This Week in Games - December 8, 2012

Halo and Call of Duty sales numbers, Reggie defends the Wii U, BioShock is delayed again, and we learn why we're not getting a Killer Instinct sequel.

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Late in the day on Thursday, the NPD Group reported its US sales data for November, and painted a fairly bleak picture of the overall state of the "traditional" games business. Overall, NPD's data for total software sales showed a slide of 11 percent to $1.46 billion compared to $1.65 billion a year ago. Hardware also took a hit, with November sales dropping by 13 percent to $838.9 million, down from $962.2 million this time last year. Though sales across the board are down, NPD analyst Liam Callahan cautioned that these do not nearly represent the entire consumer spend on games. "These sales figures represent new physical retail sales of hardware, software and accessories, which account for roughly 50 percent of the total consumer spend on games," Callahan said in a statement. "When you consider our preliminary estimate for other physical format sales in November such as used and rentals at $207 million, and our estimate for digital format sales including full game and add-on content downloads including microtransactions, subscriptions, mobile apps, and the consumer spend on social network games at $410 million, we would estimate the total consumer spend in November to be over $3.1 billion."

More than anything, what this illustrates is that the traditional business, and the traditional methods of tracking that business are out of date. The cries of disaster are offset by the fact that NPD does not have, and has not previously had any reliable figures for digital format sales across services like Steam (which had its biggest day ever, with over 6 million concurrent users on November 25,) the iTunes App Store, Google Play, or console platform services like Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.

That said, the news wasn't all bleak. Some games had a very good month.

Halo and Call of Duty are Big. D'uh

If you'd have been forced back in January to guess what two of the biggest games of 2012 were going to be, no one would have called you an idiot if you'd said Halo 4 and Black Ops 2. Well, whaddya know? Both of them have been huge. Back Ops 2 has already generated $1 billion in worldwide revenue since its launch on November 13. Activision announced the news on Wednesday, stating that the game reached the milestone in just 15 days, outpacing last year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which needed 16 days to generate $1 billion. The company claims Black Ops 2 is off to a faster start than Hollywood juggernaut Avatar, which took 17 days to take $1 billion. On Thursday, NPD verified the scale of the launch, putting November sales numbers for the title at 7.5 million units in the US alone.

Halo 4 has now sold over 4 million copies according to Microsoft and NPD affirmed this on Thursday, stating that Halo 4 sold 3.2 million copies in the US for the November 6 to November 24 period. This has propelled the entire Halo franchise to sales of 50 million since its debut back in 2001 with Halo: Combat Evolved. The company announced the news on Thursday morning, reiterating that players have spent more than 5 billion hours playing Halo on Xbox Live. Microsoft has released eight Halo games to date: Halo: Combat Evolved (2001), Halo 2 (2004), Halo 3 (2007), Halo Wars (March 2009), Halo 3: ODST (September 2009), Halo: Reach (September 2010), Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (2011), and Halo 4 (2012). In addition to revealing lifetime sales figures for the series, Microsoft also announced a new free-to-enter Halo 4 tournament. The "Halo 4 Infinity Challenge" begins December 17 and tasks players will competing on global leaderboards across the game's War Games and Spartan Ops modes for a chance to win prizes. Players can register for the Halo 4 Infinity Challenge today through the promotion's website. The tournament is powered by Virgin Gaming and its grand prize is a UNSC-themed V8-powered 2013 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor truck designed by 343 Industries. The winner of the Spartan Ops tournament will be awarded an appearance in a future Halo game.

Other Big Sales Numbers

Call of Duty and Halo aren't the only two games to see spectacular performance this year. As of November 19 total sales for Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition stood at 4,476,904. The game sold between 40,000 and 60,000 copies per week between October 29 and November 19, according to data provided by Mojang Studios to Gamasutra. Sales at that level mean the game generated between $800,000 and $1.2 million every week during the time. Though this may sound impressive, the game's sales performance is actually slowing down. Back in August, it was selling at a rate of 17,000 copies per day - driving $340,000 in revenue every 24 hours. After its launch on May 9, the game sold so quickly it became profitable after just one hour. The PC and Mac versions of the game have now sold a staggering 8.2 million copies.

