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The Chart is a Lie: Donít Believe the Hype
by Paul Johnson on 07/23/13 07:26:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

According to a recent post over at gamesindustry.biz, Naughty Dog's The Last of Us is now holding firm at number one in "the charts" for the sixth week running.

I wonder if Supercell and King.com would agree?  (Or care?)

I don't know if it's just bias since I'm predominantly a mobile developer now, but the rampant “consolecentrism” that we accept as normal is starting to feel a little bit old. Any time there’s a bit of news in the general gaming press, it’s always about some console game or other.
 
And yet this world is one that I simply don’t recognize at all. Like most developers, my history is in that console and PC world (actually it’s in the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum world if I want to give my age away,) but for the last several years I’ve been focusing on mobile development. The reason for that is simple enough – as soon as the App Store opened, the world changed.

In fact it changed a lot. And that initial change of direction has been accelerating for several years now, so much so that mobile should now be the dominant subject for gaming news. More or less everybody is playing mobile games these days, be it a serious session with a tablet sat on the sofa, or a timewaster during a boring commute. The next time you use public transport, just look around – mobile games are everywhere!

And how big is this change really? Let me tell you. It’s MASSIVE. I have some big news for the old guard -- consoles are becoming a minority platform. Mobile is winning in terms of number of players, number of different games, hours played, games sold/downloaded, everything. The only place where console is still ahead is in gross earnings, but that gap has been closing year on year. When you factor in the average price differences, it’s not hard to see how this lead still exists, but I’m betting it won’t do in a year or two more.

One Chart to Rule Them All

I own two consoles and play games on both. I am not on a mission to inflame console developers/gamers… but I’d like to start to see mobile and social games get their due. I have nothing against console games and console charts should obviously continue to exist.

However, such a chart should be labeled a "console chart" and not "the chart."

Why? The simple fact is, Clash of Clans is already competing with Call of Duty and it laughs in the face of The Last Of Us. These are serious players in the standalone earnings department. In fact it's not too much a stretch of the imagination to think that by the time Clash of Clans has died away, as all games do eventually, that it will have earned a significant fraction of last year’s entire console industry income all by itself – that’s the kind of numbers we’re talking about.

And this is just one company among many thousands, and they are not that much of a runaway. There is so much player money being pumped into mobile right now that the console industry just isn’t the big news it was. Next year’s monster splash on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 probably wouldn’t look any better (in terms of earnings) than a top mobile performer. But who do you think will get the most column inches?

I just want to see some balance and fair play.



Mobile Matters. Really.

According to this article at vg247, commenting on UKIE findings, the console gaming sector in the UK was worth £1.35Bn in 2011. I can't find figures for 2012, but it seems they'll be a little lower still.

And we've all heard that Supercell is doing $4M a day, right? That's about £3M. Well that's a billion pounds a year right there. Supercell are at #2 and #3 now, so if we include Candy Crush Saga into the mix, the current #1, it seems to me that those THREE GAMES are worth about the same money as the entire UK console industry, give or take.

So why do “the charts” ignore all this and still focus on which console game sold more than which other console game? It doesn’t matter -- the top earners in mobile seem to do more money than that entire list each by themselves and they stick around for years, not weeks or months. There’s no boasting about “6 weeks at number 1” here.

The New World Order

Most of my “research” here is all a bit back of napkin as hard figures for mobile sales are hard to get hold of, especially to the average joe like me. But even if I’m an order of magnitude out, which I know I’m not, everything I’ve said so far still holds in essence. The disparity between perception and reality of mobile gaming really is that great. So isn't it about time we acknowledged the way things actually are?

Here is a chart that seems far more relevant for who’s selling how much of what:
http://appshopper.com/bestsellers/games/grossing

(The separate iPad chart is where Supercell is #2 and #3)

I’m sure you remember how everyone talked about the success of Rovio’s Angry Birds. Go look where that title is in this list just several months on. And yet all over the Internet all I see are article after article about how the Xbox One will be $100 more expensive than PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 didn’t bother supporting cable boxes. You know what this sounds like to me? Kids arguing over dinner scraps.


