As per usual, the NPD Group kept its giant, cyclopian eye glued to videogame sales for the month of September*. However, as per never before, the Group also decided to compile its weekly retail PC game sales into a colossal monthly communion, full of surprises and intrigue.
Hot Wheels: Beat That set the standard for September, issuing forth a challenge to all other games. 17 games did, in fact, beat that, with at least two unquestionably better games also beating it, but in reverse.
Spore and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning took top honors, selling 406,000 and 274,000 units respectively. NPD, sadly, did not divulge digits for any more of the 20 games listed.
It should also be noted that NPD only covers retail sales, so any sales generated by Steam, Direct 2 Drive, or other such outlets do not count.
PC Game Sales (September)
1. Spore / EA Maxis / $50 (Average) 2. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning / EA Mythic / $49 (Average) 3. The Sims 2 Apartment Life Expansion Pack / EA Maxis / $30 (Average) 4. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Collector's Edition / EA Mythic / $80 (Average) 5. Spore Galactic Edition / EA Maxis / $79 (Average) 6. World Of Warcraft: Battle Chest / Blizzard / $37 (Average) 7. Crysis Warhead / Crytek (Publisher: EA) / $29 (Average) 8. The Sims 2 Double Deluxe / EA Maxis / $30 (Average) 9. World Of Warcraft / Blizzard / $20 (Average) 10. Spore Creature Creator / EA Maxis / $10 (Average) 11. World Of Warcraft: Burning Crusade / Blizzard / $28 (Average) 12. Civilization IV: Colonization / Firaxis / $29 (Average) 13. Warcraft III Battle Chest / Blizzard / $39 (Average) 14. Civilization IV / Firaxis / $27 (Average) 15. The Sims 2 IKEA Home Stuff Expansion / EA Maxis / $20 (Average) 16. Diablo Battle Chest / Blizzard / $39 (Average) 17. StarCraft Battle Chest / Blizzard / $20 (Average) 18. Hot Wheels: Beat That / Activision / $15 (Average) 19. Crysis / Crytek (Publisher: EA) / $38 (Average) 20. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky / GSC Game World / $39 (Average)
Jump past the break for overall software sales, with games included. (Exciting preview: Apple fails.)
Nvidia this week has released new WHQL videocard drivers - version 178.24 - applicable for GeForce 6-, 7-, 8-, 9-, and 200-series owners. The 85MB download sports a number of improvements, including PhysX acceleration on all GeForce 8-, 9-, and 200 series GPUs with at least 256MB of graphics memory. Intel X5400XS motherboard owners can now run up to 3-way SLI with the new driver package.
Gaming looks to get a sizable boost with the new drivers as well. Nvidia claims both Call of Duty 4 and Bioshock (DX10) will see a 15 percent gain by running 178.24, while Assassin's Creed (DX10) will get an 11 percent bump on a single card setup. For those sporting 2-way SLI, World in Conflict (DX10), Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, and company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts (DX10) are said to run at least 10 percent faster.
EA has certainly taken a turn for the less-reviled as of late -- a sudden change that can be attributed to risk-taking, trouble-making CEO John Riccitiello. However, even creative greats like Picasso, De Vinci, and Batman were only human, and all humans have breaking points. For Riccitiello, that point was seemingly first-person run 'n' rebel Mirror's Edge.
"I was totally convinced that game needed to be third-person and not first-person, because I wanted to see Faith," Riccitiello said.
“I was really wrong about the third-person thing,” he continued, citing the highly anticipated title's finished form.
But even with titles like Mirror's Edge under his belt, Riccitiello's heart is clad in a business suit, and some "creative risks" -- like Tim Schafer-Jack Black collaboration Brutal Legend -- give him palpitations (the bad kind; not the blood-pumping, required-to-survive kind).
"I have seen it," Riccitiello replied when asked if EA has considered publishing Brutal Legend. "I am well aware of what the game is. It’s a very significant creative risk."
"Sometimes significant creative risks end up being some of the world’s best products. Spore was also a significant creative risk. So was The Sims. Portal, BioShock. But so was [the relatively poor-selling, high quality Tim Schafer title] Grim Fandango."
Well, that was quick. Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Blizzard COO Paul Sams claimed that Warhammer Online was no 18-hour raid boss. The battle's over, and the spoils of waaaagh clutter Blizzard's side of the field.
"The good news is that we've seen a significant number of people, well over half, that cited Warhammer as their reason for leaving - they've already returned," Sams said over the deafening roars of BlizzCon.
