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Analysis: Mature Titles On DS -- Is The Audience Just Not There?
Analysis: Mature Titles On DS -- Is The Audience Just Not There? Exclusive
April 23, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

April 23, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
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    34 comments
More: Console/PC, Exclusive



An industry-leading IP with an unprecedented quality score on the platform with the largest userbase is at first blush a recipe for sure success. Thus far, however, the sales numbers from Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on Nintendo's DS have raised more questions than answers.

Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter had estimated that Chinatown Wars could sell 400,000 units -- but as of March NPD, the game had sold only 89,000.

"Basically, NPD data covered only 19 days of sales for the title after it was released," a Take-Two rep tells Gamasutra. Even still, analyst Pachter says the performance is telling when taking a wide-lens view of the market for mature titles on DS.

He estimates that in the U.S. and Europe, the target audience for M-rated games -- males age 18-30 -- comprises fewer than 10 percent of the DS userbase.

"There may be a lot of 'adults' who own DS hardware, but look at the ads: America Ferrera, Liv Tyler, Beyonce, and Carrie Underwood are all targeted at teen girls or women," Pachter tells Gamasutra.

"It's pretty clear to me that the 'older' DS demographic is largely female, and that they play Brain Training, Nintendogs, and Rhythm Heaven, not GTA: Chinatown Wars."

Industry-watchers and media wondered if the wide gap between how Chinatown Wars was expected to have performed by now and how it has performed might come down to just a little franchise fatigue. After all, franchises like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have posted some of the highest sales in dollars that the game industry has ever seen, and yet analysts are beginning to worry about market desensitization to the genre.

But that's unlikely to be the case in this scenario, according to the analyst: "I do not believe the market is tired of the GTA franchise," Pachter says. "The other dimension is that the 10 percent of DS owners [in the target audience] -- still 10 million -- probably own a console as well, and if they're inclined to buy GTA, they would probably do it on a console first. Few people buy the same game on the DS and on a console."

Nonetheless, Take-Two says it won't give up: "Through ongoing advertising and promotional campaigns, we'll continue to support the title and raise awareness for the blockbuster GTA franchise on DS," says the rep.

Pachter reiterates his position that any sales weakness can't be attributed to Take-Two -- "we can't say that Take-Two made a bad game or marketed it poorly," he says. "Instead, they created an M-rated game for a largely E and T audience, and those DS owners who are legally allowed to buy an M-rated game are not particularly interested."

"The bottom line is that we're very confident in Chinatown Wars' potential for long-term success," counters Take-Two. "We think it's going to have a long life in the market, as we've seen with other GTA titles."

However, Pachter maintains: "There's no point making games for an audience that is not there."

Gamasutra approached Nintendo for comment on specific questions related to Chinatown Wars and the market for mature titles on its DS, and has not received an official response as of press time.


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Comments


Caleb Garner
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I don't know why this is even questioned... other than kids under 12 and a few pop star women on TV.. i've never seen a grown man or even teenager using one of these in public... someone fell asleep behind the wheel when they were deciding to make a mature game on the DS AND wanted high sales figures..

M. Smith
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Why would I want to buy Chinatown Wars, provided that I already have a PS3/PS2/Xbox/360/PC and already own a s GTA title? I would be buying an inferior version of a game I already have.

Darius Kazemi
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Caleb, I don't know about you, but I see guys in their 20s with DSes all the time, mostly on the train around Boston. I also know a lot of grown women who have DSes too.



And M. Smith: maybe you'd want a *portable* version of GTA. I know I did.

E Zachary Knight
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M. Smith,



This is a different kind of GTA. One that goes back to their 2D roots. It is a different experience. Some people like a little variety in the types of games they play.



Plus as Darius explains, it is portable and some people want IP they like on their portable as well.

Bob McIntyre
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Ephraim, I wonder if it's clear to everybody that it's somehow a different game from other GTAs, and not just the same thing with different rendering due to hardware limitations. I'm not really sure that the advertising campaign emphasized that point, and if people don't know it, then it doesn't matter. Do you feel that there's a large audience that sees this GTA as something better than just a low-tech/portable version of something like Liberty City Stories?

Roberto Alfonso
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I want portable games to be short. I don't want multimillion productions of 100 hours with thousands of things to discover. I want them simple, focusing on a single thing. For example, Professor Layton is a game that can be finished in 8 or 10 hours, but playing it one hour per day, it takes around two weeks of bus traveling to finish. Etrian Odyssey can be finished in 15 or 20 hours, but takes me a month or a month and a half to finish it. If GTA takes 40 hours to finish, it means I am stuck with the same game for over two months. I want to be able to pick a game and finish it before I get bored.