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Comments


Kevin Geisler
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I think it's more that digital sales are hard to get comparable information for, including digital download sales numbers for PC or consoles. It's really just a chart of information they can get..., similar to how box office charts won't have numbers for DVD sales. Besides that, I feel like people talk about top apps on the app store all the time, it's just nobody has access to numbers that can directly match up to console gaming sales (which is not an insignificant market).

Paul Johnson
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I'm sure that's part of it. I'd put up with that being the case if once mobile sales exceeds console, they switch to referring to that appshopper one as the "real" chart. Pigs might fly. :)

Eric Newman
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The problem isn't limited to console vs. mobile either. How much did Bioshock Infinite make compared to League of Legends? The numbers just aren't there for digital sales. If you're having a bit of deja vu, it's probably because you read this article a month ago:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/194487/Why_Gamasutra_is_skippi
ng_monthly_NPD_reports.php

> But the way that publishers and digital distributors like Steam lock down their sales data, it's hard to imagine anyone making accurate estimations of sales by title, or even overall digital sales.

Chris Clogg
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"Any time thereís a bit of news in the general gaming press, itís always about some console game or other." Haha, exactly how I feel. I'm just a mobile gamer/dev and PC gamer now (with PC basically down to me playing older Blizz/Valve games). Actually it's been feeling a bit dry on both fronts.

There is a problem with mobile though which is that many of the top games are just business models milking customers, not actual games. So for gaming press, that's probably much harder to get excited over compared to random console shooter XYZ.

The other problem is because of how cheap mobile games are, you wouldn't get someone like Blizzard making a AAA iOS-only game... they'd lose money compared to $60 PC-game sales. And in general it seems like the 'old giants' have a really hard time getting into freemium (ie botch it badly).

Ramin Shokrizade
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I've been following the PC space as a journalist back to 2000. It used to be that I could brag that I had played almost every game. When I did a game review of an MMO, I would never publish until I had hit at least 200 hours in-game. I never really followed the console space, seeing it as a bit archaic. I did start to follow social network games in 2011 (again on PC) but only produced my first article on the mobile space last month (my article on F2P Monetization Tricks). You must realize that with literally *1000* new mobile games being released A DAY, trying to review those titles is quite intimidating to a journalist. Further, as Chris points out most of these products are what I call "entertainment products" and not games. They may kind of look like games but are not games the way I define them (in my 2011 "Game Monetization Defined" paper).

Once we start seeing AAA mobile games the press will be falling all over each other to review them.

Paul Johnson
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@Ramin.

I've read some of your stuff, thanks. Good stuff, apart from our divergent views on F2P. :)

II agree there's a lot of chaff to wade through, but there are a surprising amount of good games on there these days. Even resisting pluggin my own here.

I'm not so sure about how you'd define AAA on mobile, but there are some seriously full and deep games about - it's not all about angry birds. Don't forget that space and power are limited here so it will a while before people make iPad4 only games etc., but do we really need all the fluff that comes with console AAA anyway? I find it a pleasant change to not have hours of cutscenes to wade through etc. and would gladly see the back of them when I do play on the console. Wii Sports is hardly photo-realistic and that seems to sell ok. :)

If you make a comparison between a cellphone and a Vita instead of a cellphone and a PS4, things become much clearer imo.

Paul Johnson
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@Chris.

This is the bit I don't get. If eighty bazillion people are playing candy crush, you'd think that most places would prefer to reach out to eighty bazillion people than focus on an ever dwindling niche segment. OK, niche is a bit strong, but it's coming. People can't afford that sort of money right now and prices on mobile must seem like mana from heaven - it's not all farmville clones as you know. :)

Paul Johnson
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moved


Tim Trzepacz
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By this article's logic, the games press should be focused on minesweeper and solitaire, since those are the most popular, most played computer games of all time.

Paul Johnson
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No that would be your logic.

For the record, I would like to see something in the news about both those games just the once, maybe how they're the most played games of all time. But then that interesting bit of news would be finished with and it's off to the several thousand other games that you don't know about.

Christian Nutt
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There's a tremendous built-in institutional inertia in the games press -- as in the major publishers. That's one thing.

There's also the question of whether the people who play CCS want to read anything about games, no matter how it's presented. Further -- what would they want to read?