Another hit on Xbox Live, though by no means at the same level, has been RedLynx's Trials Evolution. The game has now sold more than 1 million copies, and continues to be a strong performer much like its predecessor. Publisher Ubisoft announced that the second wave of DLC for the game will be released later this month. The Riders of Doom expansion follows October's Origin of Pain content, and will cost $5. The DLC adds 40 new tracks to the game, including a new environment inspired by the end of the world. A new vehicle--the Banshee--will also be up for grabs, as well as "hundreds" of new objects for the game's level editor.

On Thursday, Sony announced the best-selling PlayStation Network games for the month of November, revealing Telltale Games' The Walking Dead Episode 5: No Time Left to be the month's biggest hit. Rounding out the top five for PSN and PS3 full games were Assassin's Creed III, Sonic Adventure 2, Okami HD, and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. All five episodes of The Walking Dead made it into Sony's top 20 for the month.

On Vita, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified topped the PSN charts. The much-criticized game beat out the likes of Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, Persona 4 Golden, Ragnarok Odyssey, and need for Speed: Most Wanted to secure the top spot, presumably by virtue of its name and wishful thinking on Vita owners part.

Reggie Tackles Wii U Criticisms

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime fired back at relentless criticisms of the Wii U's launch hiccups on Tuesday. Speaking to Gamasutra, he first addressed the system's hefty day-one patch, which he said was a requirement to ensure the "very best product" for consumers. "That creates a dynamic where our developers are working on elements until the very last point possible," he said. "That's why the system update was required on day one; and this is quite similar to what's happened with other consumer electronic products." Fils-Aime added that the system update will be incorporated into new Wii U firmware sometime in early 2013 so users won't need to download the large file in future.

Fils-Aime also defended the Wii U from hardware reviews that were less-than-praising in the run up to release, saying that he recognized there has been a "range of comments and commentary" (GameSpot's look at the hardware highlighted several shortcomings) on the Wii U, but claims other data proves users are flocking to, and enjoying, their time with the system. "When I go on Miiverse and see how consumers are reacting to games like ZombiU or…Call of Duty, that tells me we're doing something very, very positive," he said. "Similarly, when I go on other consumer social networks and see other consumer reaction that is positive, I know we've done well."

The Wii U launch also saw some Miiverse connectivity issues, but Fils-Aime does not foresee these problems springing up again during the holiday season. "Without getting into a lot of technical details, the Miiverse [problem] was not purely driven by capacity," he said. "That gives us confidence that come Christmas morning, those servers will not be challenged in the same way. Come Christmas morning, the Wii U will be available globally. We know there will be a lot of consumers utilizing their Wii U for the very first time. So we're working very hard to make sure the initial customer experience is a good one."

If you were hoping to play Pikmin 3 on your new Wii U soon, it was announced this week that the game has been delayed a little. During a Nintendo Direct briefing on Wednesday, a Nintendo representative revealed that the real-time strategy game will launch during the second quarter of 2013. This means it is now expected sometime between April and June of next year, as opposed to the previously announced "launch window" period of November to March. No specific reason was provided for the delay, but given the tremendous love for the franchise and the huge amount of anticipation for the new game, it seems safe to assume that it's to give the team the time to add the expected amount of polish.

