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Nintendo did it again. There’s no other video game company that can take people by surprise through good times and bad as the historic Japanese corporation which gave birth to Mario and Samus Aran (and a thousand of other memorable characters). Unexpected announcements concerning both economic decisions and gaming ideas have always been a kind of particularity of Nintendo, and also today it lives up to its name: 3DS price has been enormously cut and video gamers communities are literally exploding in several directions, from the unqualified pessimistic attitude which wants Nintendo to present a new handheld device next year to the huge upbeat wave ensuring much higher sales and changes in third parties strategies.

But let’s explain this in an orderly fashion. The news came out along the 2011 Q1 financial report released early this morning; at first, Japan was informed about the price decrease with a PR stating that Nintendo had decided to change the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the console starting from August 11, 2011: a cut of ¥10.000, down from ¥25.000 to ¥15.000, the price by which the original DS was released back in 2004; ¥15.000 means that from the next month 3DS will be one of the cheapest console on the market, below PSP (¥17.800), PS2 (¥16.000), Wii (¥20.000) and DSi XL (¥18.000) and on par with DSi. It’s also clear why Super Pokémon Scramble, original planned for today in Japan, has been moved on August 11.
Then North America got its reduction too; one day after the Japanese cut, 3DS will shift to $169.99, down from the original $249.99 price, for a $80 decrease, less than the other territory (¥10.000 are roughly $130) but still an important amount. Nintendo press tried to have a warm tone by citing the arrival of Super Mario Bros. 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 during the holiday season and the reward in terms of 20 free NES and Game Boy Advance games available on the console eShop for the early adopters.
As usual, PAL countries came at last; Australians will be able to buy a 3DS for AU$249.95 down from the previous AU$349.95 thanks to a consistent $110 decrease, while in Europe there is not an official recommended retail price yet. Nintendo of Europe has confirmed the initiative and the compensation program, but even if rumors want the new price around €169 (and £130 in UK), it’s still not possible to quantify the actual drop.

Hence, a question obviously arises: why do Nintendo decide for such an aggressive price in all of its territories just few months after the launch? This cut is unprecedented in some way; Sony adjusted PS3 price many times but always introducing a new model or new retail configurations (e.g Slim, 80GB) and Nintendo did as well, but later within the console life cycle or, following the other companies, by introducing new versions of the same console as occured with DS and its 3 revisions. It seems also that with this decision, Nintendo will make a loss on 3DS hardware as Bloomberg Japan as reported, which probably falls in a safe range to allow the company to have a leeway, since this is the first time that it undercuts a console.

As a matter of fact, many factors brought to astonishing price slash, but it’s important to think objectively about the matter without being affected by the negative feeling people appears to have in the last weeks; in particular I’m talking about the game cancellation affaire, exaggerated in many Internet communities since just few titles has been scrapped indeed, and not because the sales of the system but for other reasons: Mega Man Legends 3 has been adandoned because of the lack of fans participation (while someone would be willing to wager that it’s because Inafune-san has left the project) considering the fact it has never been greenlighting; Assassin’s Creed: Lost Legacy had never entered in production and some of its concepts were channeled into Revelations, the new episode for PS3 and 360; DJ Hero suffered the reassessment of the Hero brand due to Activision following the low sales of the last entries (on home consoles, not on DS, where Guitar Hero games have always sold quite well); Hudson titles, such as Omega Five and Kororinpa, instead, felt the acquisition of the company by Konami which now totally owns it. Read up is not costly nowadays, therefore ascribing this events to a presumed low performance by 3DS is specious, especially when people play delays off as oddities that never happened in the history of the video game industry: guys, wake up, this has always occured! Software houses might have many projects under active consideration, but not all of them see store shelves, in particular for young products.

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Level-5 has grown a lot in the course of the last 3 years; it had created a series which was able to sell million of units all around the world (Professor Layton); another series has recently reach the million mark exclusively in Japan (Inazuma Eleven); its collaboration with Sony has carried on with the development of a new IP, White Knight Chronicles, out on PS3 and soon on PSP; moreover, it was behind the best selling Dragon Quest ever, the ninth chapter and it’s preparing a lot of title for 2011 among which a ton of games for 3DS (Time Travelers, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright).

