[GamerBytes editor Ryan Langley examines October 2009's Xbox Live Arcade debuts and successes, with charts and leaderboard data, to discover how games like Ludicity, South Park, and Axel & Pixel fared on Xbox 360's digital download service.]
October has been a month of highs and lows - veteran games that have done remarkably well, and continue to sell impressively, significantly after their release, contrasted with some new games that dropped off almost instantly.
Last month, we began to look
at estimating sales of Xbox Live Arcade games in the month, using a combination of Leaderboard numbers, charts, and our knowledge. It's tricky, potentially subjective territory. But we're trying to be as open as possible with the data, and we continue to list Leaderboard specifics alongside our estimates, so you're welcome to draw your own conclusions.
This month we've gone rather comprehensive, looking at over 90 Xbox Live Arcade titles, week by week, to show how a game sells throughout the month. We looked at Leaderboards for the newest releases, as well as some games from the past. For a developer, this data is crucial to see the true state of the so-called "long tail" effect for digitally distributed games.
Eight new Xbox Live Arcade titles were released within the four weeks of October 2009, including Ludicity, South Park,
and Axel & Pixel
. Here's how they fared.
The New Titles
For all new releases, we took a look at the Leaderboards each week to determine how well the game sold, and using the Major Nelson Top 10 list, we were also able to estimate the sales of some of the games. Here is a list of new games that came out in October, with their Leaderboard stats and estimates:
and Doublesix’ South Park Tower Defense
were the first two XBLA titles released for October. South Park
was the victor here, appearing to sell over 77,000 copies (est.) for the month. It was the best selling game of the month thanks to its opening week, but is rapidly dropping off, according to our estimates, despite keeping second place on the Top 10 throughout the month.
, meanwhile, performed very poorly. This was LucasArts’ second XBLA title and their first original IP for a while now, but was unable to make the Top 10 in its opening week. In comparison, Monkey Island: SE
just made it over the 100,000 mark on its Leaderboards.
Digital distribution consultant David Edery recently made the suggestion
poor sales could be based on two problems we see in digital downloads – insufficient marketing and unforgiving design. While the game was unveiled on GameTrailers TV to some fanfare
, it was only announced a week before its release, allowing little time for it to get any traction for previews and for word of mouth to flow through the internet. A lot of the reviews
spent time saying how punishing the game could get, which Edery suggests may have been off-putting to players.
Axel & Pixel & Sam & Max
Insufficient marketing might be leveled against almost all the Xbox Live Arcade game this month, particularly with the next two releases - Axel & Pixel
and Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space
. The 2K Play-published, Silver Wish Games-developed Axel & Pixel
was announced a little over a month before it was released, but there was no real idea of what the game actually was. There was a website
, but the game's trailer
wasn’t released until a week before it came out.
For a game to be so based around an odd, alternative art style (with heavy inclusion of cut-up photos), it seems strange that the developer and artists weren’t offered to more websites for interviews about the game's development. Axel & Pixel
was able to sell better than Lucidity
, we believe, with a better post-launch sales curve, but certainly didn’t do as well as it could have.
Sam & Max: Season 2
suffered a similar fate. It only added 1,774 players in its first week of sales for a total of 3,305 for the month – far less than the 10,000 S&M Season 1
was able to get in a similar time frame. Season 2
was not previewed or discussed much at all prior to release. It is admittedly difficult to talk about the re-release of a two year old game, especially when the first season came out just months before it, but perhaps more effort could have been made.
Digital Chocolate’s first foray into the console realm started with Tower Bloxx Deluxe
for XBLA, and while its existence was known for a few months before
its release, it was only announced at the beginning of October – two weeks prior to launch.
Digital Chocolate has been well versed in digital games through cellphones and the iPhone, but the 'instant announcement then release' format of iPhone games has never worked that well for consoles. The game did do quite well despite itself, and for a very simple and casual game, it has done better than I would have expected.
Ubisoft’s Panzer General: Allied Assault
is the complete opposite experience from Tower Bloxx
– a complex collectible card game, similar to that of Magic: The Gathering
but set in World War II. It was announced quite a bit earlier than other games mentioned, but an official trailer was never released for the game at all. Prior to the game's release there were previews, but no trailer to show people how it played.
One thing Ubisoft never appeared to do was push the game to those who are buying Magic
on Xbox Live Arcade. Nobody notes this more eloquently than Jerry “Tycho” Holkins over on Penny Arcade, who discussed the game on the website's blog
. “Where in the hell did Panzer General: Allied Assault
come from?” he asks, “I'll leave it for you to determine whether or not World War II recast as a tactical CCG is something my very bones
If one of the most forefront tabletop nerds doesn’t know about this game, then you’re doing something wrong. In fact the post-release trailer
released by developer Petroglyph got 63% of its views just from that Penny Arcade post, making it the most viewed YouTube video of the game online.
The final set of releases were Rainbow Island: The Towering Adventure
and Inferno Pool
, and both did poorly in their first week of release, neither appearing in the Top 10.
