[Courtesy of sister console downloadable site GamerBytes, Ryan Langley examines June 2009's Xbox Live Arcade debuts, from Magic: The Gathering to Wolfenstein 3D and beyond, to find out what soared and what faltered last month.]
The Xbox Live Arcade continues to grow each month, and June was no different. Fifteen titles made their way to the Xbox 360's digital download service, more than any other month in its history. It was filled with old classics, new titles, and games to fit into almost every genre available on the marketplace.
But this influx of many -- perhaps too many -- games comes as a cost. A much expanded catalogue means games don’t get a chance to stand on their own merits, and instead they swiftly fall off the recent release list.
We look at two different sources for our analysis – the weekly top 10 list released by Larry Hyrb on MajorNelson.com, and, when applicable, the online Leaderboards included in every title. We see what appears to have done well, what hasn’t, and what publishers and developers can do to perform better in the marketplace.
Note that due to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, as well as Larry Hryb's trip to Iraq, two weeks of data were never disclosed. (We'll do what we can to bridge this by using Leaderboard data.)
The Sega Classics Collection
June 11th marked the release of 6 new games in the Sega Vintage Collection - 4 Genesis and 2 arcade titles. This is more titles than we’ve ever seen in a week, but it’s also a clear example that too many titles at once can cause sales stagnation.
The best-selling of them was Sonic 3, with over 30,500 players on the Leaderboards in the sales period -- not surprising if you consider the previous two Sonic games being some of the best-selling XBLA titles.
The other Genesis titles didn’t fare nearly as well. Gunstar Heroes had over 9,000 players on the Normal setting, Comix Zone has over 8,700 players, and Phantasy Star II, the first complete RPG on XBLA, had only 5,100 players.
For the two arcade titles, Altered Beast had over 12,500 players for the month and Shinobi had over 7,100 players. As a point of interest, both Arcade titles have the most players on the custom leaderboard instead of the "normal" and "hard" settings. This means that players instantly changed the amount of health and number of continues, when both games already feature unlimited lives.
Due to this and to the difficulty of calculating overlap, the overall sales numbers for these two titles could be a fair amount higher than leaderboard stats indicate.
Releasing six games at once means that some aren’t going to sell as well as they could, but as the top 10 list suggests, only Sonic 3 was able to live past the first week of release. Gunstar Heroes, Phantasy Star II and Comix Zone are all considered great Genesis games, but were clearly overshadowed by its release.
Streets Of Rage 2 and Golden Axe, released well over two years ago, currently both show over 125,000 players on their leaderboards. However, that was over a long period of time; the weekly leaderboard show an average of 600-700 players each week. If many of those are new owners, the games continue to have a healthy life.
The choices for classics may have also been a little misguided. Shinobi isn’t really known for its Arcade original, but for its Genesis sequels, and Altered Beast is known mostly for how poorly it has aged. Other Sega classics, such as Ristar, Vectorman, or other Treasure titles would have fared much better -- perhaps these are coming soon.
(Of course, if it was cheap for Sega to develop many XBLA conversions at once, it may still be a good financial move to release lots of them at once.)
(I’d also like to mention that the new Sega Vintage collection had some of the worst box art for XBLA games in a long time. The Japanese versions use box art from their region, as you can see in the above examples, and it’s strange that they used the American box art for Phantasy Star II when they have a far better option. The Japanese artwork is almost all in English, and I’m sure they could have done far better for the awful Shinobi box.)
The first Xbox Live Arcade game published by Atlus was Droplitz, a new puzzle game that involves lining up rotatable pipelines in order to get them all to reach the bottom of the screen. The game appears to have garnered some great reviews, but -- like Gel: Set and Match and Yosumin Live before it -- has done quite poorly. The game did not hit the Top 10 in its first week of release, and at the end of the charting period had just over 2,000 players on the Leaderboards. Droplitz had a similar fate on the PlayStation Network.
There have been quite a few puzzle or puzzle action games over the last few months. Lode Runner, Arkanoid, Puzzle Quest Galactrix, and the aforementioned Gel and Yosumin, despite being drastically different, have all done poorly. They’ve achieved good to great reviews and still have been unable to find an audience.
It was just a few years ago when puzzle games were relegated to digital download or handheld systems. Now, with the advent of the iPhone, are we no longer willing to pay more than one, two or even five dollars for a puzzle game? Is there just no market for this kind of game on the Xbox 360? Or is it that some of these games are poorly marketed?
The last puzzle game to do well was Peggle, but that title had a lot of hype from the previous versions. Droplitz has been getting some great reviews but simply the idea of it being a puzzle game appears to be keeping a lot of people away.