Some weeks ago, one of its most promising game has been out in Japan: Ni no Kuni (i.e. 二ノ国 which means “Second Land” and it can be expressed as “Another World”) is a jRPG for DS with the artistic direction assigned to Studio Ghibli that will be followed by another version in 2011 for PS3.
Cutting to the chase, Level-5 has shipped 600.000 copies of the game but it seems it’s not performing so well: in fact its price has decreased almost everywhere which is not a good sign at all. The game will almost surely arrive at least in North America: Akihiro Hino hinted something during the GDC  in 2009, where the game had been shown.

Here are Ni no Kuni sales in the first weeks (Media Create data: 1, 2, 3):
1st week:   170.548 (December 6-12)
2nd week: 74.329 (December 13-19)
3rd week:  84.115 (December 20-26)
4th week:  53.295 (December 27 – January 2)
Total sales are 382.287, which is roughly the 63,7% of the initial shipment.
Ni no Kuni debut is very good considering the fact that it’s a new IP; it’s one of the best start for a new-brand jRPG, only behind the first White Knight Chronicles debut (203.033 copies, Famitsu data). It also showed unusual legs for the genre, surely thanks of Christmas holidays.
I do hope the game will continue to sell well, but I wonder if it can reach the first stock ordered by retailers. Actually, it’s not an impossible goal but the time needed to arrive might be dangerous for future Level-5 games.

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Konami has always been skilful in doing good and appreciated dating simulations; indeed, Tokimeki Memorial, one of its most famous productions, has often be associated with the entire genre, representing it for at least a decade in Japan. During the mid-90s, the first chapter (i.e. Tokimeki Memorial: Forever With You) in the series stormed the charts by selling more than 800.000 units both on PS1 and on Saturn (473.795 and 374.936 units respectively) and certainly reaching the million mark counting the other platforms where it came out (PC Engine, Super Famicom and PC, and later also on mobile phones and PSP): an incredible result for such a niche genre, usually confined to the personal computer market. This was enough to entitle Konami the queen of dating sims and to begin a very extensive brand exploitation, between anime TV series, spin-offs (bound to girls as well) and merchandising of any kind.

But it seems Konami has recently found another brand to milk properly among otaku audience.
A dating sim which was able in its first appearance to more than double the latest entry in Tokimeki Memorial series; a game that has made Japanese video gamers a bit crazier than usual when digital girls were around… An out-and-out mania which started slowly and grew over time becoming one of the most popular and wanted game of the past two years.
A very simple title, LovePlus (or Love+), and not so many expectations at first, even though the DS was chosen for the release; the game was introduced as a more interactive dating-sim than Tokimeki Memorial, which is actually more novel-oriented, and focused on the relationship to establish day by day with one of the three girls the player has to choose (for the record, Manaka, Rinko and Nene); in order to have a more realistic approach, the internal DS clock would have helped the days to flow as it did in Animal Crossing Wild World. But concerning the genre Konami had published just some Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side on DS (which had a remarkable success) so the outcome of the project wasn’t so obvious
In fact, LovePlus debut was modest: 47.854 units sold within the first 4 days in the market, in early September 2009; actually, the game had been sold-out straight after but continued to sell well for months and it eventually ended up with more than 240.000 units sold . This unforeseen result is even more important when we consider the usual commercial life of similar products: otaku games almost always run out of their market potential within the first weeks after the launch, being more front-loaded than every other game; dating sims are in the group, with tie-in of certain manga or anime (e.g. Suzumiya Haruhi) or particular title with digital idols (e.g. Project Diva), and they usually tend to sell the majority of their LTD in a very short lapse of time. LovePlus, instead, kept selling from September to Christmas holidays and even in the first months of the new year, with a small but constant amount of copies weekly. As stated before, neither Tokimeki Memorial 4, released on PSP in December, 2009, could sell so much, stopping at about 70.000 copies, less than one third of LovePlus total sales.