While we can’t extrapolate that well from Rainbow Island
’s Leaderboard data, as it only counts Challenge mode and not the Story mode, we can see that it sold poorly in comparison to Taito’s Bubble Bobble
and Puzzle Bobble
games. The XBLA version wasn’t announced until the week before release – plus the game was a port of the WiiWare game released earlier this year to poor reviews
had only 327 people who had played the endurance mode in its first week. In addition, the release was somewhat limited, as it only came out in Asia and North America. (It's solely available in Europe via the PlayStation Network, where it came out 5 months earlier.)
The problem here is that despite some decent new modes, many users already own a pool game - Bankshot Billiards 2
was given away to a lot of people who bought Xbox Live Gold at retail, and a second billiards game isn’t going to bring much interest.
The Weekly Top 10
Using the Major Nelson Top 10 lists alongside our look at Leaderboard data, we are then able to give an estimate of other games, like Battlefield 1943
and Magic: The Gathering
, which we usually can’t get any data from.
RedLynx's Trials HD
continues to blow through the competition, and while it may not have sold as much as South Park
it still has Castle Crashers
-style momentum in terms of sales. Leaderboards show Trials HD
added 73,000 players during October, and we believe the sales are more around 62,000 -- still fantastic.
Speaking of Castle Crashers
, it’s still holding on, but did drop to its lowest position ever at ninth place in the third week. Yet it still added 35,000 Leaderboard players during the month. We estimate the sales are closer to 24,000, however, thanks to the Leaderboards including offline multiplayer data.
may have received middling reviews
, but it’s certainly hit the 'zombie-loving' demographic perfectly, and stayed in one of the top four positions throughout October. The single player Leaderboards state that over 43,000 people have played it. We believe that the sales may be slightly higher thanks to the focus on online multiplayer, which may be strictly played by the owner, so we estimate the sales being more like 51,000.
Epic and Chair Entertainment's Shadow Complex
dropped in the charts pretty significantly, but still stayed in the Top 10, hanging around the 10th spot by the last weekly chart, with 23,000 additions by the end of the month.
Magic: The Gathering
, Marvel Vs. Capcom 2
and Battlefield 1943
all continued to stay in the Top 10, but thanks to not having overall Leaderboard statistics, we can only estimate their sales in comparison. Battlefield 1943
continues to do remarkably well with an estimated 31,000 sales, which is great considering it requires Xbox Live Gold to play. Magic: The Gathering
has sold an estimated 21,000 copies, and while Marvel Vs. Capcom 2
has now dropped out of the Top 10, when it was in the charts it looked to be doing 4,000 copies or so per week.
Deals Of The Week
October had two weeks of specials – all seven pieces of Hasbro Family Game Night
were sold for half price for a week, and Fable II Pub Games
also got a week long price cut.
Unfortunately we can’t discuss much about Hasbro Family Game Night
, as we cannot follow each game – in particular Scrabble
, as it is not available in my territory. Of those that we could follow, Connect 4
added 8,540 players to the Leaderboards, Sorry Sliders
added 1,844, Sorry
added 4,154 and Yahtzee
added 11,680 for the week of the sale. Fable II Pub Games
did hit the Top 10, but was not a huge success, so those getting into the episodic Fable II
apparently weren’t that interested in picking this up.
The Big List
Also this month, we \took a look at a lot of older games – games that have come out this year, and the odd few from years prior. We can see some games that have kept quiet throughout the year still doing remarkably well – A Kingdom for Keflings, Geometry Wars 2, Banjo Kazooie, N+, Braid
continue to add over 1,000 players each week. Even the original Worms
continues to add over 1,000 Leaderboard entries each week, despite the sequel being readily available.
Some games, like The Maw
and Streets of Rage 2
still do reasonably well with nearly 500 copies each week. The Maw
is a special case – it released 3 pieces of downloadable content for the game at 100 Microsoft Points each, with a surprisingly high attach rate for new players. Bubble Bobble
also has two pieces of DLC at 240MSP each, and while they've only sold to 3% of the total user-base, they're doing well compared to the new players.
The majority of games however will sell around 100 or so copies a week, based on our data. Some of the worst cases, like Gel: Set & Match
, Texas Cheat’em
and Powerup Forever
will only add 30 or so players a week, with some not even selling 100 copies over the month.
It’s a fascinating look at the so-called 'long tail' effect many publishers and developers believe about digital platforms. In fact, it may well be that the XBLA business, like a lot of digital businesses, is fairly hit driven. So the 'long tail' doesn't help a whole lot for many, but if you’re a small developer with a good game it can certainly help in the long run.
The Next Month
From the looks of it, it’ll be a slow few weeks in November – 0D Beat drop, Encleverment Experiment
and Wallace & Gromit
will not burn up the charts, but we may see Serious Sam HD
pull through. It could be a big hit, but can it go head to head with retail behemoths like Modern Warfare 2
and Assassin’s Creed II
? We'll find out next month.