Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Sunday, June 12, 2011

E3 Post-Mortem: Who Won, Who Lost

See full-size infographic here.
Now that the booths have been struck, the loudspeakers turned off, and the booth babes are fully dressed again, it's time to sort through all of the information, misinformation, hype and rhodomontade to figure out who won, who lost, and who's going to be up and who's going to be down in the coming year. Some interesting data on that point was compiled here by Webtrends, shown in the graphic above.

Adding up total mentions on the internet, Nintendo won with 43.1%, Sony had 31.2%, and Microsoft had 25.7%. Of course, it's not just who got talked about the most, it's what people said about it. Nintendo, going into E3, was certainly the favorite to get the most buzz, since they were introducing a new console.

Nintendo's introduction was certainly not an unqualified success. One very independent measure is what happened to Nintendo's stock price, which dropped 5.7% the next day and then another 5.2% the following day. Many people were confused by the presentation, which focused more on the Wii U controller than on the Wii U itself, to the point where some observers were wondering if Nintendo was introducing some sort of tablet gaming device instead of a new console. It didn't help that Nintendo was more than usually vague about speeds and feeds, leaving the tech journalists without much to talk about. Even when it came to game software, we were shown technical demos and some concepts about game design rather than actual games. Clearly this new console is quite far from being ready for release. It feels to me like Nintendo was rushed into announcing the device by the rather alarming drop in Wii sales over the past 6 months, and the disappointing 3DS sales, which between them has left Nintendo in rather poor condition.

Meanwhile, Sony had to spend part of its time apologizing for the massive security problems and the PSN shutdown. They did manage to redirect attention to their new handheld, announcing the name (PS Vita) and the price ($249). The name is about as enchanting as the Wii U name; Japanese companies seem to have problems coming up with really good names in the last decade or so (I still like Super Nintendo Entertainment System, myself). The price announcement was a surprise, and puts Sony in a good competitive position against the 3DS this holiday season. Assuming, that is, that Nintendo doesn't drop the 3DS price before the PS Vita release, which would be the obvious tactical move.

Microsoft didn't have any new hardware to talk about, which left them pushing existing hardware... specifically, Kinect. They showed Kinect enabled for nearly everything, though it was pretty clear that adding Kinect capability to a shooter is not exactly a must-have combo. Announcements for Xbox Live video content and new games were the primary news for Microsoft.

Publishers were, of course, mostly talking about their new titles. Electronic Arts was pushing their new Origin service, a combination of digital distribution and social network. Activision was talking about their new Call of Duty Elite subscription service. Both of these things mark the shift of the industry from purely depending on retail store sales to moving to digital revenue and subscription services.

Overall, I saw nothing coming out of E3 that would help the traditional retail sales market. It's harder than ever for a title to succeed at retail, unless it happens to be a sequel to a best-seller. Software sales through retail stores have sunk for three years running, and while sales of accessories have masked it somewhat this year, it's clear that trend will continue. Digital distribution and other business models are the future of the gaming industry. Some publishers seem to be fully aware of this, others are being dragged into it... and some are closing their eyes and hoping it goes away.

I think Nintendo has an interesting new console that will do OK for them, but it will not be as successful as the  Wii. Sony has a better handheld than the 3DS in their new PS Vita, but it remains to be seen if a $249 dedicated gaming device can really be a huge success in a world of smartphones and tablets with thousands of free games. Microsoft seems to be hoping that their Kinect, expansion of Xbox Live to Windows and smartphones, and the smartphone partnership with Nokia will be sufficient to maintain their leadership position in the console business.

I think huge changes are still heading for the console business, and Nintendo seems ill-positioned to meet those changes. Sony and Microsoft, at least, have worked hard on their networks for their consoles. Nintendo has barely acknowledged its existence. I fear for their future.

As for the game industry, E3 no longer represents the future. The revenue is quickly shifting to digital distribution, social gaming and mobile gaming. Console gaming will continue to be a major force, but it will no longer be the only game in town.

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