GameSpot Oracle: Testing the mettle of MGS 3: Subsistence

Konami has revamped its 2004 best seller with bonus features, but how can it get consumers to bite? Industry experts weigh in on Subsistence.

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Later this week, Konami will release Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence for the PlayStation 2. A new online mode, new features, and a reduced price point are all enticements to sign up, but will they be enough to move the market?

In this inaugural edition of the GameSpot Oracle--a close look at an upcoming and significant game release that uses a traditional SWOT analysis approach (we'll look at the game's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats)--GameSpot News combines existing sales data with commentary from industry experts for insight on all the things that might make or break a game's success. Readers are cautioned: The Oracle does not comment on how good a game is; that's reserved for our colleagues on the reviews team.

For Subsistence, our interest starts by looking at the larger trend of which this title is just the latest example: special-edition rereleases.

THE SETUP
Expanded "director's cut" rereleases of games are becoming big business. Movie studios realized years ago that they could give a film longer legs at retail by releasing a bare-bones edition of a film, followed by "double dipping" with a deluxe special-edition release a few months down the line. Konami was one of the first companies in the gaming world to pick up on this--it took its popular PlayStation 2 stealth action game Metal Gear Solid 2 and ported it to the Xbox with additional content for Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance.

The company's returning to the well with Subsistence, a special edition of the 2004 hit Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. In addition to the complete original game, the $29.99 Subsistence package features new content in the form of an online mode for up to eight players, two Metal Gear games from the MSX system previously unreleased in the US, new camera angles, new levels for the Snake vs. Monkey mode, and a handful of other extras, like new face paint patterns and a duel mode that pits players against the game's bosses in succession.

Gamers who preordered also received a Metal Gear Saga Volume 1 DVD, which features a 30-minute documentary-style recounting of the series' narrative, produced by series creator Hideo Kojima and directed by Ryan Payton. The disc also includes a series of interviews with Kojima himself.

For those who crave more Metal Gear, a Limited Edition package of the game also goes on sale this week for $39.99. The Limited Edition comes with a third disc with all of the cinematics from Snake Eater (as well as new scenes and narration) cut into a feature-length movie by Kojima himself. While it's no longer available online, gamers can check with their local GameStop, EB Games, or GameCrazy to see if they have any left.

HISTORY
Looking at the relatively short history of special-edition versions of games, NPD Group US sales figures show a range of performance. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on the Xbox has sold a little more than 550,000 copies since it was released, while the Game of the Year edition with a budget price and a pair of the PC version's expansion packs built in has almost matched that, with more than 500,000 copies sold. And while it isn't fair to compare cumulative sales of Devil May Cry 3 (released early last year) with Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition (released in January), the revised edition averaged half of the original's sales for their respective first month of release.

Unfortunately, direct comparisons between Subsistence and Substance are complicated because the latter not only added special features, but brought the series to the Xbox for the first time. Domestically, Sons of Liberty has sold more than 2 million copies since its 2001 release, while Substance has sold not quite a quarter of that number across its multiplatform 2002 and 2003 releases.

STRENGTHS
Corey Wade, a partner with the game marketing firm Sandbox Strategies and former senior product manager with Rockstar Games, said Subsistence's biggest strength is obviously the brand power of the Metal Gear Solid franchise.

"Gamers are automatically interested in anything remotely new to do with Metal Gear Solid, and it is a no-brainer getting coverage in the gaming press," Wade said.

Aside from drawing attention in the gaming press, the Metal Gear games rack up huge sales numbers and are consistently among the best-reviewed games in their genre. Almost every Metal Gear game since Sons of Liberty is among the top five third-person shooters on its system, based on aggregate reviews scores from GameRankings.com. The lone exception to this is Metal Gear Acid for the PSP, which isn't on the third-person shooters list because it is instead the top strategy game on the system (although its competition until very recently consisted solely of Lord of the Rings: Tactics). So the brand name is strong, but it isn't Subsistence's only selling point.

"Other than the franchise's reputation, I'd say value is its biggest strength, considering it includes the original Metal Gear games," Wade said. "At this point in the PS2 life cycle, the key is to focus on the less hardcore gamers, the ones who don't spend $50 for a game and don't already own Metal Gear Solid 3. It is very tough to sell a $50 PS2 game right now."

WEAKNESSES
However, Michael Goodman, a game-industry analyst with The Yankee Group, doesn't see the $30 price point as all that compelling a value proposition for the average consumer.

"Konami is almost between a rock and a hard place on how to price it," Goodman said. "You're in no-man's-land. On the one hand, you can't price it as a brand-new, AAA title, because everybody knows it's not. On the other hand, you've invested a bunch of money into this thing to change the game, so you need to earn back the development investment that you made, so you really can't put it at the $19.99 value price point, either."