One last little snippet of Nintendo news from this week (the company was very busy, as you can imagine) was the fact that Nintendo of Europe is going to make players stay up late if they want to purchase and download Wii U content rated PEGI 18+. The company announced that it will be blocking the downloading of content with this rating between the hours of 11 p.m and 3 a.m. Under these stipulations, the four-hour window is the only time users can purchase games like ZombiU or Assassin's Creed III or even view trailers for these games. The story originated from a NeoGAF user, which reportedly received an email from Nintendo saying the following:

"Dear customer, we would like to let you know that Nintendo has always aimed to offer gameplay experiences suited to all age groups, observing carefully all the relevant regulations regarding content access that are present in the various European countries. We have thus decided to restrict the access to content which is unsuitable to minors (PEGI) to the 11 p.m.- 3 a.m. time window."

What do you think? A smart move? Or unnecessary mollycoddling?

What's Going on at Epic?

The names and faces we've long associated with Epic Games are leaving, and doing so just a few short months before the release of its next high-profile release, Gears of War: Judgment. Should we be reading something into this?

Design director Cliff Bleszinski left the company in October to "chart the next stage" of his career, and back in August the company lost director of production Rod Fergusson, and Judgement's creative director Adrian Chmielarz, who was also the co-owner of the recently acquired studio People Can Fly. This week, Epic Games president Mike Capps became the latest to step away, announcing his retirement after 10 years with the company. He gave notice of his departure in a blog post on Tuesday, and revealed that he is handing over his presidential duties and transitioning into an advisory role. 

"It’s hard to believe I’m writing these words, but here goes! After 10 crazy and wonderful years, I’m handing off my current presidential duties at Epic, and transitioning into an advisory role as well as remaining on the Epic board of directors. If you haven’t heard, I have a baby boy on the way. I’m fortunate that with Epic’s success and generosity, I can be a stay at home dad for a while. My wife Julianne and I are very happy in Raleigh, and other than cleaning up baby barf, I don’t have much planned. I might do some teaching, spend more time on creative writing, and maybe get more active with a few charities.

After dedicating a decade of my life to Epic, and with so many close friends here, it’s impossible to just walk away. I absolutely love this company. If you cut me, I think I probably bleed nanoblack and Imulsion. (Wow, just think about what mixing those would do…) Epic founder and CEO Tim Sweeney and other board members asked me to stay on the board, and I’m thrilled to do so as I’m truly excited about our future games and Unreal Engine 4."

Why the exodus of late? Any theories? Let us know in the comments.

Square Apologizes for Hitman App, Teases Star Ocean Sequel

Square Enix launched a new Facebook app called "Hire Hitman" on Tuesday to promote its newly launched, and well-received Hitman: Absolution console title. Rock, Paper, Shotgun discovered the app, revealing it tapped into users' accounts and allowed them to send death threats to friends complete with images pulled from their Facebook profiles. The app even called for "hits" based on specific reasons, including "cheating on her partner," and allowed for friends to be called out as identifiable for "awful make-up," "annoying laugh," "big ears," or "her small tits." The app, however, was short-lived. Square Enix pulled the app just hours after it became available and issued a statement apologizing for being "wide of the mark."

"Earlier today we launched an app based around Hitman: Absolution that allowed you to place virtual hits on your Facebook friends," the statement read. "Those hits would only be viewable by the recipient and could only be sent to people who were confirmed friends. We were wide of the mark with the app and following feedback from the community we decided the best thing to do was remove it completely and quickly. This we’ve now done. We're sorry for any offense caused by this."

Apparently people don't like being insulted, threatened, and humiliated. Who'd have thought? 

Later in the week the company turned its attention to teasing a game that it will be announcing next Tuesday, thought by some to be a Star Ocean sequel. You can check out the countdown clock and ambiguous clues right here. Any guesses?

People Use the PS3 for Netflix A Lot

The PlayStation 3 is the top non-PC Netflix device worldwide. Sony senior vice president of business development Phil Rosenberg revealed on Tuesday that more people stream Netflix content to their televisions through PS3 than any other connected device worldwide. Rosenberg called the achievement a "major milestone," adding that it is particularly noteworthy when considering the numerous other Netflix-compatible devices on the market (that's pretty much anything with an Internet connection these days.) Also commenting on the news was Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who revealed that though the PC remains the top platform for Netflix content, the PS3 surpassed it in terms of hours spent watching for (unspecified) periods of time this year. Hastings also called the PS3 a "natural fit" for Netflix in terms of compatibility for the service's "most advanced features."