But, regardless of whether the game's a direct competitor or merely Led Zep to Blizzard's Beatles, Sams handed out Warhammer Online's participation ribbon with an air of humility -- hedging his bets on the MMO's future success.
"I think Warhammer is best positioned to succeed out of the various products that have come out thus far since World of Warcraft has come out. It seems to be a good game, certainly a great company, Mythic and Mark [Jacobs] over there and his team, they're very, very talented," he explained.
"But I think without EA they would have struggled as well, because EA fortunately for them has a lot of money and so they were able to put forward a lot of marketing dollars and were able to support the huge infrastructure that they require for these kinds of games. It's a tough road and as I said, if we had not had the benefits of the trust of our customers because of the years of delivering for them, I think that we could have been in trouble a few times. There have been big challenges and mistakes that we've made and we've been fortunate enough to get by them."
So MPC readers, who's pocketing your subscription money at the end of each month? WoW or WAR?
"Fallout 3, Far Cry 2, Fable 2... uh, LittleBigPlanet," I nonchalantly listed, sliding my scroll bar up and down a ludicrously large list of games that'll begin hogging shelf space next week. Instantly, a deafening shout of "OH! LittleBigPlanet!" flew straight and true, right into my unsuspecting ears, from the other side of a view-obscuring television. "You're so buying LittleBigPlanet!" My friend's voice continued, registering at somewhere around War-crime on the decibel scale.
Yeah, LittleBigPlanet's kind of a big deal around the gaming scene's more console-y bits, but what's it mean for PC gamers? Well, in these parts it's not quite a revolution, but it's pretty damn close.
Over the past couple years, "user-created content" has crept onto many game developers' billowing lists of PR-friendly buzz words, and with good reason. Whether it's Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's character creation system or Spore's, well, everything, people love to spill their creative frustrations onto videogaming's canvas. (And drawing new Mega Man levels on graph paper is so nineties.)
Now stop! Take your finger off the scroll wheel; the comments section isn't going anywhere. Yes, PC gaming gospel states that we must fling ourselves into Internet forums, kissing the ground, and praising mods -- and games like Oblivion and Spore did not invent user-created content -- but guess what? Mods are old news, no matter how crazy-awesome they might potentially be.
Why? Consoles. Consoles. Consoles. Like it or not, aside from a few shining examples, game design has parked its heart in simpler interfaces and ease-of-use. PC gaming, its cash cow now six feet under for a number of reasons, simply isn't worth the effort these days. As a result, real mod support -- sloppily attempted in only a single console game -- watched its bungee cord snap as it plummeted right off developers' priority lists. After all, mod tools don't just appear out of thin air; they siphon extra time and cash away from other areas of development. When simple user-creation tools can offer a menagerie of similar (but less versatile) powers to a wider range of people, mod tools sadly get kicked to the curb.
Continue reading to find out why this trend might not be as awful as it sounds.
Xbox Evolved -- a site claiming to have first broken the news that the Xbox 360's hard drive would be optional, way back in 2004 -- has heard from "incredibly reliable" sources that the Xbox 360's all-too-quickly approaching successor will be forward-compatible.
"Forward-compatible," the avant garde cousin of "backward-compatible," apparently refers to the Xbox 361-plus-infinity-plus-one's ability to act as a performance-enhancer for Xbox 360 games.
"This isn’t a side effect of textures being cleaner and upscaled resolution, this is a new animal completely," reads the article. "Imagine playing Gears of War 3 on your Xbox 360 it looks and plays good right? Well imagine that the year after it comes out you go out to buy the next Xbox and it looks even better, it plays even better. Features in the new controller are utilized with the game, the graphics do not only look sharper, but the draw distance is better, the speed is better, framerate, and there are even new features, perhaps even levels via DLC for the game on the third-generation Xbox."
"GoW3 is of course an example of what this could mean, past the forward-compatibility information, Xbox Evolved has not been given any other information about the next generation of Xbox."
So yeah, it's just like a PC. Get a new machine? Old Game X gets a new coat of paint. And while we certainly think this sounds like an interesting feature, we hope Microsoft doesn't get too caught up in new features to remember little things like focus-testing.
You didn't think escaping the three least popular letters in the alphabet would be that easy, did you? Today, Ubisoft Forum Manager "bukowski113" confirmed Spore DRM's "The Empire Strikes Back," placing yet another title under SecuROM's much-maligned rule. According to his forum post, Far Cry 2's DRM will work as follows:
You have 5 activations on 3 separate PCs.
