[Gamasutra contributor Ryan Langley examines May 2012's Xbox Live Arcade debuts and continuing successes, with charts and Leaderboard data showing the performance of titles like Minecraft, Sega Vintage Collections and Awesomenauts]
Microsoft's XBLA promotion "Arcade Next" continued into the month of May, where it debuted a game changer -- that amazing indie anomaly called Minecraft. You've heard of it breaking records every which-way, but here we'll go a bit deeper into the phenomenon, as well as the titles like Sonic 4: Episode 2, Awesomenauts, and more.
We've pieced together Leaderboard statistics and Metacritic ratings from all new titles throughout the month which allows us to determine how new games have sold and how well they were reviewed. We also look at several older titles that continue to do well, as well as specific downloadable content for games that support it.
Heroes and Awesomenauts
The Arcade Next promotion continued into May with Fable Heroes - a downloadable Gauntlet-styled game using lighthearted puppets based on characters in Fable. The game did not fare well in reviews, but saw a good amount of sales despite it. It added nearly 30,000 players in the first week, and nearly 50,000 in its first month.
Ronimo Games' Awesomenauts was also released this week on both Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Despite being the second-best reviewed title of the month, the game hasn't seen a lot of sales. The game was published by DTP Entertainment, a German company that has previously been quite poor promoting their digital titles and has since filed for insolvency. Hopefully this won't affect Ronimo.
Minecraft Takes Over
We knew that Minecraft would be a big player on the Xbox Live Arcade, but I don't think anyone expected it to be this big. After Trials Evolutionbeat the best first week of any XBLA game with 300,000 copies, Minecraftcompletely obliterated it with over 1,100,000 players in the same time frame, and that's just on the easy difficulty leaderboard.
The game added 1,895,098 players in its first month. Even now, the game is in the top 5 most played games of any type on Xbox Live - retail or otherwise. By the end of next month the game will likely hit over 3 million players - surpassing Castle Crashers as the XBLA game with the most players on it.
With this, I do wonder what's in store for the Xbox Live Arcade now. Indie hits like this would not have been made for the Xbox Live Arcade if it wasn't for Microsoft and 4J Studios porting it for them - could we see Microsoft doing the same for other games like this where they take it upon themselves to port games that the indie PC developers couldn't accomplish themselves? It's a game changer either way.
Sonic The Hedgehog, Dirk The Daring and Jam The Music
After Minecraft did so well last week, and was the end of the Arcade Next promotion, it seems to be standard that a glut of games come out with little notice - as was the case with Dragon's Lair, JAM: Music Arcade and Sonic 4: Episode 2.
Dragon's Lair, a port of the 1983 arcade game with additional Kinect support, was the worst reviewed game of the month, and did not get much of a following sales-wise. The game is available on so many platforms now that it's a little difficult to get excited about it.
JAM: Music Arcade, published by 505 Games is perhaps one of the most confusing games I've ever come across. Even watching a trailer tells you little on how the game works. Reviews also cited it was confusing, and leaderboards show that it was the lowest selling title in quite a while.
Sonic 4: Episode 2 was the last title for the week and the one with the highest profile, but didn't do so well review wise. The game also has a weird Leaderboard setup where they're only uploaded if you go into the Leaderboard menu directly, so we can't check the game's sales. It appears that it hasn't sold as well as the original game
Sega Vintage Makes a Return
It appears that we're in a big Sega push for digital content, now with two new collections - Alex Kidd & Co and Monster World collections. Unfortunately the Leaderboards are limited strictly to special trials, so their numbers are nowhere near what the sales would be.
The final release for May was Joy Ride Turbo, a downloadable, controller based version of Kinect Joy Ride. Joy Ride was originally meant to be an Xbox Live Arcade title before they pushed for Kinect retail products, so it's interesting to see it make a return with little fanfare.
We can't check for Leaderboards, as they're strictly used in Time Trial modes, but based on the Major Nelson Top 20 list 3 weeks later, it seems to have sold quite well.
A Cold Pinball War
We continue to track downloadable content for Pinball FX 2, Trials HD and Toy Soldiers: Cold War. Overall things have slowed down a lot since these games were released, but they soldier on, still bringing in a good amount of extra cash for the developers.
A Grand Hat
Continuing on from some of older titles we follow, we can see that Polytron's Fez will now hit 100,000 players, Ubisoft's I Am Alive! has hit over 200,000 players, and Fruit Ninja Kinect has hit over 1.2 million players.
Trials Evolution, having sold a huge amount last month, continued to do extremely well in May, with 200,000 new players in the month, and 626,000 players total.
A few games were also on sale, including Iron Brigade and Orcs Must Die, which saw a small but decent push while they were cheap.
Moving onto June we're in for a quieter month. Lots of racing games - Bang Bang Racing, Mad Riders and Jeremy McGrath's Offroad all set for the month and some more Sega Classics with Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and Virtua Fighter 5. The biggest seller will likely be Magic The Gathering 2013, but it will be interesting to see how it fares with a third iteration in 3 years. Then toward the end of July we'll see Microsoft's Summer of Arcade push, with some of its bigger titles for the year being promoted.