The sun's shining, the days are long and we're almost halfway through the year. At this strategic midpoint in the gaming calendar, we thought we'd take a breather from looking ahead to the wasteland of the summer gaming drought, and cast our eyes over the performance of the class of 2003. Call it an end of term report, if you will.
We've deliberately ignored any game that was released before the start of the year, but have included recent conversions, like The Sims and Splinter Cell, although discounted sales of the original. We know this sounds a bit anal, but rules is rules. Anyway, on with the stats.
The 10 Best Selling New Releases of 2003
No surprises at the top of the best sellers list, with EA's all conquering The Sims nudging ahead of ChampMan 4 by virtue of its stupendously successful PS2 version. Total sales to date across the three console formats are estimated to be a whisker short of 300,000, with the PS2 sales of the game accounting for over 90 per cent of that figure.
The much-delayed CM4, meanwhile, tempted over a quarter of a million PC owners to part with their cash, outselling the nearest best selling PC title, C&C Generals, by around two to one. Splinter Cell's appearance on PC, and a month later on PS2, also proved to be a resounding success, becoming the third biggest new release of the year with figures of well over the 200k mark. Predictably, the vast majority of the game's sales were on the PS2, trouncing the PC by about four to one, and it's likely that PS2 sales will overtake the Xbox's already remarkable figure within a few months.
Enter The Matrix has, ruefully, proved to be a massive hit already, selling well over 200k across four formats already. Predictably the PS2 version rules the roost, and looks set to be by far the best selling title of the summer. We also expect it to be one of the best sellers of the year, dammit.
Scanning elsewhere in the Top 10, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance managed to prove there's life in the old franchise yet, with Midway's biggest hit for years. Sadly for them, though, after its initial bright start, sales have fallen off a cliff a tad, and only a budget release nearer Christmas can hope to revive its fortunes, and boost it above its current 120k level.
The 115k sales of The Wind Waker, meanwhile, proved that the passion for the Zelda franchise remains undimmed despite the doom merchants, and shows up more than a few retail chains in the process. The fact that the best selling Xbox exclusive this year is Dead Or Alive: Xtreme Breast Voyeurism, with roughly one tenth of Zelda's sales, might help illustrate the point a little.
Elsewhere, SimCity 4 and C&C General's 100k+ performance showed a) that you can still have big hits on PC, and b) that EA really has the market sewn up.
Slightly less spectacularly, Rayman 3's promising start across a gazillion formats is likely to be followed up with strong ongoing sales, and was no doubt boosted by unexpected critical acclaim, while the rather poor Devil May Cry 2 traded on the reputation of the original, and probably deserved to sell a lot less than 60k. Ah well, we didn't believe it could be such a disaster either.
PS2: A Veritable Drought
Although the PS2 has by far the biggest software portfolio of the three console platforms, its range of exclusive new releases so far this year have been unusually uninspiring, while some of the decent examples were bizarrely ignored.
For DMC2 to be the biggest seller of a low selling bunch, pretty much tells you all you need to know, with former No.1 Tenchu a surprise No.2 in the PS2 chart with a shade over 50k to date. The recently released Midnight Club II will soon be disqualified from this chart, but its two-month period of exclusivity hasn't done it any harm, while the snoozeworthy Primal has managed a shade over 40k, despite being discounted to half price almost from the day of release. At No.5, the classic Silent Hill 3 has managed about 10k to date, but should be a steady seller all year.
The exclusive games that didn't make it might have you question Sony's commitment to successfully marketing first party titles from the US and Japan, with the uniformly decent Sly Raccoon (10k), Ape Escape II (6k) The Mark Of Kri (4k) and War Of The Monsters (5k) all selling well below acceptable levels for such a mass-market platform with over four and a half million UK owners.
It really hasn't been a great few months for Xbox owners, with a general lack of anything even approaching triple A appearing on retail shelves, or a lack of enthusiasm from the publishers marketing them - a case in point being the Sega trio of Panzer Dragoon Orta, The House Of The Dead III, and Toe Jam & Earl III which suffered thanks to a low profile, limited units and public indifference. As a result, all of them sold around the 10k mark, which is a tragically low figure, especially for PDO.
But even for the one Xbox title which did get maximum exposure (as it were), DOA: XBV, it still struggled badly to tempt punters, and has sold a mere 15k to date. Justice.
Microsoft had even more trouble convincing people to buy Tao Feng, and the superb Project Zero: both of which sold just over 2k in their opening sales period; the words 'must try harder' surely apply here...
Cube: Too little too late?