Uninstalling the game “refunds” an activation. This process is called “revoke”, so as long as you complete proper uninstall you will be able to install the game an unlimited number of times on 3 systems.
You can upgrade your computer as many time as you want (using our revoke system)
Ubisoft is committed to the support of our games, and additional activations can be provided.
Ubisoft is committed to the long term support of our games: you’ll always be able to play Far Cry 2
In short, it's more or less unchanged from Spore's variation on the theme. We'll be buying Far Cry 2 anyway, though. After all, we just enticed a bunch of readers into taking up their pitchforks, so we feel we've done our part in the protest. DRM is bad and should be hated!
Think Spore is too short? Think Spore is too long? Think Spore is just right? Well it doesn't matter what you think; EA is putting Spore on a McDonald's diet, and the game won't stop expanding until it is the Space phase. Today's highly expected declaration -- which slaps release dates on a "Cute and Creepy" parts pack and an add-on for the aforementioned Space phase -- is only the beginning.
The Cute and Creepy set, not mincing any words, will include roughly 100 parts of both kitten-copyingly adorable and kitten-crunchingly horrifying varieties. For a mere $19.95, you can help break the record for world's fastest expansion pack when Cute and Creepy launches on November 18. It also works with Spore Creature Creator, making it the first expansion to cost more than the title it's expanding.
On the other hand, the Space pack sounds more akin to a real expansion pack. Slated for release during spring of 2009, it will see "players' space faring creatures... beam down from their spaceships to explore new planets and earn rewards for completing challenging missions" as well as "a new Adventure Creator will allow players to build and share online their own custom missions."
We were hoping EA might expand some of Spore's less-awesome stages, but hey, at least EA's heralds aren't shouting the joys of Spore: H&M. Yet.
No one can deny that StarCraft II's recently announced reverse-Voltron has officially renewed Blizzard's license to print money, but they can deny Blizzard's good intentions. Vehemently. Don't worry, though; the StarCraft crafters went out of their way to provide a few argument-dominating quotes on the off-chance you're still feeling a tad miffed about their decision.
"One of the things that [StarCraft II lead producer] Chris Sigaty was saying in interviews this weekend is that we had always planned to do two expansion packs for StarCraft II. This structure just reshuffles how we were going to do things," StarCraft rep Bob Colayco told Edge in response to the titular moo-juice allusion.
"Just to give you some context, typically with Blizzard RTSes, we release a single-player campaign that gives players just a taste of each race. The original StarCraft had 10 missions each or so for Terrans and Protoss. When we released the Brood Wars expansion pack, there was another eight or so missions for each of the missions."
Each race-focused StarCraft II release, then, includes the same number of missions -- and therefore, roughly the same amount of content -- as their unified predecessor. However, instead of a pithy 10 missions per race, the Terrans stand front and center for 30 missions, as do the Zerg and Protoss.
"Well, if you want to say 'one game' is 90 missions long, then yeah, I guess you’re only getting a third of a game each time," Colayco added. "Show me a game where there are 90 missions. We’re giving players a full-fledged single-player campaign experience included in each of the games."
See? That's no cash-grabbing scheme. That's Blizzard's sacrifice. We'd type more, but we're too busy saluting and choking back a single, glistening tear.
Quality may not always happily skip hand-in-hand with sales (See: Psychonauts, and then go buy it, please), but when it does, we wear unnaturally large smiles, ecstatic that there's justice in this cold, depressing world. You can imagine, then, that our pearly whites are on the verge of breaking free from our unhinged jaws thanks to Mythic's announcement that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning has lured 750,000 players into its overtly war-packed world.
"Thanks to our players, the war between the Realms continues to escalate at an incredible pace," said Mythic co-founder and general manager Mark Jacobs.
And he's not just spouting nonsense from his PR-approved book of hyperbole either; Warhammer's 750k sprint has topped those of both World of Warcraft and Age of Conan, who reached similar numbers within three months and two months, respectively.
But don't start ordering Waaaagh Kool-Aid as a refreshment for WoW's funeral just yet. It should be noted that boxed copies of Warhammer Online came with a free one month voucher, cancelling out the game's subscription fee for a limited time. With the game's money vacuum soon to be fully operational, will players stick around for another month?
We sure hope so. Warhammer seems genuinely different from other MMOs, and it'd be a shame to see it sink. Also, gaming just wouldn't be fun anymore if we couldn't constantly tell our friends "It's 'hammer time," before darting off for a play session.