I am a 30 year old professional with little interest in console or handheld gaming outside killing time at bus rides, waiting rooms and just before going to sleep. I am sure I am not the only one who bought the DS for these short bursts of fun.



Most companies miss the mark. That is why I have so many Atlus games but only one Electronic Arts, so many Majesco but no Eidos or Activision. And from Capcom, the only games I remember now are the Ace Attorney games, I don't think I need a Street Fighter or a Resident Evil for DS.

steve roger
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"He estimates that in the U.S. and Europe, the target audience for M-rated games -- males age 18-30 -- comprises fewer than 10 percent of the DS userbase."



How come Nintendo figured this out and these other developers and publishers did not?

Fábio Bernardon
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@M. Smith: using the same logic, why would people buy GT4 while they already had GTA3, or Vice City, or even San Andreas? The answer for this one is simple: better graphics and a new story. So what would DS owners look for? Portability and a new story. But the question is: has GTA:CW developed as a *portable* game or is it just a console game in a portable device? For a game to be successful in a portable, it needs to be designed such that it can be played in small bursts of, lets say, 10 - 15 minutes.



I have not played GTA:CW due to its "drug dealer" mini game. I will not support it because I think it was unnecessary. Had them left it out then yes, I would likely grab a copy of it. Makes me wonder if in the next game they will put a "rape" minigame on it... there are limits that should not be crossed when building a video game.

Roberto Alfonso
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The drug dealing game sounds like a tip towards Dope Wars, a game I really enjoyed to play while at school Linux workstations. I don't want to start with ethics discussion about why it is fine to kill people in games but not sell drugs ;-)

Ken Masters
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I thought we had enough stories about this last week...

Jamie Mann
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@Roberto: your point about long games is a good one, but I think you're actually pointing at complex games, not long ones.



Advance Wars (and the associated sequels) is an excellent example: each game offers tens (if not hundreds) of hours of gameplay, but the game's structure is very linear and the battle rules fairly simple, making it easy to drop in and out as required.



Conversely, games like GTACW require continuity: there's dozens of things which must all be simultaneously tracked - weapon pickups, car locations, routes from A to B - not to mention that you need to keep track of which quests you have (or haven't) completed.



I have to admit that GTACW's failure has surprised me in some ways - for all that the vast majority of the DS demographic is either too young or completely disinterested in mature gaming, I'd have expected a higher percentage of the remaining subset to have gone for the game. It'd be interesting to do some studies: is the problem because GTACW is perceived to be a "cut-down" game, a high level of piracy in the "mature gaming" subset, an issue with the perceptions around the game's complexity or something else altogether?

Bertil Hörberg
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@ Ephriam Knight

I think that is exactly why it isn't selling. It's a topdown semi-2d game, that's a lot harder to sell than a realistic styled third person action game, and appeals to a different type of audience. Most casual GTA fans will take one look at the screenshots and put it back on the shelf. The IP itself isn't enough to guarantee blockbuster sales, even though it helps.



An excellent example of this is the Metal Gear games on the PSP. MGS Portable Ops sold a respactable million units, which is still far less than MGS4 did on a smaller install base on PS3. The game was very much like the PS2 games in both gameplay and visuals, but it's still a spinoff and a lot less hyped than the main series. Metal Gear Acid 2 on the other hand, with different gameplay and different art style, bombed.



While chinatown may be an excellent game and in many ways very much like the recent GTA titles, it's also fundamentally different, and I don't think it has the same massmarket appeal.

M. Smith
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@Fabio



You send the point I was trying to make better than I did. I know people might want a portable GTA. But the portable GTA needs to work well as a portable game. I don't really think it does. The 2D GTA games aways had a problem with the perspective being difficult for fast-paced gameplay, and its even worse on a tiny small-res screen.



Considering that the DS has a huge selection of games that are very well suited for the DS, and which can't be experienced on any other system, I can see why no one would be buying GTA for the DS. You can always get GTA for some other platform. But you can't go out and buy Advanced Wars or the DS Chorno Trigger for some othe console.

Roberto Alfonso
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juice uk (cool name, by the way ;-)), I want short games, not simple ones. For example, Shiren the Wanderer is complex, you need to do item management, if you die you start from scratch, but the game itself, once you learn the tricks, can be finished in a couple of hours.



I loved Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, but I doubt I would have time nowadays to play them. I will make a sacrifice with Dragon Quest IX, though!

Alex Nautilus
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What about the adventure games being released/ported to DS? Syberia, Myst, Broken Sword, etc. Looks like there is an adult audience for DS games after all.

