Digital game downloads pull ahead of retail

 Posted by (Visited 7897 times)  Game talk  Tagged with:
Sep 202010

NPD released a report today saying that the PC gaming market is now 58% download sales, though only 43% of revenue — mostly because retail prices are higher. Both retail and download sales are dropping though — revenue is down 21% and unit sales down 14% over the last year.

Why? Well,

“The overall decline of PC games when combining sales via both digital downloads and physical retail sales is impacted by the expansion of social-network gaming as well as the continued expansion of free game options.” NPD analyst Anita Frazier said…

Digital game downloads beat retail store sales | Gaming and Culture – CNET News

Interestingly, the top five digital retailers for AAA show the power of using connectivity in a strong fashion: Steam’s on top of the list, and they by default install a startup-launching login widget; two of the top five are Blizzard and; and the other top five entries are and (The list of casual downloadable leaders is quite different).

Retail has been pushing used game sales for quite a while in order to drive revenue, of course, which by and large game publishers have not liked much (supposedly last year John Riccitello of EA compared used game sales to piracy). It wasn’t very long ago that Best Buy announced they were moving over to that model.

The downside to this may be that used game sales may start running into legal issues, if the battle around shrinkwrap licenses and first-sale doctrine for software continues the path of the recent 9th Circuit Court decision — basically, it said that software publishers can indeed say that you don’t own software, but instead just license it; and therefore can block you from resale.

All in all, the shift to a fully digital future is well underway, and I would expect retail revenues to keep declining. Some are happy about it, such as this guy:

And why not? Digital music can be played on any device. Electronic books can go anywhere the user goes. And streaming movies on demand is far more convenient than mailing discs back and forth.

“The end of software ownership–and why to smile”, CNet

Others will be less sanguine about the idea that their investments can be remotely deactivated, have curtailed legal (and illegal) uses, or simply obsolesce out of being usable when the licensing authority shuts down its servers.

Yehuda Berlinger’s 2010 board game gift guide

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Sep 142010

Yehuda has posted a holiday board game gift guide, and it covers games new and old. I can personally vouch for 75% of the list as great picks, and it is giving me a great list of some extras to hunt down. On the list besides lots of true classics are games like Blokus, Ingenious, For Sale, Set, No Thanks!, Ticket to Ride, Wits and Wagers, and his own It’s Alive.

Some recent acquisitions of my own include Dixit and Dao, but I haven’t really gotten to play either one yet. My son has been enjoying Reiner Knizia’s Money (iTunes link) and High Society (iTunes link) on the iPad a lot.

Happy birthday, Super Mario Bros.

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Sep 132010

Super Mario Bros. is 25. Of course, lots of folks no longer remember its antecedent, just called Mario Bros., which wasn’t in the model of a “platformer” at all, though it did include platforms. 🙂

Prior to SMB, there were plenty of platformers, but they had different modalities of play:

  • In the original Donkey Kong, the challenge was “get to the other side” — where the side was the top.
  • In ones like Miner 2049er it was all about “painting the map” (literally, in that game’s case — you changed the color of the platforms you walked on), akin to Pac-Man in that sense.
  • In others, it was about collecting objects, such as in Lode Runner (itself derived from Apple Panic) or Jumpman. This is a very different challenge from the one of hitting every spot.
  • And Kangaroo is where I first saw a traditional platformer that included the notion of attacking opponents directly (DK had the hammer, but that was more in the nature of a power-up; Mario Bros. had fighting turtles in essentially the SMB mode, but that was the core gameplay activity, rather than platforming. Almost like a co-op version of Super Smash Bros. actually).

For me, a big part of the genius of SMB has always been the way in which it adopted all these variants and modified them into what has become the template for all platforming since. The sense of completeness that the “visit every spot” games encouraged became the secrets you could find. The fighting was seamlessly woven into the overall “get to the other side.” The sense of environmental modifiability of Lode Runner is present via breaking blocks. Collecting specific objects within the map became an ancillary mechanic rather than mandatory.

Perhaps most importantly, the seeds of narrative that were present and so surprising in Donkey Kong reached full flower — it was here that what we think of as the classic Nintendo universe was really born. It is easy to forget that the rather slight story in DK was a bit of a revolution at the time, when what passed for narrative was the insertion of “cutscenes” about Ms Pac-Man’s relationship in between levels — or more often,  just text on the side of an arcade cabinet.

In essence, by taking all these elements, not in a literal sense, but in a functional, mechanical sense, SMB became the prototype for a “feature-complete” platform game. In a lot of ways, the games have not changed since. The addition of a third dimension didn’t change the core mechanics much, and embedding games such as occasional racing or dodge’em elements is clearly additive.

In a sense, this is a birthday for not only Super Mario Bros., but for all the platformers since, which owe it a huge design debt.

Games victim of bad CNN headline

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Sep 022010

There it was on the front page of CNN today: “Games delay, then speed dementia?

Only, of course, you click through to the article, and the headline is different: Brain exercises delay, speed up dementia?.

What sort of brain exercises? Well, everything:

Activities that counted toward being “cognitively active” included going to a museum, watching television, listening to radio, reading newspapers, reading magazines, reading books, and playing games.


This stuff does matter — plenty of people will read just the headline, and move on. Why doesn’t it say “going to museums delays then speeds up dementia”?