Publishers that make triple-A games and the games press that serves them buy into the notion that there is a highly engaged if smaller audience that is valuable.

This even leaves aside the taste factor -- which infects both devs and the press. They make (or write about) the things they like to make (or write about.) Addressable audience size is not a consideration there.

Paul Johnson
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You raise a very fair and valid point there, Christian.

For me it's not even amount reviews and puff pieces etc., there are plenty of dedicated mobile sites to cover that, as there are console sites. Fewer in number, doubtless for the reasons you mentioned above, but enough. But that's not really my thrust here. What I'm actually trying to get at is the following. Probably my whole article boils down to this one paragraph:

Why, underneath the sixth announcement of how the last of us is #1 in the /console/ chart over at GamesIndustry.biz, there is not another piece under it about how Contra: Evolution is #1 in the mobile chart. It's a good game, well made, and probably will be the better earner of those two over the following year. It's certainly being played by more people. So even on this "biz" site, the main "biz" is getting ignored. And that just doesn't add up. At all.

Alexander Symington
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The chart in the article you linked to is not particularly console-specific. It's an all-format retail chart, and the article is clearly marked as belonging to the 'retail' sub-category. In addition to console formats, it covers retail PC sales, and would also include mobile games if these were sold at retail.

Having an all-format chart that covers every significant DD services, or even fully combines them with retail would be wonderful. However, until companies like Valve are willing to share their sales data externally, it's extremely difficult to synthesise a meaningful all-format digital chart. If and when that becomes possible, updates to it will certainly be considered newsworthy.

The amount of coverage that games sites give to specific titles on different formats seems to involve some significantly different issues, which Christian has outlined very well. A point I'd add is that the individual games with the largest marketing budgets will be likely to get the greatest amount of specialist press coverage, and those currently tend to be console games.

That said, it seems difficult to argue that Contra: Evolution genuinely deserves similar levels of coverage to The Last of Us purely on its creative merits. Reviews describe it as a remake of the 20+ year old NES game, made worse due to less precise controls and unbalanced microtransactions. Even by the sometimes depressing standards of the AAA scene, that doesn't seem like the kind of creatively exciting project that is going to draw in readers seeking further critical analysis.

Paul Johnson
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Retail is dying. It will soon be dead, it's not hard to read those tealeaves, so shouldn't gaming press start focussing on where game sales are really coming from?. Maybe during this transition we need both retail and digital, but if we're sticking with one it shouldn't be the dying one. Where I live, all the game shops have closed or are on the skids and if I want to buy a 360 game right now I will have to get it from amazon or something.

Thankfully we still have one of the last HMV's alive to stave that off a bit longer but they don't stock much and I doubt it will see February. I'm genuinely curious to see how the new batch of consoles is marketed here at launch, there aren't that many places left to push them.

lol@retail pc sales. There's a big resurgence of PC gaming going on too atm, but even in game stores that are still open, they tend to stock almost no PC stuff, so the retail chart is moot even for this. PC has already gone digital.

Tons of people clearly like remakes of old big name games (I'm one) else Contra wouldn't be topping the charts atm. I agree it's not a great illustration of where the state of the art is for my own ends, but I have to go with what's in front of me at the time. My pet hate was always tiny wings, but you can't knock what people buy.

Paul Johnson
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Our local HMV just went down the toilet btw, as predicted.

Alexander Symington
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I'm not arguing that digital isn't the expanding part of the industry, nor that retail isn't a relatively insignificant part of the PC games market in the UK. Rather, I'm just saying that, by its nature, an all-format digital chart comparable to the retail one linked in that article is not practical to compile at the moment due to the lack of verifiable data. This situation is beyond the control of the press, and shouldn't be taken as an indication of institutional bias on their part.

Paul Johnson
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Disagree. It's very easy to link to the various other charts that are managed quite responsibly by their platform gatekeepers. Sure, mixing them would be hard, so either don't (easy) or fix it properly (hard, but ukie manage it with different chains etc.)

Alexander Symington
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They *could* link to individual format digital charts like the Apple one, but since they don't post individual format retail charts in the link either (e.g. PS3), it seems that only all-format is really considered newsworthy, in their view.