So Goodman said the challenge for Konami is getting consumers to recognize they are getting something new that is worth the $30 investment. Goodman and Wade agree that the online component is the most significant new aspect of the game, but both have reservations about online PS2 games.

"There are about 4.5-5 million PS2 consoles online globally," Goodman said, "so you're saying that's the absolute maximum number that feature's going to appeal to. Even with that [online play mode], is that enough to get someone to essentially buy the game a second time?"

According to Wade, the number of PS2 gamers who go online has not gone unnoticed in marketing circles. He said some of his colleagues have taken the view that even having the PS2 Online logo on a game's packaging could actually turn off those who don't go online with their systems.

"But I haven't seen any evidence of this, especially with a game as notable as [Subsistence]," Wade said. "Also, you need these kinds of enhancements in order to promote the product through both the PR and marketing efforts."

In the past, taking a franchise online on the PS2 has met with mixed results. Electronic Arts hit the online gridiron for the first time with Madden NFL 2004, and to date that game has beat out its predecessor's US sales figures by more than 700,000 copies. On the other hand, when Sony took the Ratchet & Clank series online with Up Your Arsenal, the game sold slightly fewer copies in America than the previous Ratchet game, Going Commando. And when that series' focus shifted specifically to multiplayer and online play with last year's Ratchet & Clank: Deadlocked, sales slipped more noticeably, selling almost a third fewer copies domestically than Up Your Arsenal in the first four months of release.

OPPORTUNITIES
As for where those efforts should be directed, Wade said if it were his campaign to run, he would focus squarely on what he calls "Madden gamers."

"You focus on the kinds of gamers who own a PS2 and own maybe a Madden game and one of the Grand Theft Autos, gamers who don't buy games very often, and when they do, it's only the very biggest games," Wade said. "We are talking about a specifically male, mid-to-late-20s console game player who does not read GameSpot every day. People that bought a PS2 relatively recently fit this profile. They have probably heard of Metal Gear Solid, but if they find out a 'new' version has come out and that it is a great deal, they might buy it just so they own it."

However, Wade noted that courting the "Madden gamer" market is expensive, and it means competing with every major game of the last few years that now sits at a value price point, as well as new DVDs, movies, and anything else that would eat into a young American male's entertainment budget. As for ad placement, Wade said he would hit the major gaming sites but devote the majority of his marketing budget toward non-game outlets such as blogs, video sites like YouTube.com, sports sites, and male-focused TV shows, with very little money put toward print ads.

THREATS
The gaming competition facing Subsistence is much lighter than what Snake Eater had to contend with at release (Halo 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, to name a pair), but that doesn't mean it's the only new release gunning for gamer dollars when it comes out. Currently scheduled to ship on the same day as Subsistence are Sony's PSP platformer Daxter and Atari's Driver: Parallel Lines, with high-profile releases like EA's heavily hyped game adaptation of The Godfather and Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion due next week. As far as competition for Subsistence in its own stealth action genre, Ubisoft's Splinter Cell Essentials for the PSP is due next week.

All things considered, Goodman doesn't have especially high hopes for Subsistence.

"My expectations on [Subsistence] aren't really that great," Goodman said, "The analogy I'll make that did fairly well was when Microsoft did the additional maps for Halo 2." Despite Microsoft's acknowledgement up front that the maps in the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map pack would eventually be downloadable for free, the game still went on to sell almost 400,000 copies in the US with a $19.99 retail price. "What they didn't do is they didn't try to sell you the same game," Goodman said. "Here I very much get the feeling that they're putting a new wrapper on the same product."

As for the trend of double-dipped games, Goodman still considers the sampling of such releases too small to get a bead on how well they can be expected to sell and says the performance of Subsistence will be an important factor in determining how frequently gamers see such packages offered in the future.

"My gut is telling me that the best-case scenario is that this is moderately successful, in which case I don't see too many other people following suit," Goodman said.

Given that the full impact of Konami's marketing campaign won't be visible until after the game launches (and Konami declined to comment for this article), Wade abstained from making any guesses as to Konami's success in marketing the game, but he did leave the door open for another MGS home run.

"Too early to tell," Wade said. "But typically Konami does a great job marketing this franchise, so I can't see why it would be any different this time around."

Discussion

51 comments
agasee
agasee

This was the only and first game that tempted me to buy a netowork adapter, and i just got one today, played the game for 5 hours, and its amazing online, really strong codes, amazing online, no lag...maintains at a good framrate... the framrate is better online than single player mode, and ontop of that you can watch all the cutscenes in order, like a PLAY ALL feature and chapters, mUCH more chapters, SAGAS is great...not that infromation provided, but a MUCH MUCH clearer version of MGS4 trailer....plus it has the spoofs and parodies along with it (Metal Gear Raiden, Snake Eraser) this is a game to get, if your a fan, its a must have, if you new to the series, you might find it much easier to play with the new 3D camera.. GREAT GAME, GREAT VALUE!

