PS3 in 2011: Huge Games = Low Sales?

 (This discussion is purposely excluding the PSN hack which is irrelevant to main issue in this article)

In 2010, the game industry was buzzing about what was shaping up to be a monstrous 2011 for the PS3. With a huge lineup of quality games that dwarfed the competition, many of which were sequels to critically and commercially successful titles, it looked like 2011 would be a year of dominance for Sony. With Playstation exclusive games like LittleBigPlanet 2, Killzone 3, MLB'11, Motorstorm Apocalypse, Socom 4, Infamous 2, Resistance 3, Uncharted 3, and the return of Twisted Metal just to name a few it appeared that Sony was going to be delivering hard hitting games throughout the entire year and finally regain its dominance. However, taking a deeper look reveals that things may not be going according to plan.

The presumed success of many of the titles I named was largely based on success of their predecessors. The much hyped Killzone 2 delivered a quality, cinematic, and beautiful FPS experience that showed what the PS3 could do in capable hands. The first Infamous was a surprise hit that offered a unique sandbox experience that was sheer fun to play. Socom is one of the most successful series on the Playstation with a large dedicated fanbase who has been hungry for a sequel for quite a while.  Motorstorm was one of the highest quality PS3 launch titles and has since established itself as a quality and unique racing experience that seemed to cater to the Playstation audience. With developers having more time on the hardware and a wider audience as the install base grows, it seemed reasonable to expect the follow up titles to at least match if not exceed the success (both commercial and financial) of their predecessors.

The first sign of trouble was lower than expected review scores, but lower in many cases than their predecessors. According to the metacritic aggregate scores, LBP 2, Killzone 3, Motorstorm: Apoc, and Infamous 2 all scored lower than their predecessors. In fact, only LBP2 was able to achieve greater than a 90 rating. The much anticipated Socom 4 proved to be a let down to fans, averaging a mediocre 67 rating. So, the quality did not appear to be the step forward most people had hoped for.

Looking at the sales of the games, the picture becomes clearer on the true impact of these titles (or lack thereof). Below is a table of worldwide sales figures compared to their predecessor and including the latest trend from the previous week. Note that all figures are from VGchartz and thus are unofficial:

TitleLifetime (million)Last Week (thousand)Previous title (million)
LittleBigPlanet 21.3420,0004.41
Killzone 31.6320,0002.66
MLB 110.308,0000.65
Socom 40.4617,0001.08
Motorstorm:Apocalypse0.134,2001.07

The key data point here is the last week figure, giving an indication on current health of the title. Killzone 3 and LBP2 are the 2 oldest and healthiest titles on the list, yet will problably not match sales of their respective predecessors. Moreover, I would like to call special attention to the Socom 4 figure. The previous title was the online only spin off Socom:Confrontation intended to tide fans over until the real Socom game came. It still managed to do over 1 million units, which is respectable. Yet, looking at the current figures and trend, Socom 4 will barely pass 500,000 units. This has to be incredibly disappointing for Zipper and Sony for one of Playstation's biggest franchises expected to sell in the millions. Also, the numbers for Motorstorm: Apocalypse are just anemic. It's been out for nearly 2 months and only managed 130,000 units worldwide. On top of the that, Evolution had to cancel the game in Japan due to the earthquake there a few months back. On a more positive note, it looks like Infamous 2 is likely to surpass it's predecessor in week 1 sales with VGchartz reporting 320,000 units sold.

By now many of you are crying foul at my using VGchartz as a source given that they are unofficial figures. However, the point here is not to debate over absolute sale figures. The point is to examine the trends and history. Many of the large PS3 titles in 2011 are not selling in a manner to reflect the huge amount of anticipation these titles have generated and are selling at a rate less than their predecessors. Ironically, the previous titles by and large did not sell well compared to other big franchises on competitor consoles (i.e Halo, Gears of War, Mario Kart, etc). PS3 games have always had trouble selling in bulk but instead of improving it seems that trend is getting worse. Again, with 50 million  PS3 out there, how can it be that only 2% of PS3 owners purchased LBP2 (in 6 months) and only 0.2% purchased motorstorm: apocalypse? What are people doing with that game machine they've invested in called PS3 if not playing games sometimes? Why aren't PS3 games selling at even a 5%-10% attach rate? Would this trend continue for Resistance 3 and Uncharted 3? Discuss...

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