Since NPD is trying to cover digital sales more accuracy, I assume that they are attempting to get direct figures from DD storefronts. While I don't fully understand the reasons for this, DD retailers seem to be much less willing to report this data than brick and mortar chains.

Christian Nutt
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Well, Paul, we hear you:
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/194487/Why_Gamasutra_is_skippi
ng_monthly_NPD_reports.php

Paul Johnson
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That's good to see, Christian.

And just in case it was all down to me, I also strongly believe that all indie developers residing on the Isle of Wight should get a speedboat... :)

Fabian Schneider
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It's hard to argue with the observation that mobile is a massively exploding market in sheer quantity of sales - but it is also a market based on low-involvement products and impulse purchases, which makes it fairly uninteresting for the media. I am not saying that it is completely uninteresting, only that mobile gamers are generally less likely to invest much more than the money to buy and some time to play their game into it. When you are looking at spending 1,99 or even 5,99, you are less likely to consider it worth your time to actually find information about the game you want to buy than if it comes at a $60 pricetag.

The gaming press is mainly perused by high-involvement users, of which there are few, VERY few in both relative and absolute terms, in the mobile market.

On the whole, the mobile market is and will be growing for a long time, but with that, it will get more fragmented. Yes, there were a few smash successes in the early days, but my prediction is that there will be more distinct segments of users as time goes on and most games will remain "average successes" at best.

Another thing that I am observing is that there is a growing tendency especially in the mobile market to build a narrative of "it's amazing how they can make so much money with cheap games". As I keep saying: mobile games are not only a different business but an entirely different medium from console/PC games. Comparing those two does not do the nature of either product justice.

PS: Where did you get the Supercell figures from? My most recent source puts them at $350k a day after Apple fees. That's still the single highest figure in the mobile business, but far from the figures you named.

Paul Johnson
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They upped their figures a few times over the last several months. From "small" to large.

http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/supercell-grossing-500-000-a-day-o
n-ios/0104261
http://pandodaily.com/2013/04/17/holy-crap-supercell-is-now-value
d-at-770m-doing-2-4m-a-day/
http://www.appfreak.net/mobile-game-development-facts-you-need-to
-know/

None of this is verified of course.

Josh Kanownik
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It is a little misleading to compare global numbers from King and Supercell against UK numbers. Console is still the biggest segment on a global basis.

http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/microsoft-console-still-accounts-f
or-42-of-the-total-video-games-market/0115826

I don't think Candy Crush or Clash of Clans is outselling The Last of Us strictly in the UK in the first few weeks. It would be interesting to see a combined chart though. I don't think I've ever seen a public release of a country level breakout for any of the big mobile/social games.

Paul Johnson
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You're right of course, I was just groping for some size comparisons to shine a light on mobile no longer being a bit part actor.

Regarding making a fairer comparison, you nailed it. We *don't* know, and it would indeed be very interesting to see for ourselves.

Tom Smith
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I think it's fair that the mainstream public-facing gaming press is focused on console. Those are the consumers who are going to seek out press and reviews and in-depth articles on their favorite games. Casual players aren't hooked into media the way that hard-core gamers are.

But the industry-focused press (like this one here) really should be shifting faster. As a developer, I want to know about the current leaders in the industry, not the historic leaders. If anything, I'd prefer to see an imbalance toward more discussion on the newest areas of the industry, since they're by definition new and thus less over-discussed already. But (as others have mentioned) there is institutional momentum to deal with on the press side, so it's not surprising.

Thomas Happ
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I suspect that if people want to read about mobile games, the sites that write about them will profit, and those that don't won't, and everything will balance out.

Christian Kulenkampff
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While there is no "mainstream high culture" in gaming (like we have in literature, music, visual arts etc.), there is at least some kind of Hollywood like mainstream culture: console blockbusters. In my opinion this is why there is a bias towards console games.

edit: I think I skipped the step, where I say that this kind of culture is the one with consumers who care about press coverage, art criticism and the culture itself. this is probably the crux of "casual mobile games", the majority of consumers buys these products like people buy John Mirů prints at ikea.

