[In this analysis, sister console download site GamerBytes' editor examines stats and success factors for March's XBLA launches, from Peggle through Watchmen and beyond.]
With the March NPD numbers coming up and the end of the week, at GamerBytes I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the last month of sales for downloadable spaces -- as best as we can with the data we can get.
For Xbox Live Arcade sales, we've gathered the Major Nelson Top 10 lists for weeks that the NPD covers for March.
Alongside that, we've been able to gather some Leaderboard statistics which give us a fairly decent idea on how popular a game might be, and then finish it off with a bit of armchair analysis and hard opinion.
We'll take a look at the 10 different releases for the month, and see how well they did.
March was perhaps the most experimental Xbox Live month we've ever had, with 6 of the 10 games released being quite different to your standard release. Did they fail or succeed?
Let's look at the results, starting off with the rankings for the month according to Major Nelson, aka Microsoft's Larry Hryb:
Watching The WatchmenWatchmen: The End Is Nigh started off the month with a bit of bang - a kind of game that only the PlayStation Network has previously attempted. Essentially, it's a title that looks as good as a retail title, is over the Xbox Live Arcade file size limits, and one of the two titles to be released at 1600MSP - the equivalent of $20USD.
Being that Watchmen was meant to be Warner Bros' first major movie hit of the year, and the only way to get Watchmen was through digital distribution, it looked like a game which could have brought a lot of attention to the download space. Despite it hitting the top of the charts in its debut week, it quickly slipped down the chart in favor of newer releases, and disappeared 3 weeks later. The game was also released on the PlayStation Network but as we'll discuss later, it didn't fare well either.
It was quite a risk for Warner Bros. to make Watchmen digital, from all accounts it was never intended for digital distribution either - the lack of Leaderboards and online multiplayer as well as the giant file size point towards it initially being a retail title with some wheeling and dealing with Microsoft to allow it to be digital.
Part 2 of this episodic game is intended for release later this year, presumed to be around the release of the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the movie. Later episodes in an episodic title tend to do less than the original, but if they can get both XBLA Watchmen episodes to collectively crack the 100,000 mark, and add on the PSN and PC sales, than it likely will have been worth the development.
I would expect that Warner Bros. will eventually put both episodes on disc and release it as a package, or at the least partner with Microsoft's Deal Of The Week for a cheaper first episode when the second is about to hit.
On Peggle, Defenders, Basketball
The second week of the month had three releases in the same week - Peggle, Crystal Defenders and NCAA Basketball MME.
Peggle did very well, and it's not too surprising. Peggle has been a smash hit on the PC for PopCap Games, and there had been a lot of buzz about the XBLA version hitting, with additional online multiplayer modes. It hit the top, technically for two weeks running. The title has begun to slow down a little bit, but it will likely be one of those steady-selling games that occasionally pops back into the Top 10 listings, assuming the new releases don't push it out.
According to the Peggle single player Leaderboards, as of April 11th, it's now cracked 100,000 entries. Exceptional work for an Xbox Live Arcade title, something we haven't seen for quite some time. Unfortunately, we do not have the data for the people who bought the PopCap Volume 2 retail package, which includes Peggle, Heavy Weapon and Fishing Frenzy 2, but I would assume most of those sales were through the online store.
Crystal Defenders, released the same week as Peggle, did okay, but clearly not as well as Peggle did. Crystal Defenders is a strange one - a game based on an iPhone and mobile title, ported to the Xbox 360, as well as PS3 and WiiWare in North America soon, with little to no effort. The game feels like a mobile title on the Xbox 360 with no real enhancements added to it.
Despite the lack of Final Fantasy branding, it didn't do too badly. The game made it to second place on its opening week against Peggle, and stayed healthy for the next two weeks, until it eventually dropped off. Most dual weeks see one title dramatically beat the other, while this week was a little closer.
With the announced Wii and PSN versions coming fairly soon, the market for this game could have split between the three for those with multiple systems. And since it's been ported to everything under the sun, this quick-and-dirty port would have been well worth the effort for Square-Enix.
NCAA Basketball MME is another one of the game changers for the Xbox Live Arcade. It's a game which does not even consider itself an XBLA title, has no demo, is over 2GB in size, has no online support and due to its NCAA focus is only available in the United States. The game was announced just the week before its release, and the only marketing by EA is through the Xbox spotlight section on the system itself.
