Why Hits Are Increasingly Important

Why Hits Are Increasingly Important

Halfway through November, word got around about Activision selling off Bizarre Creations, the Liverpool-based developer it had taken under its wing. Bizzare’s most recent work, Blur, was a vehicular combat game, not unlike Mario Kart for an older crowd (a point emphasized by the game’s commercial).

Blur didn’t sell to expectations, with 31,000 copies moved on launch day. The analysts and NPD had expected a number closer to 100,000 units sold. Activision blamed the poor numbers on the changing fundamentals of the racing genre, as well as “broader economic factors.”

Gamers across the Internet lamented the potential closure of Bizarre Creations and the fall of Blur, which many saw as a decently fun racing game (both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game score a collective 82 on Metacritic). Sadly, Blur may have been a victim of bad timing. It was released in May alongside two other racing games; Sony’s ModNation Racers and Disney’s Split/Second.

What makes Blur’s lackluster sales performance interesting and a little sad is a thorough analysis of the game’s “failure” as observed by Dan Amrich, Activision’s PR guy. Amrich’s editorial, “‘Failure’ is not a word for Blur,” contrasts Blur‘s numbers with DJ Hero, another Activision game that got a slow start. DJ Hero has since sold over one million units, which was respectable enough to warrant a sequel.

Blur, reasoned Amrich, may well share the same destiny. The game came out during a month that was heavy with great racing games. Sales picked up in June thanks to the distribution of a $20 coupon by Activision. But by then, games writers had already penned their articles about Blur‘s failure. Amrich, who was a games writer himself back in ye olden days, knows that bad news travels fast, and tends to stick to a game’s reputation. Some games, like DJ Hero, manage to tough things out and endure, garnering a slow but steady fanbase through word of mouth. As for Blur–

Well, Blur wasn’t so lucky. The game may well still prove to be a long-term success as Amrich predicts, but that might not enough to save Bizarre from a dip into oblivion. Given the cost of developing a game in a big studio, it’s not a surprise, but it does illustrate a growing problem in the industry: If a game fails to meet instant success, the studio suffers despite potential long-term gains.

The used games market adds to publishers’ woes. A recent survey conducted by the analyst group Cowen and Company revealed that one of the major reasons people buy new games instead of used is the desire to procure a hot title on launch day. But then new sales drop dramatically within a month, when waiting consumers grab the used copies that inevitably show up on GameStop’s shelves.

Smaller games studios are still doing what they do best under the supervision of big publishers, but the closure of Bizarre is indicative of a trend that’s growing. If publishers and developers can’t find ways to keep costs down and allow games to garner a slow but sure fanbase, more talented studios with good ideas are going to wither.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

1 Comments

  1. Publishers know all this, so it baffles me why they don’t go through with the obvious solution: Drop the retail price of the “new” copies of the game sooner.
    As of this post, Heavy Rain is still $50, only a $10 price drop since launch. Used copies were $10 cheaper as soon as a month after launch.

    I honestly believe the publishers are underestimating how much this will do.

    I bought Demons Souls a year after launch for $40, but the cashier asked me if I wanted the used $30 version; if I didn’t care about the industry, as the average person doesn’t, there would be no reason not to get the cheaper version.

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