Many people also believe that Droplitz has a lot in common with the old windows title Pipe Dream, but outside of the general theme they are nothing alike. With 0D Beat Drop and Puzzlegeddon on their way next year, even if they’re considered quality titles, I can see both having a hard time on the marketplace.
Three multiplayer-centric titles came out during June: Cellfactor: Psychokinetic Wars, an online multiplayer first person shooter, Worms 2: Armageddon, the sequel to the evergreen Worms title already available, and Rocket Riot, a cartoony, side scrolling air battler that involves people with no legs.
CellFactor was released alongside Wolfenstein 3D. However, the Major Nelson blog never mentioned its release. Many video game websites get XBLA updates directly from this website, so it was largely ignored by blogs. While we do not have the top 10 list for the first two weeks of its sales, it was still able to hold onto seventh place in its third week and so we expect it did fairly well.
The game currently has over 8,500 players on its ranked leaderboards, but in most cases, ranked boards are far lower than the number of players that participate in player matches, which could be double the amount but are not counted.
Rocket Riot had similar problems, as it was also not announced for release by the Major Nelson blog or the Microsoft weekly press release. It was released alongside two other titles, and received good buzz and reviews, but has not sold particularly well thus far. As of the end of June there were 8,000 players on the leaderboards and it had only hit the 10th spot on its opening week.
Worms 2: Armageddon only had a week of sales for the month, but was able to accrue over 12,000 players on its leaderboards in its first week, which is a decent start. Interestingly, it appears to have had no effect on the original Worms XBLA, which continued to be in 7th place in the week its sequel was released.
Next, in what appears to be a bit of a misstep, two classic SNK fighters were released in June, both within two weeks of each other. This appears to be a classic case of publishers not having control over release dates on Xbox Live Arcade. In the retail space I would expect that no publisher would release two similar titles within such a short lifespan -– one kills the sales of the other. As such, Garou: Mark Of The Wolves could have sold more, had The King Of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match not been on its tail.
For the two weeks of its release, Garou had 12,000 players listed on the Arcade mode Leaderboards, while The King Of Fighters ’98 had over 16,000 players on its own. Garou is the least known of the two, but we still believe it would have done better with larger spacing.
Walking The Planes
One of the surprise hits of the month was Magic: The Gathering, a digital recreation of the popular trading card game. It was developed by Stainless Games, whose previous XBLA releases include the Atari remakes -- which have been hugely variable in quality and reception. But it appears that, with a decent development schedule, they were able to pull off a well-received game this time.
The game was able to stay very high on Major Nelson's top 10, and has well over 39,000 players on its two-player online leaderboards. Even without counting those who have not played the game online, it still beats every other newly released title for the month.
Saving the World
While all the titles we’ve discussed have been $10 or less, Telltale Games' Sam & Max Save The World broke that barrier. Initially released as six episodes on PC back in 2006 as Sam & Max Season One, Telltale released the whole season on XBLA in one package for 1600 Microsoft Points, or $20. The game still retails for $30 on Steam, so this is quite a bargain.
The game appears to have sold over 10,000 copies after three weeks of release, according to leaderboards. It’s not much, but considering the number of games released this month coupled with the price, it has done far better than a lot of other games out there. The real test will be how well Sam & Max Season 2 and the rest of the Wallace & Gromit episodes do later this year.
Wolfenstein 3D was released during E3, and was split into two versions – one in the US with a 200MB HD video of the new game attached, and one released everywhere else without it. The leaderboards are only showing 7,000 players, while all other evidence suggests its sales should be closer to 15,000-17,000. Its resurgence in the fourth week of the month seems to suggest better sales than the leaderboards currently show.
Regardless, at 400 Microsoft Points and with a well known IP behind it, Wolfenstein will continue to sell well -– perhaps not as well as Doom before it, but it will get a good second wind once the new Wolfenstein game is released.
PopCap’s Peggle gracefully dropped out of the Top 10 after 15 weeks of being on sale. According to the Adventure Leaderboards, the game is currently sitting just shy of 200,000 players. Meanwhile Castle Crashers, UNO, the original Worms and TMNT have all made their continued return to the Top 10. A surprise return of Mega Man 9 occurred on the week of June 22nd, as it was finally released in Japan after being a WiiWare exclusive.
Looking forward, July looks to be a huge month for the Xbox Live Arcade. Not only is it the beginning of the Summer of Arcade, but it includes titles like Battlefield 1943 and The Secret Of Monkey Island, which by all accounts have done tremendously well, even tracking them partway through the month.
[We would like to thank Larry Hryb at MajorNelson.com and the Xbox Live team for releasing the Top 10 lists of each week through the web, and well as Kuroyume, Domino Theory, Grecco, PeakingLegoman, and Jickle for their help with collecting Leaderboard data.]