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I know, it was too easy; sorry for the play-on-words but the software house that created Castlevania and Pro Evolution Soccer many years ago is following a plain strategy on the DS, alongside dating sims and tie-in productions: make a copy of successful concepts on the console.

The proof showing Konami has a lot of pleasure in committing this behaviour is in the last Famitsu, where it has been introduced its new (and first) adventure novel for 3DS, Doctor Lautrec and and the Forgotten Knights. Does the title remind you something? Well, let’s see: a high brow person as the protagonist; a cute assistant; a story full of mystery set around the late XIX century; puzzle to solves, dialogues to read… Mmh, perhaps Konami has chosen Level 5’s Professor Layton as inspiration? Trivial question, I know. Even because this is the second time in a year the Tokyo-based company tries to replicate Hershel Layton’s success by copying him.

Indeed in October it published Zack and the Ombras: The Phantom Amusement Park (above the two main characters) directed by Junko Kawano (Suikoden, Shadow of Memories), an adventure game plenty of logical tricks and quiz to clear up which debuted in a very low position in the weekly Media Create chart (38th, with 8-9,000 copies sold approximately); Layton’s big numbers were obviously quite impossible to reach as a new IP but Zack and the Ombras opened even less than some other similar structured games, such as Sloan to MacHale (58.513 copies in the first week, Famitsu data), Project Hacker (33.199 copies) and also Time Hollow (25.827 copies), a game by Konami itself from the same director.
Forgetting this failure, maybe Konami has thought that the path to follow was right and there was a large fanbase to feed; actually, Doctor Lautrec is more well-promising than Zack (it has a good 3D graphic and more game elements), but it looks too much similar to Layton and this might be a double-edged sword: 3DS is still a rich soil to be exploited and starting with so high (at least, in terms of design) production values it might be fruitful; but the release date is set in 2011 Spring, the same as the first Level 5’s game, which is just Professor Layton, namely The Mask of Miracles, and this is not a smart move.

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There’s a new phenomenon in the Japanese charts. First clue: it has been charting for 38 weeks and it’s still there. Second clue: it’s a new IP. Third clue: it’s Nintendo. Well, reading the title, the solution is quite easy: I’m referring to Tomodachi Collection (i.e. トモダチコレクション or Friend Collection as I prefer), a sales monster that is showing us how a simple and smart idea could win over huge investment and famous brands.

Nintendo has collected a lot of cases like this. Most of its games have a similar chart history in Japan, becoming sleeper hits with million copies sold; Pokémon Green, Red and Blue, Brain Training, Rhythm Tengoku Gold, Wii Sports, Animal Crossing are all games that had started with moderate sales and had sold constantly every week an amount of copies to the point that they reached the “million seller” status and some of them sold over 3 or 4 million copies.

Tomodachi Collection is ready to cross the 3 million mark and this might happen the next week.
It was released on June 18, 2009 and the first week went to sell 100,373 copies; a good start for a game that was announced on the back foot by Nintendo during its October conference and that had been developed by a small team at Nintendo SPD Group N.1 (although it took over three years to be develop) producing by Yoshio Sakamoto… But the first week wasn’t the best week the game; Tomodachi Collection had a strong momentum during Christmas holiday: from mid-December until the end of the month, it was able to sell over 600,000 copies!

continue the story…

Chrono Trigger is usually referred as one of the most beautiful jRPG of all time. Developed by the so-called “Dream Team” (Sakaguchu-Horii-Toriyama-Uematsu-Mitsuda) from Squaresoft, the game was released on SNES only in Japan and United States in 1995 and was one of the last masterpiece of the 16-bit Nintendo console. It made its return on PS1 some years ago and on DS with an enhanced porting in 2008, arriving for the first time in Europe.