Mike Smith
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Generally speaking, people who play (and spend the most money) on casual mobile games are not the same people who are refreshing Gamasutra, RPS, etc a dozen times a day. Non-gamers (casual gamers?) are drawn to the mobile market because those games play on a smartphone/tablet they already own for other purposes, are easy to pick up and learn, and are easy to put down when other things take precedence.

Take for instance one of your examples, CCS. In my family and immediate friends my wife, aunts, mother-in-law, sister, etc. all play and spend money on this game. Guess how often they read gaming sites? Never. Now I, on the other hand, prefer the long drawn out RPGs, MMOs, and MOBAs that devour hours upon hours of your life just to learn how to play correctly. I visit most of the popular gaming sites several times a day and lots of times will choose to purchase a title based on reviews and comments from the sites.

So.....

TLDR; Gaming sites talk about million dollar AAA titles and the consoles that run them because "most" of their audience is typically there to read about that. It is simply supply and demand (of information).

Adam Bishop
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Look at how many different ways the NY Times categorises its Best Sellers lists for books:
http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/

There's a clear understanding if you say "This Town is tearing up the charts" that you're not comparing it to Danielle Steel novels. And it would be silly for Danielle Steel to say "But I'm the real best-selling writer, why won't all those people talking about This Town talk about me instead?!?" They're different and largely incomparable markets, just as F2P mobile games and $60 console games are.

Dane MacMahon
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This.

"Gaming" is a huge and diverse thing. If Gamespot started talking more about Candy Crush than Last of Us half their readers would bail. They cater to a market, not necessarily all of "gaming."

Paul Johnson
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@Adam.

I'm actually fine with this, in fact I think you just proved one of my points. The NY Times clearly states what each chart represents.

And it doesn't misrepresent other genres by claiming there's only one chart that they're not on.

james sadler
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I really think the issue is that Mobile games are a part of the "new guard" while most of the media outlets still praise the "old guard". The reasoning is that mobile is still scene as a passing phase while the big 3 consoles (really just 2 at this point) are tried and true and will last much longer. It could also be that the companies making those blockbuster AAA games are throwing the money at the media outlets that the mobile platformers can't/don't, so those outlets aren't hearing them. It could also be that generally mobile games don't have the "hardcore" audience that consoles do, and that is where those media outlets readers really come from. Yes the revenue of this game or that may be long standing and as high as this AAA console title or that, but does the audience of that game care as much. Are there millions of players waiting on baited breath, refreshing their app store page, when mobile game X is about to be launched? Being as most mobile games fit into the casual format it is harder to get a player to care as much as with a AAA console game. I could go on for pages on this part alone.

Paul Johnson
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Maybe. Or put another way:

"There's no stadium, how come nobody came to watch?"

Mike Griffin
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"For all of the success of The Last of Us, it will be far from the biggest game of 2013..."

I agree. The biggest game of 2013 will be GTA V, hands down.

As an aside: Console gaming has paved the way for the current mobile gaming uber success bubble, just as it paved the way for mobile gaming's origins going back to the 8-bit portables. It's console gaming and console IPs that ultimately forged a niche for portable gaming. History tells us that people still want game consoles and big console-centric IPs, and that game consoles and the console ecosystem refuse to go away.

Whereas with mobile gaming's surge on multifunction mobile devices, well, we really can't place bets regarding longevity and the endurance of the current surge. It has coincided with the rise in ubiquity of multifunction mobile devices and services, but who knows how long that freshness and the annual upgrade-or-die culture will continue to spike as it's doing at the moment.

Dedicated gaming consoles are ingrained in modern pop culture as the go-to gateway for the newest, most sophisticated gaming experiences for hobbyists and pseudo-hobbyists alike, and dedicated PC gaming falls into a similar category of reliability and reverence.

I'm just pleased that everybody -- lite, mid and dedicated gamers -- now has a level playing field with access to games of every genre and form. Pick your platform, pick your poison, and enjoy what you feel you can enjoy.

I've witnessed "lite" gamers, close friends I've always tried to convert to more advanced titles, evolve from occasional players to rather hardcore players in the last 4-5 years, and it's been exposure to mobile games that finally did the trick. This "graduation effect" (taking interest in games as a hobby and increasing specialization over time as skills increase) was almost entirely assisted by mobile gaming's current surge. Now many of them are also enthusiastic console players.

