do. They include 6 games for the Wii, 5 for the DS, 6 for the Xbox 360, and 3 for the PlayStation 3.

To get a better feel for a game's true, underlying quality, I excluded all games that were released in that month. The reason is simple: when a game is just released, its initial sales are mostly determined by the advertising budget, the hype it gets on the internet, and word-of-mouth exuberance in anticipation of its release. It's only after it's been out of the gate for a month or so that actual game players have had time to familiarize themselves with the game and talk about it to each other, post their opinions on the internet, and so on. Only then can we tell whether the game can survive on its merits rather than pure hype and PR.

If an overhyped game turns out to stink, people will talk about this, and its sales will crash in the next month and remain low. On the other hand, if an underrated game gets enough word-of-mouth praise, it can enter the best-selling list after its release month.

Doing this leaves 12 of the original 20 games, showing that nearly half of all best-selling games in a month probably benefit only from the producer's PR and fanboy hype, and that they likely fall off a cliff almost right away. Some of these games released in May could in fact prove strong, but the release dates from the list overall don't offer them much hope.

Of the 12 that have proven themselves over time, 5 are for the Nintendo DS (0 were cut), 4 are for the Nintendo Wii (2 were cut), 3 are for the Xbox 360 (3 were cut), and 0 are for the PlayStation 3 (all 3 were cut). The surviving Xbox 360 games are all below the original top 10, while 3 of the surviving Wii games and 1 of the surviving DS games are in the original top 10. The oldest game on the list is Mario Kart DS, which came out three and a half years before, and the second-oldest is New Super Mario Bros for the DS, which came out three years before. Imagine a Hollywood studio producing two movies that were in theaters for three years and counting!

In a world of fickle consumers who ruthlessly heap scorn on shitty games and gush over the great ones, the staying power of Nintendo's DS and Wii games, and of Microsoft's Xbox 360 games, is as reliable of an indicator of quality as we can imagine. For the same reason, the pathetic showing of PS3 games explains why its hardware sales are in last place by far -- no one wants to play the software for that system. Their game sales benefit only from pre-release hype and PR -- once people get around to playing them, and talking about them, their sales take a nose-dive.

As I said before, I don't care who wins, and that's probably why I'm not blinded in the whole matter. It was just an issue of looking up some numbers in a magazine I happened to be flipping through. On an objective basis, we conclude that Nintendo currently puts out the best games, although the Xbox 360's games are not terribly far behind, and the PS3 is the present-day reincarnation of the overhyped Neo Geo home console from the early 1990s.

As an older-minded video game player, it's heartening to see that all 5 of the best-selling handheld games have proven themselves over time -- none were due to hype and PR of that month -- and for quite some time. It just goes to show that one system's superior hardware capabilities don't mean shit if the games for it are boring. This allows a mostly 2-D handheld system to crush a 3-D home system that has more realistic graphics. I hesitate to say "better" graphics, since maybe the average person doesn't want straight-up realism and dark shading, but rather prefers vibrant colors and a fantasy look. But innate human preferences and video game aesthetics are another topic altogether.


  1. if your intention was to see which systems are doing well, u could just track the console sales month by month. if u want to see which games are "better," u might want to consider that there are a lot more wii's and ds's around, which might mess w/ the numbers here.

    just in my personal experience, many of the ppl w/ wii's and ds's are couples or women that don't play the games they buy very often or very intently.

    that, of course, doesn't matter to the game creator as long as they keep buying games. but it seems like u should calculate the per capita game sales instead to find out which games do better.

    mario kart would likely stay in the mix b/c it's a great party game and always has been, but some of the others might not stay in contention.

  2. Yeah, the march towards 'better' graphics has never held much weight for me. What makes a game visually appealing isn't photorealism, but creative stylization of reality.

  3. if u want to see which games are "better," u might want to consider that there are a lot more wii's and ds's around,

    Yes, but why are there more wii's and ds's -- not because people like to collect hardware, but because they want to play the games for the system.

  4. i only suggested looking at per capita game sales b/c u said u wanted "to get a better feel for a game's true, underlying quality." i wasn't convinced that your analysis told the entire story.

    but if u feel volume comparisons get at the truth of game quality, that's entirely your prerogative. i don't think it's likely u would have found a different result if u just decided to look at the console sales however. i mean it just makes sense to me that a system w/ a much larger user base would top the volume charts in game sales.

    here are my biased feelings on the console wars: the wii controllers are great for casual players and party games. but i find them to be too imprecise for games requiring higher levels of skill.

    i find the wii games too easy (beat games in 1 day) or as i said, imprecise (wii sports golf putting is horrid). i enjoy playing wii games w/ casual game playing friends, but among my hardcore playing friends, we always play the 360 or ps3.

    b/c there is a much larger group of casual gamers than hardcore gamers, i think it's natural that the wii always beat the other consoles in system and game sales.

  5. My mate has a Wii. Its great for playing socially over a few drinks.

    The new mario kart is great and the new super smash brothers even better. The first is just an updated version of the classic racing game while the later wins through its playability. The amount of moves offered to each player are what pushes this fighter above other fighters just like the previous smash brothers

    - Breeze

  6. i think xbox really does suck alot. i know playstation 3 is a whole lot better.


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