VicMackey
VicMackey

Funny how PS2's online is so poorly implemented that online games actually sell less for having the feature

BPDecPimp
BPDecPimp

having never bought the first one, lucky me. gamestop better not botch my shipping

WolfSkill5544
WolfSkill5544

Thank you Konami for bringing one of the most beautiful games ever created so far, and thank you Hideo Kojima.

dru26
dru26

From what i have read they finally stepped into the 21st century and gave us a manual camera.

jonnyjd
jonnyjd

I never picked up Snake Eater so I will probably get Subsistence and I don't need to pay $50 for it. I win.

afgad
afgad

MGS3 is unplayable due to the camera angles. I don't care about the bonus stuff (online play, bonus disc, new features, etc). I just want the camera angles-thing fixed. Is that worth $30? Hardly! Konami botched it with MGS3. Let's hope they don't do it again!

THX-DTS
THX-DTS

Same game - New price... Not interested...

dru26
dru26

Finally, MGS ditches the 1989 fixed camera angle, yay.

rbarahona
rbarahona

I love MGS3. This is one of the best games I've ever played. However I'm not really keen on getting the same game twice. Despite that fact, I think that Subsistence is a great game and a great opportunity for all the people to play this awesome game.

Lasafrog
Lasafrog

I haven't taken my copy from 2004 out of the shrink wrap yet - I havn't had a period of hours to spare for the intro yet! Someday :)

VaPeRZ
VaPeRZ

I just read a snippet of the article and saw that a person compared Halo 2 map pack to MGS3's added features. Completely new online mode for a initially single player only game along with everything else has a far greater impact on the value. Maybe I just took that out of context...

solsub
solsub

Listen, regardless of what others say, MGS3: Subsistence WILL, undoubtably, pwn. At a $30 US price point for all that content, you can't go wrong. And yes, it still is the BEST gaming franchise out there. Get over it.

KIELW93
KIELW93

if I didn't already have snake eater, I would get it, but I don't wanna pay $30 for basically the same game

ulrikz
ulrikz

Got a US MGS 3 (I'm european) so i'll pick up Subsistence when it hits stores here, I really need Metal Gear 1 & 2 for the MSX :D

hbarth21
hbarth21

To berserker 2... What you're seeing in episodic content now is just the beginning... it's innevitable at this point. Ten years from now and the old ways of boxes with manuals will seem like an old idea. Financially it makes more sense for the companies. Shorter play sessions means more gaming oppertuunities for the players and for the designers to experimant and play with. Think of this way... Imagine your favorite TV show that runs with a 13 episode seseaon, you follow it rabidly and then instead of a season finally they end it with a feature film. That's more or less what you're seeing the beginnings to. It may seem silly now but that's just because it takes time to get the ball running. In other words... give it time, cause it's gonna get a whole lot cooler than you think it is now.

WillOWisp2121
WillOWisp2121

I'd say the fact that you're getting 3 games for 30 dollars justifies this purchase. Even if you already have MGS3, you can sell that used for 8-10 dollars, buy Subsistence for 30, so you've spent about 20. For that price, you're getting a boss rush mode, two MSX games that are impossible to find legally (although very easy to download if you're willing to try), and what sounds like an exceptionally well done online mode. Not to mention the new camera system (although, if you've already played the game enough, that's inconsequential). All of that is well worth the price of 30 (or 20) dollars.

charbel
charbel

all this time and effort could have gone to adding, maybe a ocelot side adventure as a lead up to story of MGS3 (i would like to use him to shoot someone), Play as the end, the fury, the pain, the fear against snake and use them in other adventures. Play as the boss in some cold war missions. have snake return to the mgs3 world and have him run through the world again looking for food to eat and survive and have shortages of food and if he doesnt eat enough he cant continue. (no enemies). when he makes it through he is presented with a monkey to eat.

Arkham
Arkham

This is exactly why I waited. Now I can't wait. Looking forward to it.

ghostadv
ghostadv

I'm glad I didn't buy MGS3 the first time it was released.

Xanog1
Xanog1

Man, I still can't wait for Subsistence to come out, and to pick up my copy of the LE. Good read.

solidte
solidte

metal gear is cool lets leave it at that

gamepunk86
gamepunk86

30 bucks for the game, thats reasonable but to have it 40 bucks for the special edition which comes with an extra dvd of the game, come on that should have been in the first edition of the game anyway. so u see im in a predicament, get the 30 dollar standard ed. or get the 40 dollar special edition. but man, $40 seems to much for a game ive already played through multiple times. hard decision, hmmm....

juancorazon
juancorazon

I don't care Metal Gear is Metal Gear I already preordered mine and can't wait to play online.