As much as people like to postulate that mobile gaming's boom would be the death of consoles, I think mobile gaming may in fact help to sustain consoles. The phenomenon has become a gateway to increased dedicated gaming habits, on a massive scale.

Paul Johnson
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I agree with every word of that.

I'm very much hoping to see the playing field levelled, but have no agenda just to tilt it another direction. There's probably a massive overlap in this venn diagram of platforms, and that's the best news of all.

Jeremy Reaban
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I'm not sure it's just mobile, casual games in general get overlooked completely by the press, even when they are for the PC.

How many stories has this place done on Big Fish Games, for instance? Giant company, selling millions of software a year, but it gets ignored, as do the games it sells.

Minh Ta
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I think the dubious nature of this article has been well outlined by previous commenters. I'll just add to it that the very title of this piece is proof of the kind of hyperbole this blogger is himself attempting to denounce.

As for the mobile games phenomenon, I'm happy it's here and as an indie developer I'm looking forward to embark on some experiments of my own, but please tone down the preaching for goodness sake. Perhaps you're haven't been around the block or you are just choosing to ignore history's lessons, but this sort of its-so-massive-its-going-to-eat-consoles-for-breakfast talk is plain BS. There's no arguing that mobile has been huge these past few years (emphasis on the "few"), and I'm all for it, but let's not disrespect the "old guard" just yet. They're called that because they've had the resilience to have stuck around for a "few" decades--and consoles too.

Paul Johnson
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Well, I've been in the business about 30 years and consider myself firmly part of the old guard. So do you want to recalibrate and have another go about something else?

Minh Ta
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Actually, I "have a go" at several things in my comment.

I also made no assumptions about which "guard" you feel allegiance to, only to the fact that your rhetoric is boastful and seemingly detached from historical context.

Paul Johnson
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So, no hyperbole then.

Kyle Redd
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Through this entire article and all of your comments, Paul, I still don't understand *why* it is so important to you that the press give more coverage to mobile games. As you've pointed out clearly and repeatedly, the lack of coverage isn't hurting the mobile industry in the slightest - they're making more money than they will ever know how to spend.

So what's the problem, exactly?

Paul Johnson
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Fair play.

Andy Lundell
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Is the argument here that Console games and Mobile games should be compared straight across? (And the fact that they aren't illustrates some sort of fault with the news media?)

I'm not sure that I agree. Television shows and movies are basically the same product, but there's an important cultural and business distinction between them. That distinction is basically artificial, but it's important and it persists. Is that because news outlets are 80 years behind the curve on TV technology?

Paul Johnson
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Not really, but people do seem to seize on that bit. I said that if we're only having one chart, called the games chart, then all computer games should be on it. And I stand by that.

But what I'd like to see would be the various genres side by side with equal prominence.

An absolute numbers chart across all formats would prove enlightenging to me, but not really useful for the public. (I'd settle for just a weeks worth of co-mingling tbh, just to silence the console elitists from claiming the high ground here.)

Minh Ta
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@Paul: Does it matter that it says "Retail" at the top of that article as someone else pointed out? Oh, wait, instead of accepting that your argument about the article being mislabelled is flawed, you resorted to one of your cute one-liners "Retail is dying".

You're grasping so hard to defend your poorly written article/argument that you're just blindly making assertions left and right. And if you're wondering why I'm saying your article is poor, it should be evident by the fact that everybody here has essentially the same concerns about it. Or is that also some kind of console/old-guard conspiracy?

Paul Johnson
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Not really, the headline didn't and we seem to be all about headlines right now huh.

Minh Ta
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@Paul: Your main argument is a fair one to discuss, but it is undercut by a distinct feeling of partisanship (never thought I'd use that word on this site) in your writing. The fervor and bite of comments like "Clash of Clans [...] laughs in the face of The Last Of Us" seems overindulgent. I'm trying to be constructive here, hopefully you can see that. Cheers.

Paul Johnson
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Does it help that I'm currently making a mainly pc title?

There's no partisanship intended, I want to see "level" not biased. If I'm guilty of overdoing my own bias in the article, I'm going to consider that a counterweight. :)


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