At the time, the game sold a huge amount of copies in Japan, overtaking episodes from famous brands such as Romancing SaGa 3 and Kirby’s Dream Land 2 and placing itself only behind Donkey Kong Country 2 and Final Fantasy VI. In North America it achieved a more moderate success, but it went to sell on average with other jRPG like Secret of Mana and Earthbound. Here the data from SNES and PS version:

Japan (SNES): 2,030,000 copies
Japan (PS1): 330,000 copies
North America (SNES/PS1): 290,000 copies
(total: 2,650,000 copies)

Although european data are not available, there are some numbers from the other territories concerning the DS version. The game was released on Novembre 2008, and these data are until December 2008, so they are surely not so updated, but they can give a good idea of the game sales:

Japan: 490,000 copies
North America: 220,000 copies
(total: 710,000 copies)

Square Enix spied out to see how many people were still interested in the game.
Such numbers are quite good for a porting of a 13 years old jRPG, and with the european sales, a million copies worldwide seems reasonable.
So, what will the plans concerning the brand Chrono be for the software house?
It might develop a porting of Chrono Cross (the sequel came out for PS1 in 2000) somewhere, maybe on DS itself and then start the creating of the third entry in the series (well, actually there’s already a third entry, and its name is Radical Dreamers, but it is usually considered a game apart because of its limitated release and its genre). Or maybe the DS porting was only an occasion to milk the name, well knowing that there are a lot of fans in the world attached to the adventures of Crono, Marle and co.

Time will tell (and in this case, it is a proper sentence).

Naughty Dog should be really happy to continue the development of successful series across all Sony consoles; in the mid-1990s it created Crash Bandicoot, a milky brand that has been selling million and million of copies for years. On PS2, it was Jak & Daxter’s turn to represent the platform genre, and it was success again even if some adventure features had been introduced by the programmers. With the most troubled PS3, it wasn’t simple to create a new IP for the masses because they weren’t on the console at all. But Naughty Dog had changed course of action and developed an action/adventure game which could have been liked to the different audience presented on the new console. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was a sleeper hit and thanks of a good word-of-mouth and smart bundles made was able to reach 2,6 million copies sold worldwide.

A sequel was not to be waited for. Among Thieves was released on October 2009 worldwide and it started with really strong sales in both North America and Europe. But even after many months have gone by there’s a mystery around the sales of this long-waited game among Playstation 3 users. So let’s go back over some facts that we have become acquainted with.

1 million units sold: according to the Senior Vice President of Business Development at Sony Computer Entertainment, after one month of its release, Uncharted 2 sold 1 million copies, being the fastest selling first party game on PS3. It was Novembre 2009.

continue the story… makes us laugh again. The new year has come and the year-end charts weren’t enough: a new flow of charts are arriving! But there’s always something wrong. Do you remember the highest budget games Top10 come out few weeks ago and disclosed completely wrong all the more that EDGE was forced to remove the article from its site? Well, it’s coming another flop10 on the same level.

Look at the expected biggest selling games of 2010 in Matt Martin’s opinion, a editor:

1. Halo: Reach
2. Final Fantasy XIII
3. StarCraft II
4. Call of Duty 7
5. FIFA 11
6. BioShock 2
7. Mass Effect 2
8. God of War III
9. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
10. Gran Turismo 5

What the…?
Maybe has the ‘journalist’ thought that Nintendo would have stopped to selling games during 2010?
It’s really weird to think that Super Mario Galaxy 2, the new Legend of Zelda, Pokémon Heart Gold / Soul Silver and evergreens like NEW Super Mario Bros. Wii, Wii Sports Resort and Mario Kart Wii won’t sell anything, or an amount of copies that doesn’t permit them to enter in such that chart. Mr Martin might have eaten a very fatty tuna melt before writing this article.
And why should a 2,5 million copies series (God of War) sell more than a 10 million copies one as Gran Turismo when its last episode, a demo (5 Prologue), has sold more than every episode of the former?

Moreover, with the February NPD data it has become clear that Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 2 won’t be 2010 best sellers even if they have seen a good amount of copies sold. Instead, Final Fantasy XIII has already sold almost 2 million copies in Japan, but most of them were in 2009; with 3 million copies sold to retailers in the other territories, how could it be at number 2 at the end of the year?
Affaire Starcraft 2. It’s hard to say if a PC game might see such high numbers (its position is the number 3), but if nor Spore or Crysis could reach good numbers, it’s not so likely that it will the RTS from Blizzard.

If you have had a really bad day, check here and start to laugh.

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