Going Gold

Going Gold: Reboots and Rip-offs

Christian Ward | 27 Jan 2010 17:00
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The blurb for this column asserts that I write on "the major issues, events and trends that ultimately decide what games end up on your shelf."

Now, I wrote this cringe-inducing self-promotion myself, but it's clearly in need of a rewrite, because I have no idea what decides which games end up getting on shelves, nor does anyone else. The world of the approval process is entirely without reason or logic and so mystifying that it leaves us with a Tony Hawk's sequel every bloody year yet here we are a decade later with only one Jet Force Gemini game.

I've been watching a number of demos and games being played around the office recently: Darksiders, Bayonetta, God of War 3, Dante's Inferno. Or did I only see one of them being played four days in a row? Unless I was concentrating, how would I even be able tell?

Meanwhile, a title made for less than half the budget of any of those titles has sold over 10 million units since its release in early November. This is a game whose predecessor on the DS sold over 20 million units in the last three years. And yet I can't see a single rival trying to muscle in on its territory.

The game, of course, is New Super Mario Bros. Wii. There were more than a few laughs when Nintendo declared last year that over a single platform, New Super Mario Bros Wii would outsell Modern Warfare 2, but that's exactly what seems to have happened. If Wii hardware sales continue at even a brisk pace, I can see Mario overtaking MW2's total numbers easily within a year or two.

(To fend off the inevitable - yes, I know Darksiders wants to be more like Zelda, and that Bayonetta is the work of the man who effectively created the genre in the first place, giving a shade more dignity than, say, Dante's Inferno - but this is about the publishers making the publishing decisions.)

Here is the situation - even with the knowledge that each edition of God of War has sold not much more than the same 3 million-unit mark, we have three different publishers competing not only within the same genre, but within the same three-month release window. And yet the only conceivable rival I can think of to emerge for Mario on the 2D plane in the last five years is LittleBigPlanet.

The reasoning for this is simple - everybody knows 2D is dead. Yes, there really are people who will look at you with a straight face and tell you that, even when the premier 2D series has sold 30 million copies over the last four years.

Ah, but Nintendo are different, people will tell you. Well, I suppose if you mean they know how to market and sell games without having to bankrupt themselves, then yes, I guess you're right.

Publishers (and more than a few developers, I might add) have convinced themselves that it's impossible to compete with Mario anymore, and so there is just no point in trying. Some, like Microsoft with Rare's most recent Banjo-Kazooie title, have gone out of their way to make sure they're not in competition with him (with resulting poor sales that suggest a standard platformer was by far the safer bet).

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