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We're Pretty Sure Your Game Is a Flop
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on August 16, 2010   |   Episode 172 (Show Archive)  

   

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial is not only a terrible Atari 2600 game, but it's also one of the biggest sales disasters of all time!
What would you say if I told you that I was going to write an article about the biggest video game flops of 2010? Fair enough, the year isn't over yet but there are certainly worse story ideas. Now what if instead of giving you real facts and numbers, I decide to just guess and go with what sounds right? Would that be okay with you?

Well, it's not okay with me. And yet, that's exactly what Chris Morris of Yahoo! Games did with their creatively titled article, No Sale: 2010's Most Disappointing Games.

Before we delve deep into a world full of guessing and speculation, let's first look at Morris's terribly misguided headline. As the centuries old argument goes, what is popular is not always what is good. I merely need to point to Wii Play, the best selling game of all time, to prove my point. Not convincing enough? What about Sonic the Black Knight, the surprisingly successful

Who is buying this crap???
Wii game. Or maybe Star Wars: The Clone Wars. And don't even get me started on how popular the horrific G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra game was.

The point is, what sells is not always a good barometer for what is good. I don't care if The Godfather II sold more than, say, Braid -- that doesn't make it a better game. So, the idea that these sales failures (as Morris puts it), are the most "disappointing" games is specious from the start. But I don't care: It's not the title I'm here to dissect. It's the terrible, terrible article that falls under that misleading headline.

Morris's article lists six games: Alan Wake, Green Day: Rock Band, Split/Second, Blur, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11. There you have it, that's the full

Alan Wake prepares to hunt down the losers who still haven't played his game!
roster of disappointing sellers. Note that the oldest game on that list came out just over two months ago. Heck, some of those games are less than a month old, so calling them disappointing seems a bit premature to say the least.

Perhaps we should start at the top, with the one genuine sales disappointment on the list. Alan Wake was not the overwhelming success Microsoft hoped for -- even they would admit that. With five years of development and hype surrounding it, everybody expected Alan Wake pull in strong sales. Unfortunately, Remedy's newest horror game had the misfortune of coming out on the same day as Red Dead Redemption, the year's biggest game. In its first month Alan Wake debuted in 8th place on the monthly NPD sales figures. It didn't even chart after that.

Then again, this long-overdue game was never expected to be the biggest selling title of the year. Of course, don't tell that to Morris. He reports that sales are "nowhere near what people were expecting."

Had Chris Morris waited a few weeks, he could have guessed at the sales of Singularity!
Really? The game sold better than the last Silent Hill game, a title that has a well-known name attached to it. Did it live up to five years of production? Of course not, but then again, there's not a game around that could live up to that much hype.

And then there's Green Day: Rock Band. According to Morris, Harmonix's music game failed to live up to expectations. "The numbers indicate that the fan base of Billie Joe Armstrong & co. prefer to listen to the punk rock trio instead of playing their songs on plastic instruments." They do? As the article suggests, Morris has only have one month of data, yet he seems a little too eager to write the game off as a disappointment.

So Chris Morris thinks Green Day is a flop? What is he basing that on? Surely it's not the fact that Harmonix's newest game didn't crack the top ten. If that's the

Green Day: Rock Band would have been a million times cooler if it had a Woodstock '94 level!
case, 99% of the games released each year are disappointments. In June of 2010, there were only eight games that managed to crack the top ten, and only one was an original IP. The rest were made up of big-names games like Harry Potter, UFC, Super Mario Galaxy and Toy Story. As a band, Green Day has sold a lot of albums. But if you think they're as popular as Harry Potter, you've been hanging out in their green room too long.

The real question is: How much did it cost to make Green Day: Rock Band? We're talking about a game that is running on an older engine, features only a few locations/characters and offers a back catalog that only involves one band and one label. Assuming it didn't cost much to develop, who says that this is one of the most disappointing games of the year?

And that's the crux of the problem: At no point does Morris offer any sales figures. He makes guesses and predictions, but never actually say how many units these games have sold. There's a reason

There's unsettling about Front Row Joe, AMC's mute mascot!
for that -- he doesn't actually know. It's true: Morris has no idea how many copies of Green Day: Rock Band has sold. And even if he simply uses the NPD figures, he's still missing every game sold at Walmart, the nation's biggest retailer.

This is not the kind of treatment other industries are given. When Scott Mendelson (of Huffington Post and Salon) tackles this week's top grossing movies, he's not going to ignore ticket sales from all the AMC theaters. He's not going to guess how much each movie cost to make. He's not going to write an article about the biggest flops and then refuse to

No, I'm not calling Final Fantasy XIII a sales flop!
publish a single sales figure. He won't do that because that's unprofessional. Instead he'll look at his research and comes to a fair conclusion. He may have terrible tastes in movies, but at least Mr. Mendelson is a good journalist.

What Chris Morris is doing is not fair. He's pointing a finger at games that have barely been out a month and expecting them to outperform their predecessors. Did these games underperform? Most likely they did, which is a shame as they are all great games. But are these games bigger disappointments than Dark Void, Yazuka 3 and Just Cause 2? Not a single one of these games managed to chart on the NPD's top ten, yet they somehow missed this Yahoo list?

And what about Final Fantasy XIII, a game that had a strong start but dropped out of the top twenty after only a few weeks? This is a game that has been in development for as long as Alan Wake, yet I don't see

In my dreams Mickey Mouse dances with Jennie Garth while detailing the quarterly sales figures!
Morris mentioning its limited shelf-life (and mixed review scores). I guarantee more money went into making Final Fantasy XIII, but it's Alan Wake that spearheads this lousy article.

In order to hammer the final nail into this article's coffin, all we need to do is look at recent earnings figures from Viacom and Disney Interactive. Mere hours after Morris submitted his article, Viacom announced operating profits up $789 million -- good for 14 percent. They cited the scaled-back approach of Green Day: Rock Band as one of the reasons.

And don't forget about Split/Second, a game Morris refers to as "another victim of the gridlock of racing games." Earlier today Disney announced a $65 million quarterly

At least we're past the days of people making fun of my beloved PSP!
loss. While this is certainly bad news for the company, one of the bright spots was the 74% revenue bump generated by Split/Second and Toy Story 3. Much like Morris, Disney refused to give actual numbers, but they did stress that these two titles made a significant impact on its bottom line.

Morris has set up a standard very few games can meet. By applying his logic, pretty much every game released this year was a sales disaster. But the truth is, not every game can be Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Red Dead Redemption. Nobody expects every game to set the world on fire. Well, almost nobody. Apparently Morris isn't afraid to apply his logic in the most selective way possible. But what do you expect from an author that can't be bothered to look at games that came out before May 2010? This is the kind of lazy journalism that keeps people from taking Yahoo! Games seriously.

On a positive note, Yahoo!'s site is so convoluted and annoying to navigate, most people probably won't even see their sorry excuse for games journalism. And at the end of the day, maybe that's for the best. No sale, indeed.
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