19 Feb 2011

The Last MMO on the Street

It’s difficult to argue against the hype that a strong retail release can generate. Pictures of gamers lining up in the cold and the dark to be the first to get their hands on a new game make for great newspaper articles and TV features.

There’s also the social part of being one of these gatherings. There’s a feeling of being a band of brothers in arms, as if we’re all members of some secret club sharing knowing winks and inside jokes.

But is it, when all is said and done, actually needed?

Cataclysm managed to break sales records again, managing to shift 3.3 million copies in the opening 24 hours and 4.7 million in the first month. For the first time this also included copies sold as a digital download. As a comparison, the previous record holder was Wrath with 2.8 million.

The retail stores didn’t reach saturation, at least from what I saw. Even today there are still places trying to shift unsold boxes of the Cataclysm Collector’s Edition. The online sales were priced to match the high street, although it’s unclear if this was to maintain margins or avoid an uproar from retail firms.

The figures might be impressive, but in the context of videogame sales they’re not that high. In the previous year Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 managed to notch up 4.7 million copies sold in the first 24 hours. While Warcraft’s figures are great for PC, they’re not record breaking when compared against other games.

With the dwindling PC prominence in our local games stores anyway, including a buoyant indie scene that’s going direct to Steam and skipping retail altogether, are the days of physical PC game boxes numbered? Considering that the PC is considered the “home of MMO”, are we witnessing the last wave of top tier games to make it to the shelves?

For larger developer-publishers like Activision Blizzard, having a retail channel is a clear advantage due to the marketing clout a successful launch can generate. Smaller MMO developers may choose to skip the high street altogether and instead focus on a pure online delivery. This can only be a good thing, as lower costs can potentially mean more MMOs, greater innovation in the genre and increased competition.

It may well be that Blizzard’s Titan may be the last MMO box we see on the shelves. From there on out, our access to virtual worlds may be an entirely virtual purchase.

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7 Responses to The Last MMO on the Street

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  2. Grimmtooth says:

    Not to disagree but to provoke, yes: is the comparison of PC game to Console game as apt as the comparison of MMO verus non-MMO? Forgive my ignorance, but is CoD an MMO? And, if not, what are the numbers for the largest selling MMO on a console when compared with an MMO on a PC – in this case, of course, WoW.

    Mainly, it’s my understanding that MMO is a smaller genre than FPS/etc. So it seems that’s the comparison that’s more telling.

    That said, I think it’s 50/50 that ‘Titan’ will even have a box at this point. The cost of artwork, packaging, and media copy and testing is a huge bite out of whatever margins they can get. The Blizz bean counters will surely note that they were able to sell this expansion at the same price as Wrath and maintain higher margins.
    Grimmtooth recently posted..Fancy meeting you hereMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      It’s partly to emphasise the overall decline of PC gaming. Cataclysm was the biggest selling game on the PC, breaking records for 24 hour sales. That’s from all PC games.

      But comparing it to console gaming, it lags behind. The best from PC gaming lags behind the best from console, and is likely getting smaller. I think that in the future, almost all PC games will be downloaded instead of being bought from the high street.

  3. Chris says:

    Coming back to PC gaming after solely playing console games since the release of the Xbox, I have purchased WOW Vanilla and all three expansions through Blizzard’s online portal. I have also purchased a few games through Steam. I have really enjoyed the convenience of being able to purchase a game immediately upon making the decision without having to travel to a retail store that may or may not have a copy, not to mention checking two or three different stores to find the best price. Outside of the nostalgia factor related to “owning the box”, I see the pro’s outweighing the con’s related to digital distribution. As the music industry is already committed to this direction with iTunes, Amazon.com, etc., I see the gaming industry as being not far behind with XBox Live, Steam, and other online outlets. It won’t be long until all media is purchased and consumed digitally.

  4. Tesh says:

    I suspect we’ll see Titan offer a box initially, if only for the inevitable Collector’s Edition and to buy shelf space. Expansions, though, I can see those going totally digital in the not-so-distant future.
    Tesh recently posted..Professing LaytonMy Profile

  5. jonyx says:

    I used to enjoy getting the boxes and reading the little booklets that come with, but nowadays it just all seems to take space. I much prefer getting a digital copy to save on external drive(s). Sometimes things happen to disks, drives, etc and I have simply found physical copies less and less convenient. I personally had more unreliable DVDs, while even my oldest external harddrive is running just fine (over 7 years or so).

    You get tired of DVDs potentially messing up. I get even more tired when there’s a new format and you’re buying the same movie over again but this time for Blu-Ray. Such a huge waste. Different thing, sure, but still helped push me to only buy stuff digitally, if available (or not at all if only available in physical form!).
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    • Gazimoff says:

      I’m getting the same problem. I bought a copy of Dragon Age Collector’s Edition at release, but mislaid one of my discs. I couldn’t key the serial into Steam to download it and EA doesn’t provide a download service.

      Only snag is that I need a bigger hard drive to fit all these games on!