BeefieCheesie
BeefieCheesie

With Fable: Lost Chapters, they just put a bunch of b.s. at the end, and it sucked. You still had to play through the whole game just to get to it. That's lame. Adding a new camera, online, and the msx games, for only 30 bucks is awesome, regardless. As long as they add something worthwhile, I don't think it's bad to "double dip". However with DVD movies, I think it's different. You typically know that a super duper special edition is going to come out months later, and even then sometimes the special edition is really weak and overpriced.

Donkeljohn
Donkeljohn

Already pre-ordered it, already anticipating it.

dodgyd55
dodgyd55

any one else think the series aint that great....... the first one is stlll the best (havent played twin snake tho) the 2nd 1 was good game play but was ruined by the god awfull story line and overly cutscene game play......im still angry at the 2nd 1, seriously tho, first 1 ocolot gets his hand copped off and they think "oh this will be a good idea, How about we have liquid control ocolot through his arm.......hmmm yes brilliant"...... eh wrong losers....oh 3 was great but i dont no lacked some thing

Kfoss
Kfoss

im happy that substance is comming out...but i wish they would just get it right the first time...imagine if the first release was this version of the game..it would rule the PS2 empire...and actually be worth its $50 dollar price tag...but no...LOL but im surprised that substnace is not comming out for the Xbox too....oh well

dodgyd55
dodgyd55

*sigh i hate things that are re-released but better and cheeper, it angers people that bought the original but want the new content

matttrd
matttrd

What's all the fuss about? it's not like this is a new marketing trick. They did the same with MGS2 can't understand what the big deal is here.

Paul_Phoenicks
Paul_Phoenicks

i still smell Perfect 10. there was none of this hype around Substance, and that game, also, added new modes, difficulty levels, and cost less when it came out.

John_of_Fire
John_of_Fire

I passed on the game the first time, but new features, promos, online play, and at only $30. That was enough to make me preorder it. This may be the game to get me to buy a modem for my PS2. Twisted Metal is the only game that tempted me to go online before this. (I have live and now a 360 so I have had little desire to buy and modem and headset for PS2.) I had passed at MGS3 for ten dollars new in bargain bins before this, but I'm a sucker for promos, and single player games with multiplayer is always more appealing to those who don't put enough time in to finish a lot of games.

Star2020
Star2020

I'm going to buy it , there are some new features in the game that will make here even better.

Berserker_2
Berserker_2

Adding levels and dressing up a game (on the same console) only diminishes the product. I had no desire to play "Fable: Lost Chapters", even for 20 bucks. I also don't like extra downloadable levels. Splinter Cell had extra levels and it didn't feel like a new game. It felt like an extra hour of gameplay. The game should be treated as a finished product. Ninja Gaiden Black is a good example. The 2 versions are identical, yet NGB added a new camera, costumes, and abilities. Like the Halo 2 Map Pack, NGB added a new Mission Mode which was a new game by itself, and not related to the original game. I predict that the episodic content coming from Valve through Steam will fail. If the episodes are only 3 hours long, people won't pay attention. Games are like movies, not TV shows.

magus704
magus704

I've seen the DVD, the guy just gave it to me when I pre-ordered, it totally rocks. I really hope I end up with that special edition just so I can actually see how little I play the game.

elessartelrunya
elessartelrunya

How is Subsistence 'double-dipping' or 'putting a new wrapper on the same product.'? They added a completely new mode (online for the first time in MGS) plus an abundance of features. Hell, $30 for the online portion is worth it...let alone getting the entire single player plus bonus features. For those who didnt buy Snake Eater, this is definitely a great buy!

Cartman86
Cartman86

Ugh it's so annoying to hear about people who just walk into stores not knowing at all what games are out or really anything about them. They see MGS3 and go WAIT! I've played this before! It's 30 bucks? What a rip off!! They do not research they are just ignorant. Now of course it's likely that people who do this would never play MGS anyways because of its long cutscenes and more adult themes.

gameloverx
gameloverx

good to know since i'm a minor i would be glad to play those Snake vs Monkey stages

ultraburu
ultraburu

Subsistence will be an interesting piece to consider, even if you already own the other MGS: Snake Eater. I hope it gets the attention and credit it deserves!

Kaos-Angel
Kaos-Angel

w00t! only 20 more hours until I pick up my copy! I

LOGGER13
LOGGER13

Subsistence will rock! I just want to see the dvd!

Kaos-Angel
Kaos-Angel

w00t! only 20 more hours until I pick up my copy! I

MiKaNoH
MiKaNoH

interesting...(2nd post)