Now that we're into the key final quarter of 2010, it's time to gaze into the Consoleation Crystal Ball and make some predictions as to how key hardware and software players will perform.
The Console Wars
It's become pretty evident to me that 2010 has been—and will continue to be—the year of the Xbox 360. Microsoft caught a few breaks (like the Great PlayStation 3 Shortage of 2010), but has generally made its own luck this year. Q4 will maintain that strength for Microsoft, and you need to only look at the release schedule. Halo: Reach will continue its strong sales through Q4. October brings strong multiplatform sales from NBA 2K11, Fallout: New Vegas, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, and possibly Medal of Honor… in addition to the release of Fable III late in the month. November will be about Kinect's debut and Call of Duty: Black Ops; even though Black Ops is a multiplatform title, it's no secret that reservations have been strongly skewed towards the 360. I fully expect sales to continue strong in December for the 360 with residuals from the aforementioned titles. The Xbox 360 will be the best-selling system of 2010.
As for Nintendo, it's unclear what they're hoping for this season. For the Wii, Kirby will be a wild card this month, and Donkey Kong Country Returns will probably sell pretty well in November—although it won't come close to what a Mario or Zelda game would have pulled in. There's a lot of interest in Epic Mickey, and advertising is just now beginning in earnest. The future of that game's exclusivity is in doubt, however; Disney has been developing a strong relationship with Sony behind the scenes and I can easily see a port or Director's Cut of Epic Mickey for the PlayStation 3 next year using PlayStation Move functionality.
GoldenEye 007 will end up competing with Black Ops on the Wii, and sales will likely cancel each other out. The Wii will finish 2010 behind the Xbox 360, but in front of the PlayStation 3.Uncertainty isn't solely a Wii problem, either; now that the news about the 3DS is out of the bag, what is the future of current DS platforms? Despite the new arrival in March, I can still see strong sales for the DS platform this holiday season… especially for DS Lite units, due to their relatively inexpensive price tag and the continued strength of IPs like Pokemon and Mario. It's clear to me that Nintendo is willing to live with a relatively average season (by their standards) in exchange for what will likely be an impressive 2011 behind the 3DS launch.
While not one Sony employee will admit this, I think that Sony is going to accept 2010 as a Microsoft year and will be gearing up for a strong 2011. With the unfortunate recent delay of Little Big Planet 2 to go along with losing SOCOM 4 to 2011 as well, Sony is left to key on PlayStation Move and Gran Turismo 5 as their big movers for Q4. While PlayStation Move is quite impressive, the games are slow to arrive and they're still finding an identity. Some games are good (Sports Champions, The Shoot, Tumble), some are bad (Aragorn's Quest, Kung Fu Riders), and others are just… there. It's an adjustment period for developers and publishers as they attempt to get a feel for the new tech and how to best adapt it.
Gran Turismo 5 is certainly impressive, but I think that it's a bit too niche and many consumers who have been waiting for it for so long seem to have soured a bit on it. That's not to say that Gran Turismo 5 won't sell well—but when matched up against Black Ops, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and even another racer in Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, the potential early sales success of the game will be affected by limited spending budgets and too many choices. The PlayStation 3 will finish 2010 in third place and with an eye on better results next year.
Kinect Versus Move
This is a pretty interesting battle for Q4. Move got out to an early start and has been available in limited supply. Reviews of the tech have been good, and I agree with those assessments. More Move titles are needed, however, to keep the interest level up… and that could be a problem for the rest of this year. There are Move games with strong sales and/or quality potential coming, such as The Shoot, Time Crisis: Razing Storm, TV Superstars, and The Fight… but will they be lost in the annual holiday software shuffle? Will people still be interested since the season's biggest titles won't be using the tech? Move also has to compete with the debut of Kinect, which has already exceeded pre-order allocation demand with GameStop and NewEgg. (Amazon.com seems to still have units available for pre-order.- Ed)
It's no secret that Microsoft is banking on a strong debut for Kinect, and strong marketing and advertising campaigns support this. It's also a new tech for what is the hottest-selling console right now, so the assumption is that users are going to want in for the hot item this holiday season. Microsoft is having to rely on marketing and advertising, because reviews of Kinect have been quite mixed and the prevailing feeling among many existing Xbox 360 owners is that Microsoft is basically changing course away from them and towards a much more casual audience. With only 2 months, it can likely be forgiven that games for Kinect will be relatively sparse, and I think that Kinect will wind up outselling Move tech for Q4. Dance Central has been getting a lot of hype for music game fans, and the selection of family games for this holiday season may convince parents to make the investment.
Medal of Honor Versus Black Ops
In spite of a head start of almost a month, Medal of Honor has no chance to pose even a mild threat to what will be a dominant sales performance by Call of Duty: Black Ops in November. Electronic Arts has tried to get the game noticed—there was an open beta (which was heavily flawed), there was controversy, and there's even the allure of making the game feel and look similar to the world's favorite FPS IP. The problem is that the Medal of Honor IP has been dormant for far too long and moving it away from its familiar theatres of World War II in order to put together a "me too" Modern Warfare game will do nothing for consumers. There is a constant thirst for FPS titles, so I think that Medal of Honor may post decent sales results for October… but, come November, Black Ops will dispatch Medal of Honor with a sales headshot. In fact, Call of Duty: Black Ops will be the biggest-selling software title of 2010. The more interesting question for Medal of Honor will be whether it sells well in October and whether it's a decent game when all is said and done.
There will certainly be a lot to talk about in the coming weeks as we wind down 2010. We'll see how these predictions hold up, and hopefully there will be some more free time to talk about sales trends with a bit more analysis. In the meantime, be sure to follow my Twitter feed for on-the-job retail observations and rapid-fire reactions, reviews, impressions, and more.