With a first half line-up of titles as cracking as this, you'd expect people to be queuing around the block to get their hands on a Cube. Sadly, all that's happened is that the hardcore who bought the machine last year have invested in the obvious top titles, but very few others have been tempted to join in. Wind Waker's 120k+ performance shows the market is still pretty active, while Metroid's nigh on 60k showing is encouraging for such a poorly marketed title. One wonders what it could have sold on Xbox.
Meanwhile, Capcom would have been more than a little upset with the 35k performance of Res Evil Zero, which are figures that would have disgraced the Dreamcast debut of Code Veronica three years ago. Are people just bored with Res Evil games now, or would this have done the business on PS2?
The Sega duo of Monkey Ball 2 and Sonic Mega collection went down reasonably well, but with sales of just over 20k for both, they're hardly making anyone rich.
With a summer line-up about as exciting as flat warm beer, it's going to be a long few months for the Cube audience - let's hope Nintendo does something radical to shake things up.
PC: Life in the old dog yet
The hugely long-awaited CM4 was always going to be one of the hits of the year whenever it finally emerged, and so it proved with record breaking sales that very nearly topped even Vice City's awesome debut. Sales, predictably, fell off a cliff after that, but it still remains the PC's best selling title, despite the release of Vice City recently. By the year end, it's likely that CM4 will top the 400,000 mark, unless Sports Interactive go and release a Season 03/04 version, which going on past history is a given.
Despite its No.4 placing in this chart, Unreal II's sales have been less than inspiring after the hype and expectation. Just 40k have bought the lacklustre sequel so far, and a slow descent into budget territory awaits the game. DF: BHD has performed roughly up to expectations so far, with just around 35k so far, while The Sims Superstar wasn't far behind after a few weeks on the chart. Freelancer, Vietcong, BF 1942: Road To Rome, Raven Shield, IGI 2, American Conquest and Praetorians followed closely up the rear with sales of around 20k each, but not figures that spell H.I.T.
Elsewhere, PC gamers were incredibly selective with their purchases, with many well-rated games such as Tropico 2, Frontline Command and Anno 1503 struggling to sell upwards of 5k. Piracy impacting on sales?
GBA: SP stands for Stupidly Priced?
No surprises to see the superb Zelda: A Link To The Past becoming by far the biggest selling new release on the GBA so far this year, with figures of a shade over 50k. Outside of that, though, the figures make for depressing reading, with Sonic Advance 2 selling a fairly uninspiring 30k, Crash Bandicoot 2 not far behind, Yu-Gi-Oh Worldwide edition struggling to sell over 20k, while Super Monkey Ball Jr's sub-9k performance indicative of a general unwillingness to part with Â£30+ for the games.
When will Nintendo wake up and realise the market's dying on its arse? Of course we love the SP, but Nintendo needs to price the games in the sub-Â£20 bracket and make the games an impulse purchase, not the equivalent of pondering over whether you can justify buying that DVD box set.
2003 summer report: Conclusion
We've seen some excellent new releases so far this year, along with the usual bunch of weary me-too stragglers, but of the elite students, just a handful have performed anywhere near their potential. Here's the tale of 2003's new releases so far. Join us again later in the year when we'll update you with their progress.
|Top marks for attainment
|Sports Interactive and Eidos for CM4.
|Shigeru Miyamoto for the godlike The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
|EA for turning everything it touches to gold.
|Ubi Soft for bothering to port Splinter Cell properly.
|Must try harder
|Epic for disappointing everyone with Unreal II. Really, they should be punished.
|Microsoft for not releasing any triple A exclusive titles, and failing to have a clue how to market the rest.
|Sony for ignoring any first party titles not developed in the UK.
|Atari for proving - yet again - that film licensed games are terrible.
|Dunces cap: go and stand in the corner
|Retail chains who consistently refuse to get behind obviously excellent new releases, in favour of whatever crap they've been bribed to stock insteadâ¦
|Nintendo for its stubborn refusal to price GBA games sensibly, and for waiting until March to release Metroid Prime, thus hammering another nail into the coffin of the GameCube in Europe.
|The idiots that bought DOA: XBV - you ought to be slapped with a wet bra strap.
|The pirates that got a broadband connection with the sole intention of sucking the life out of the PC games market, thus forcing publishers and developers to seek solace in the console market.
All the data mentioned in this article is the copyright of ELSPA, and is complied by ChartTrack. For information on how to subscribe to the various excellent ELSPA and ChartTrack reports, you can visit www.elspa.com, or www.chart-track.co.uk. All figures used are approximate figures based on the raw data featured in the ChartTrack report. The raw data in the report is taken from a 6000 strong panel of retailers, which is said to represent around 85 per cent of the total UK software market. As a resource, it is thought to be one of the most accurate sales reports in the world.