As you'd expect, this prompted plenty of PS3-trolling across the Internet, with ludicrous claims that Netflix is all that it's good for, countered by equally ferocious "Xbox-sucks" comments from the PlayStation faithful. The bottom line is that game consoles are great media hubs, and this news proves it. Now where's my PS3 remote? I want to watch season 3 of Warehouse 13.

No Killer Instinct Game Because of Crappy TV Show

We learned on Tuesday this week that the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) has refused to allow Microsoft to renew its Killer Instinct trademark for the rumored revival of the Rare fighting game. In a government filing, the office said it would not allow it due to the possibility of confusion with Fox's long-canceled TV show of the same name.

We weren't expecting this, but we actually found the pilot episode (complete with deliciously-clichéd Marilyn Manson music in the opening credits) on YouTube. Behold! Bask in its magnificence.

Do you remember it? No? Don't worry, neither does anyone else. The unremarkable crime drama (the twist of which was that the lead detective's father was a serial killer…oooooh) originally aired in 2005, and lasted for just nine episodes before being unceremoniously yanked off the air. Sadly though, because of the show it's unlikely that we'll see a follow-up to Rare's brawler in the near future, unless Microsoft really wants to put up a fight and dispute the decision. 

"In the present case, applicant’s mark is Killer Instinct and registrant's mark is Killer Instinct. Thus, the marks are identical in terms of appearance and sound," a line from the statement reads "In addition, the connotation and commercial impression of the marks do not differ when considered in connection with applicant's and registrant's respective goods and services. Thus, upon encountering Killer Instinct for 'video game software' and 'entertainment services, namely, providing online video games' and Killer Instinct for 'entertainment services in the nature of a television series featuring drama,' consumers are likely to be confused and mistakenly believe that the respective goods and services emanate from a common source."

BioShock Delayed, Vita Version Considered, Lookalike Signed

If you were paying attention on Twitter or Facebook on Monday this week, you would no doubt have seen numerous posts sharing this photo (below) of Russian cosplayer Anna Moleva as Elizabeth from the oft-delayed BioShock Infinite. The reason? Irrational Games announced that they had hired Moleva, often known as "Ormeli," to be the official face of the game thanks to what the studio called her "uncanny portrayal" of the character. "We were so amazed by her dedication and her resemblance to Elizabeth that we decided to ask her if she’d like to be involved in helping bring Elizabeth to life in our box, our key art, and our upcoming television ad," creative director and cofounder Ken Levine said in a blog entry to the studio's website.

Despite this feeling very much like a thing you announce right before the launch of a game, we learned on Friday that the game has slipped by another month. In case you weren't keeping track, the last date that the studio announced was February 26. The new date is March 26. The decision to push the date apparently came after Epic director of production Rod Fergusson (see above) joined Irrational back in August. He suggested that the game needed another three or four weeks of polish, and that the delay would benefit the game.

Incidentally, if you were wondering if the studio would ever make good on the Ken Levine appearance at the Sony E3 press conference in 2011 touting a possible Vita version of the game, well…it's still a "possibility." "That is in the hands of business people right now," Levine told IGN this week. "It's something I’m still interested in, and people ask me that all the time. Right now I’m just sort of waiting to see what the business people come up with, and that’s sort of out of my hands at this point. That’s something that I think has a lot of potential. The game idea we have has a lot of potential. It’s just a question of [if] their stars all align."

Hawken Public Beta Next Wednesday

Bit of a public service announcement to wrap up this week: Meteor Entertainment announced that the date for the Hawken public beta session will be December 12. That's next Wednesday. You can sign up for it on the official site for the game.

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