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EEDAR:  Chinatown Wars  Performance Proves Mature DS Games 'Risky'
EEDAR: Chinatown Wars Performance Proves Mature DS Games 'Risky'
April 13, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

April 13, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
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    19 comments
More: Console/PC



Is it a poor profit proposition to release an M-rated DS title? EEDAR analyst Jesse Divnich thinks so, estimating that GTA: Chinatown Wars sold only 200,000 units in March, less than many expected.

"It appears the industry may have been over-zealous with initial expectations on how GTA: Chinatown Wars would perform based upon the news it had received one of the highest quality scores for a Nintendo DS title," says Divnich.

Quality scores alone don't seem to be a major driver of sales on the DS, says Divnich -- he says many other DS titles, irrespective of their ESRB ratings, have scored 90 and above on Metacritic and have never broken 300,000 units in 3 months in North America.

"The results from Chinatown are an important benchmark for the industry, as it will be the best-performing mature rated title on the Nintendo DS to date coupled with one of the strongest mature-rated game brands," says Divnich.

Although Chinatown Wars will likely post a profit for publisher Take-Two, says the analyst, there's an "elevated risk" for other publishers looking to go mature on Nintendo's portable.

"With the majority of publishers currently taking a risk-adverse stance, we expect this to slow the growth rate of future mature rated titles on the DS," he says.

By contrast, though, titles targeted at the M demographic can still thrive on the PSP. "Previous GTA titles on the PSP have sold in excess 1 million units lifetime," Divnich says. "The performance on the DS highlights clearly the demographic differences between the two platforms in the handheld market."

[UPDATE: According to alternate estimates by Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter, GTA: Chinatown Wars might sell as many as 450,000 units for the five-week month of March. Such a large disparity in projects is rare, but the argument is sure to be clarified by official NPD figures, debuting this Thursday.]


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Comments


Tom Newman
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This is a catch-22, as there are not many M rated titles for DS (GTA is the only one I can think of, although I'm sure there are more). Most (non hardcore gaming) adults I know still see the DS as being mainly for kids, due to the family-friendly focus of the current library. Put out some more outstanding M-rated software that will attract more adult gamers, and then we can look at a more accurrate comparison.

avan -luckiť- o'so cute
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well, to be fair DS attracts a different kind of adults...

the game, though in my opinion the best of the series right along w/ GTA II & III, is not exactly AAA really. like most GTA games, it lacks depth as most games (any type of genre). those that do like it, good for you.

and finally, "Leigh" just because the damn game didn't sell a gajillion f*N copies in a month does not make it a flop... as you said DS and PSP audiences are totally diffent. you should know most games on Nintendo have legs... besides, the GTA games you've mentioned on PSP are established IPs... and speaking of, i don't remember VC having millions of sales in the first month... SA have long legs and this game will also... give it time



and as far as reviewers, a lot of times nowadays there are many gamers out there who don't give a damn about their reviews anyway because a lot times many of us, like myself wonder if any of them really know wtf they're doing. i don't know when was the last time i looked at reviewers and cared what they have to say... i've been gaming for almost three decades now and if i do care about a game and unsure of it, i'd ask my friends or a website full of gamers who actually play to play, not play the damn game and analyze it and get paid for it



and for the sake of the argument, i wonder what excuse would you say then when GTA:CW sells a million lifetime?

Russell Carroll
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It's an interesting estimate, but it's hard to compare lifetime to first month on different consoles, especially when we are guessing at the first month sales :). It seems like we'd need actual sales numbers to compare and have an intelligent discussion about the topic doesn't it?

Carl Chavez
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I think it's further proof that the economics of hardcore game development must be re-examined. If a AAA title requires high amounts of investment, then it follows that the game must have high numbers of early sales in order to recoup most of the development costs before the developers are dragged down by loan payments and interest. Rockstar has the economic strength to withstand such pressures and realize an eventual profit over a long period, but most developers don't.



I think it's more accurate to say that "Chinatown Wars" on the DS was a calculated risk. Its performance has less to do with the M rating and more to do with other factors: the different tastes of DS players, the current recession, the relatively higher price compared to many other games, the glut of similar games on home consoles, etc. Perhaps the greatest risk was actually releasing "Chinatown Wars" in the same month as "Pokemon Platinum", which is arguably more of a hardcore game, and one cannot ignore "Professor Layton", which had a relatively massive marketing push at around the same time. Between those two games, that's something like fifteen million dollars of money spent by game consumers. Mr. Divnich and Rockstar both expect an eventual profit, so in the end, there's not that much to worry about for Rockstar.



