Here are five burning questions for this coming week:
Which way does THQ bounce?
Last week was a rough one for the struggling publisher. Earnings missed projections by a considerable amount, it was admitted that the Warhammer MMO needs a funding partner, there were 240 announced layoffs, and the stock value is sitting at just over 53 cents a share. It will be interesting to see how the stock fares today, after investors have had the weekend to consider THQ's position. There's some conversation that there could be some bounceback in prices today, but it's not a lock. That dwindling market cap—which stands at a little over $36 million—doesn't instill a lot of confidence that the publisher is going to last another year without a buyer or some kind of other financial intervention.
What can we expect from NPD data this week?
A decline in Year-over-year (YOY) hardware sales is expected when the data goes public on Thursday afternoon. A lack of new releases in January and a trend towards console hardware saturation feeds this prediction. What will be interesting to see is how software sales fare. Although there were few new games launched in January, Q4 delivered many quality titles and it's possible that gift card redemption fuels software sales to keep levels flat YOY. It's interesting to note that Call of Duty: Black Ops and Just Dance 2 were the two best-selling games for January of 2011 and it's possible that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Just Dance 3 log similar results for January 2012.
Is the Vita turning the corner in Japan?
Hardware sales for the Vita were on the upswing in the last week of January, thanks at least in some part to the release of Namco Bandai's Tales of Innocence R. Weekly sales finally surpassed the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and were within 4,000 units of the PlayStation 3. New software can be a driver for hardware sales, but we will see how last week's numbers fare. Japanese sales are not necessarily an indicator of how the Vita will fare in other territories, but a second straight week of gains would be a good sign for the embattled handheld as the U.S. launch draws closer. With Sony enduring hefty loss in the last quarter, there's a bit of pressure on Vita sales to be at least competitive with the 3DS and show immediate positive impact on the market.
How will this week's releases fare?
Kingdoms of Amalur headlines this week's slate of new releases, which is solid for a second consecutive week after a mostly dormant month of January. Early reviews have been quite positive for the game, which would be a boon to Electronic Arts. The Darkness II hits this week as well, although it seems to be flying under the radar a bit. First-person games, while still popular, aren't the guaranteed hits they once were. Resident Evil: Revelations also lands this week, either with or without the extra analog disc peripheral. Reviews for this game have varied, although the Metacritic average stands at 82. Lastly, the Jak & Daxter HD Collection hits stores this week at a rather low $40 price point. Amalur has received the lion's share of the attention from the gaming press, which could drive sales and be this week's biggest winner. Resident Evil continues to be a strong IP, so sales may be strong early. Confidence in sales of The Darkness II seems middling at best, although strong reviews may help. As for Jak & Daxter, the price may help at retail, but sales of these HD collections have generally been fair to moderate.
Has GameStop stopped the bleeding?
After enduring five straight losing sessions, GameStop stocks righted the ship last Friday with a gain of 37 cents. With the Vita on the way and a strong month of game releases ahead in February, I think that there is decent upside for GameStop for much of February. As with Sony, we'll be watching how Vita sales affect GameStop later in the month. A weak launch could hurt investor confidence in the short term as fears about weakness in the hardware sector could cause some jitters. As long as Vita sales eclipse 400,000 units in February, fears should be limited; however, anything less than that number could generate some knee-jerk reaction. This is a stock worth following this week to see if trends have turned positive... or if last Friday's gains were outliers.
I'll be keeping an eye open for answers to these questions this week and beyond, but what do you think? Feel free to offer your best answers, or maybe even leave some additional burning questions in the Comments section below.