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Bill Murphy: Overpromise & Under-Deliver

Column By William Murphy on August 18, 2011

In a recent article at USA Today’s Game Hunters, Mike Snider pointed out that there’s been a 20% dip in game sales according to the NPD.  That’s not a dip.  That’s a flippin’ nose-dive.  Now all signs seem to point to aging hardware being part of the culprit, as NPD analyst Anita Frazier put it in regards to hardware, “which was caused by a decrease in unit sales as the average selling price for console hardware was essentially flat to last year." 

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There’s also reason to believe that the industry will still see an up year when it ends in a few months, due to a reportedly big increase in digital sales.  Note: this dip is mostly referring to physical sales.  There’s no accounting for digital, DLC, mobile, and other sales just yet.  Michael Pachter, renowned analyst of the industry from Wedbush Morgan said that while July is usually a dead month in general, “It's possible last year was a little stronger because of hardware because of the Xbox 360 clearance. What shocked me was Wii was down (25%) year over year and they cut the price. It just shocks me." 

Now you’re probably wondering what I’m getting at in regards to MMOs, as this seems to have no real relation to the industry we love and cherish and bicker about.  But doesn’t it?  A reader pointed this article out to me and got me wondering: is this really about demand, or is it just another case of games that are overpromised and under-delivering? 

We’re certainly no stranger to this trend in the MMO world.  We’re stalwarts.  We love these games.  But we also grow weary of the same old bull-puckey shoveled our way time and again.  I have no worries for the entire video-game industry as a whole.  With Battlefield 3, Halo’s remake and Gears of War 3 (all shooters unsurprisingly) the fall is going to be big for consoles.  Heck, our beloved PCs may even see some loving in game sales thanks to BF3.  But will the same be said for MMOs this fall?

As far as we know, there’s only potentially one big MMO launching for the rest of this year: Star Wars – The Old Republic.  And while we can all guess whether this one will be a hit or a miss in the long run, there’s every reason to believe that it will sell millions of copies within weeks of launch.  But will it retain those users?  Very few games in this industry have ever managed to do just that.  Does BioWare have what it takes to keep the throngs of Star Wars fans hanging on?  They do make some of the greatest RPGs in the world, but can that success translate to the MMO space?  Or will it just be another case of gamers getting promised the world and given a Styrofoam model of it?  Can I stop asking questions in this column?

I’ll try.

All I’m saying is that there’s been a lot of focus in all of gaming on “hype” and “promises” and it’s not just relegated to MMOs.  It’s universal in the industry.  Here’s hoping that sooner or later the advertisers and hype-artists will rein things back in and let the work of the development studio speak for itself.  I used to be able to smell a hoax of epic proportions in gaming coming a mile away.  I still can for some games (the one you know just cannot be as good as the website and press says).  But anymore it’s gotten to the point where I expect games to not be as good as the box or ads say.  And I wish that wasn’t the cynical place I’ve been left to linger in. 

Please, can’t some fine developer remind me that not everyone is faking it?

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Bill Murphy
Bill Murphy came on as a full time writer with MMORPG.com in 2010, his extensive knowledge of the genre and ability to turn a phrase have been a welcome addition to the MMORPG.com team.
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