Besides, looking at the sales numbers for the PSP games, it looks like "Liberty City Stories" also sold around 200,000 copies in its first two weeks, and it eventually reached over five million sales. "Vice City Stories" needed seven or eight weeks to reach 200,000 sales, but it eventually reached over two million sales.



Avan, there's no need to attack Leigh. Leigh was reporting what Mr. Divnich projected, and it's not like either of them pronounced the end of the gaming world.

Willie Sippel
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According to Rockstar Leeds, the team working on Chinatown Wars was 12 people or less. It was a pretty big project for the platform, but definitely not in absolute terms. It also didn't have the marketing other entries in the series had as far as I can tell. It should break even eventually, and it most definitely won't have to sell 5 to 15 million copies to be profitable - nor do I believe Rockstar actually expected such numbers.

Mickey Mullasan
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There is a lot of marketing money put in to Chinatown wars. Billboards, commercials, magazine ads etc. The problem is that there isn't a certitfied crime culture portable. The DS is seen as for kids and the youths who dream of one day having a cellmate probably wouldn't carry a portable because they fear it be stolen. And with commercials of Beyonce and Liz Tyler looking ultra cute while holding the DS like a make-up kit probably does not help sell that this is a platform you can store in your pocket next to your gat.

steve roger
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I doubt that the problem lies in just the common belief that the DS is for kids. I think there are huge numbers of adults who own and play the DS. Think of all those brain age and sudoku games that have been sold. But that is the problem: adults who play sudoku and brain age games aren't going to play GTA in great numbers. Couple that fact with the level of saturation the game buying public has had with GTA titles (IV and it's DLC) you have a lose - lose situation.



Clearly this should have been a PSP game rolled out six months following the xbox 360 DLC.

steve roger
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avan -luckiť- o'so cute, you wrote: "Leigh" just because the damn game didn't sell a gajillion f*N copies in a month does not make it a flop..



This was a very inappropriate comment. He did very little analysis himself, if any. Plus, this sums up about all he wrote on the subject:



"It appears the industry may have been over-zealous with initial expectations on how GTA: Chinatown Wars would perform based upon the news it had received one of the highest quality scores for a Nintendo DS title," says Divnich.



I don't see any where in his article he calls or reports that some called this title a flop. I think you are the one that need to calm down and give "some time" before you write a comment.



Good article.

E Zachary Knight
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I have a question, When are we going to step outside the line of thinking that equates M rated games with games for adults?



AS an adult, I am often offended by the idea that many of the M rated games are meant for people my age. I tend to find them very juvenile. That is not to say that all M rated games are juvenile, but many are.



As an adult, I tend to avoid R rated movies and watch mostly PG-13 movies. There are many PG-13 movies that are aimed at actual adults and the only reason they have the 13 rating is because they lack the gore, sex and swearing that gets most movies an R rating. The PG-13 movies I like are ones that appeal to the mind rather than the senses. Matchstick Men, K-Pax, Ocean's 11 etc. I would love to have more games that appeal to the mind rather than the senses in the same way. I don't buy the thinking that anything less than M has to be some cartoony game that must be for kids. Games just need to have a more serious story line and interaction.



I understand that there is an appeal to some people for M rated content, and they have a right to have themselves served the content they like. But I would like to have some more seriously taken games that avoid the excess gore, and swearing that can be found in titles like GTA. Would GTA really lose anything if they dropped the gore and swearing?

Logan Margulies
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There's nothing wrong with releasing an adult game free of gore and swearing. There's, if anything, a clear need for them. But to take it out of GTA would be fatal to what the franchise is trying to do. It's attempting to replicate the criminal underworld of Liberty (read New York) City. Now never having been in any gang or mafia, I can't speak with certainty, but I have this hunch that both violence, with occasional gore, and swearing, are endemic to this lifestyle.



It's like the Departed. I'm looking for a portrayal of the Irish Mafia in Boston, a Jimmy Bollinger type of character. If there was no gore and the worst language employed was something like "oh drat", it just comes off unrealistic, and it's absurd. Eliminating blood and language can work sometimes, but not when the entire point of the game, or movie, is to portray a segment of society that IS foul-mouthed and violent.

Nestor Forjan
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I know it's a touchy subject, but I wonder how the cross referencing of "adult hardocre gamers" and "gamers who make use of illegal software and hardware" works for the DS. Piracy is an issue on both portables and, while I don't have hard data on the subject my gut feeling is that young adult male hardcore gamers would be the ones interested in violent, gory fare and also the most likely to try piracy, if only because they likely already support at least one expensive home system on top of their portable system on a limited budget.



And even discounting piracy, games aimed at this target aren't just competing against other games in their systems, which is the situation for most, for the lack of a better label, "casual" games. For the target audience of Chinatown Wars, it's competing with home console games as well, from GTA IV itself to Lost and Damned to Resident Evil 5, Gears of War 2 and many other triple As. When considering how to spend fifty bucks a gamers with little money to spare might prefer to go for used or downloadable home console releases instead.