Despite all of this, the game ended up in the Top 10 for the first week of release, but only hit the 5th spot. To be honest, I don't really understand the thinking process behind such a release - a stripped down version of a retail game, released in only one region. Sure, it was an experiment to hit a demographic of gamers who aren't willing to pay your standard $60USD rate for games, but limiting it so much just doesn't reach the wider audience that it should be hitting.
With the success of NHL 3-On-3 Arcade, which continued to be in the Top 10 throughout all of February and March, you would think that EA would have been working towards a simpler basketball game with the same mechanics.
Possibly EA could have tried something like NBA Jam or NBA Hangtime, which could be easily released across the world and accessible to regions who generally would not care to buy a $60USD equivalent of a basketball game.
Instead, they stripped down a retail title and gave it a limited release. Considering its short stay in the Top 10, I don't see how the effort would have really been worth it, but I'd imagine the development time for this wasn't too long either.
New Style - Family Game Night
This wasn't EA's only foray for the Xbox Live Arcade this month, however - Hasbro Family Game Night was also released, and again used some ground-breaking measures that we hadn't seen on the Xbox Live Arcade previously. Instead of downloading each of the board games separately, you download the Hasbro application for free, and then buy each title from within it.
Originally FGN was released on the PS2 and Wii at retail, so this new development, complete with several new game types added, was a change of pace. The pricing structure for the games raised a few eyebrows, though. FGN was a $40USD game on the Wii with 6 titles, but each title on the XBLA costs $10, or 800MSP, and with 7 titles that's a total of $70USD.
But it doesn't look like that's stopped players. It appears that EA's plan has worked - people have generally bought only one or possibly two titles that they're interested in, which in the grand scheme of things is less money than they'd pay for the full retail set - plus you get the addition of online multiplayer.
Unfortunately, due to the strange ways that Hasbro FGN deals with new games, the Major Nelson blog was initially unable to represent the games with a combined total of all Family Game Night titles. In the third week, it did return, though, thanks to a resolution to the stat tracking issue.
With a little bit of digging through the Hasbro FGN's Leaderboards, we can see that over 25,000 players have played Yahtzee, and over 33,000 players have played Connect 4, and over 41,000 have played Battleship. Even if the sales numbers are somewhat below that, that's still some very good sales for the price that they're going for.
Going by the Top 10 list, Family Game Night is still collectively doing very well for itself - and only four of the 7 titles are available, with Sorry!, Sorry! Sliders and Boggle on their way sometime in the next month or two, so it's ready for a big return to the top soon.
Rush-ing To The Samurai
Carbonated Games' and Microsoft's UNO Rush was again, a bit controversial. The original game was a huge success, still in the Top 10 on a consistent basis. UNO Rush is a new variant on the card game. The difference? A $5 price hike.
It's no surprise that the game shot up to the top spot for the first week of release, but in its second week it has fallen straight away, down to 8th spot, and only a little higher than than the original UNO.
The game has served a little more than 20,000 players, according to the Leaderboards, and will probably do alright in the long run. It's certainly not the sensation that the original UNO was, but I feel that a lot of people were put off by the price point. Its main draw now might be its ability to play the game offline with other friends, rather than being a online only experience.
The final game of the month was the XNA based The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, a game entirely done by James Silva of Ska Studios. It jumped to the top of the charts in its first week, and looking at the Leaderboards, has also done very well.
The game unfortunately does not have Leaderboards for the single player story, only for the extra "Arcade mode". Over 20,000 people have played the Arcade mode in the one week of release, so it's safe to say the amount of people who have played the single player mode blows that number out of the water.
The March numbers see two titles finally make their way off of the Top 10 for their first times - Super Street Fighter II HD Remix, having lasted 15 weeks in the Top 10 list and A Kingdom For Keflings, having lasted 19 weeks. It would not be surprising to see them make a return however, especially if Keflings release new downloadable content, which it has yet to do.
Both Braid and Alien Hominid HD made a return to the Top 10 through the new Deal Of The Week promotion. These discounts, similar to that of the Steam weekend specials, do dramatically boost sales for a short period and would give more revenue to the developers than they otherwise would at their regular price.
The regular additions of Castle Crashers, UNO, Worms, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Marble Blast Ultra as well as the triumphant return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade complete the list. It should be noted that all those games outside of Castle Crashers are 400MSP, but due to the way the list works, those titles are most likely not earning as much as the lower 800MSP games.
Tomorrow we'll be discussing the PlayStation Store Top 10 titles. Due to the lack of official data released by Nintendo, we are unable to do the same for WiiWare sales. Meanwhile please, tell us what you think of our analysis. Thanks to Exu for helping with the Hasbro Leaderboard numbers.