Of course all the other elements being discussed would apply as well, but I don't think Chinatown Wars is a cautionary tale about going "mature" on the DS, it's a cautionary tale about going after the young adult gamer segment. Mature female-oriented games, perhaps in the line of Hotel Dusk or Another Code may have problems getting funding if this "Mature is bad" thing sticks to the system, which could ruin and waste a target audience that is almost ready to start consuming more games than they traditionally did.

E Zachary Knight
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Logan,



Its not the swearing itself that is the problem, but the frequency and intensity of it. Nor is it the violence itself, just the gore factor. Take for example the Dark Knight. Was the Joker any less threatening or intimidating even though they did not show the gore associated with his random acts of violence? That is what I mean.



In GTA, Do you really need to show the severed limbs and pools of blood of the people you kill or in any game really? Would you lose anything by taking that away?

avan -luckiť- o'so cute
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I do apologize. I may have spoken quite hastily and might have spoken out of mere annoyance.

It is frustrating to me as I do not understand many reports showing stats of one thing (may it be negative or positive) while neglecting to point out the bigger picture.

It might be true that releasing CW is a risk but pointing out its current sales in its few weeks of release and basing the lifetime on that is another.



Carl, thank you. Youíve actually brought more facts including the defining factor(s) of its sales than the reportís initial representation.

Russell Carroll
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Michael Patcher estimated 450,000 sales (http://multiplayerblog.mtv.com/2009/04/13/analysts-disagree-widel
y-about-gta-chinatown-wars-sales/)



I return to my original comment.

Alan Rimkeit
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They should just give us a PSP version and be done with it. I would buy it. I know millions of other PSP owners would too. All of the past PSP GTA games sold very well if my memory serves me.

Ed Alexander
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I suppose I have an interesting take on it all. First off, I got into the GTA series since GTA2 (it was love at first sight) and Chinatown Wars returns to that style of visual presentation. The GTA series didn't rocket to success until GTA3 when it was full blown 3D sandbox. I imagine most gamers didn't actually get into GTA until GTA3 or after.



Which would create an immediate hurdle for the title to overcome. While I don't have numbers, I'd still put money that the vast majority of gamers who follow the GTA series only know the 3D renditions, and are/were put off by the top-down "2D" (even though Chinatown Wars is actually 3D) presentation of it. That could effect sales.



As mentioned, a lot of the hardcore market knows and does pirate DS games. In the GTA:CW threads on various gamer community boards pirating the game was definitely a topic of discussion within. Which made me a little sad, but at the same time, software pirates are not evil.



I do not even own a DS. But I did spend $35 of my own money on a copy of the game. Maybe I'm that loyal to the GTA series. Maybe I yearned for the style of GTA that had me at "KILLLLL FRENZY!" But either way, I borrowed a friend's spare DS and immediately got to playing.



I'm sure it did really well. The incentive to purchase the game, and not pirate it, could have been better ($10,000 in game and an SMG, both of which are laughable in terms of temptation, seeing how coke/heroin typically sells for around $1000 per unit)



@Ephriam Knight - It's all just a matter of taste. Personally, I do believe that showing severed limbs and pools of blood enhance the game, if the title is meant to have a featured presentation of violence. That is, fun is intended to be found in killing. Whether it's GTA or Tenchu, a big part of the game revolves around violent acts the player commits, so if either of those let you kill someone but denied you the gore from killing them, it definitely would detract from the fun factor. What would GWAR have been if not for their stage props and acts? Just another metal band.

jaime kuroiwa
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Granted, I haven't played Chinatown Wars, but, as Carl Chavez pointed out, early sales estimates are not a good indicator of success. If there's one thing that analysts always fail to account for is that mature gamers have the ability to wait. They don't line up outside game retailers on launch day; they have to go to work. They don't clamor for early reviews or get suckered in by advertising; they've seen all that before. Sometimes, they even wait for the price to drop a little before purchasing the game. Does this sound familiar?



I hope that publishers/developers don't look upon this news as a reason to pull the plug on M-rated DS games in development. That would be a sad day indeed.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Christian Keichel - It could be done. It might take some juggling, but it is not impossible. I am sure that T2 and R* would make back their investment cash from the PSP sales too. If they don't make cash on one system, move to another.

Qian He
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Chinatown Wars is a wonderful game on DS, and it could wash away all the bad memories on GBA.

The sales tells the truth that DS is not a good platform for GTA series, CW might be a touch-stone, the failure may drive Rockstar away from Nintendo @.@


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