Geoff Schardein
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I am 48 and take my DS to lunch pretty much daily. Currently I am playing Fire Emblem. I look for the RPG titles that have a story as well as game play. I want games I can play for short periods, easily save and that challenge the mind. Straight shoot 'em ups don't appeal to me. I have no interest in a game that goes for blood and guts over story just to get a mature rating so teenagers will think it's cool and want to play it. While most RPGs have fighting, it is the story and challenges that make the game worthwhile. I would like to see something like Fable II come to the DS with the ability to save at any point as I often only have a few minutes to burn and hate not being able to save. Another RPG ripe for the DS is Golden Sun.

Roberto Alfonso
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Alex, don't misunderstand plain "mature" audience (people over 18) with gaming "mature" audience (people who used to play those games 20 years ago).

Mark Morrison
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caleb and m. smith you're spot on. regardless of all the chitter chatter, it's been proven now: mature titles aimed at people without DS's don't wok for DS sales. wow, what a notion. any adults who want to promote gaming on their DS (primarily) here, enjoy your cooking mama, etc. btw- CW is boring, overly predictable, and nothing new for an adventurous mind IMO.

Laurence Nash
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@Roberto Alfonso



I definitely agree wholeheartedly about portable games should be short. Exactly the reason why I think most people didn't pick up Chinatown Wars. It just seems like too huge of a commitment and a little too intimidating for a lot of DS owners.

Bob McIntyre
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Fabio, how does dealing drugs seem inappropriate in a GTA title? Every game features characters, including the player, committing felonies about five times a minute. Vice City started off with a cocaine deal going bad. The very title of the series is a reference to crime! I didn't play Chinatown Wars, but I'm really wondering how drug-dealing could be inappropriate in a GTA game. Let alone why prostitution, murder, armed robbery, and grand theft auto itself don't bother you, but selling drugs does.

Sean Parton
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Does no one else think that some of the hardcore demographic passed on GTA due to other releases in that month? I know I was looking forward to GTA:CW, but Pokemon came out at almost the same time. Since that game eats up at least 60 hours (and I'm still playing it), I've not had the time or desire to get another game I don't have the time budget for.



Just because a game isn't rated M doesn't mean some adults won't want to play it over M rated ones. Releasing a high-profile game that doesn't have an already interested base on a platform at the same time as a game that has a known high audience probably isn't a good idea.

Fábio Bernardon
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Old GTA titles were about the Mafia... italian job, this kind of thing. It was something that still had its "rules", if you can say so... or maybe call them "cult"... but lately (from Vice City onwards) it is more of gang battles - and I think they are far less interesting than Mafia. I lost my interest in the series after GTA3, and I actually see no reason to go back. But I liked the videos of CW, they reminded me of the old games - too bad they kept the current pop trend the series has taken. I believe the Mature audience on the DS does not like it as well as the teenagers with home consoles.

Roberto Alfonso
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Sean, I would think the hardcore demographics has already played Diamond or Pearl to death (I put almost 600 hours in there).

Sean Parton
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@Laurence Nash: There is an audience for long portable games; see my comment about Pokemon and Geoff's comment about Fire Emblem above.



Certainly, there is a significant portion of the DS audience that only wants short games, but saying that portable games shouldn't allow for a substantial amount of invested time is silly.

Sean Parton
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@Roberto: Every person I know who had Diamond/Pearl has picked up Platinum, and I've even got some roommates back into Pokemon with that new entry (some of which haven't played since Red/Blue/Yellow). And we're all gunning to complete all the main tasks in the game. So no, the hardcore definitely isn't passing this one up that easily, and that would easily have an effect on GTA:CW's initial sales.

Mac Senour
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Maybe the question isn't IF but WHICH? I have a DS, two for multiplayer, and I love it. But if I want the GTA experience/thrill then I'll go to the big machines and get the real thing. But someone up there suggested Myst, and I think that's a great idea. Don't get me wrong, if I get to pick the platform I'd play GTA over Myst... but given THIS platform, I'll take Myst.



Given the right titles, I can see the DS being a great platform for "adults". I put that in quotes because I think there's an entire new thread possible on what is considered an "adult". Certainly its not by age... but maybe by genre?



Sounds like a good future blog post to me...



Mac



http://aboutmakinggames.blogspot.com/

Ben Versaw
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I'm amazed at the rash of stories about this and none of them mention maybe China Wars was just a bad game? Or maybe not even a bad game - but the type of people interested in this game likely only have the original 2D GTAs. If you want to play it for nostalgic why not just pop in the original and save yourself $40.



Honestly, though I think some of the problem is with the word "Mature". What defines Mature? The rating system? In that case yes, maybe they have a point - the DS is more a family platform.



If they mean age-wise I find this line of reasoning is very off-base. After-all most of the things that define a Mature game in the game system are actually very "adolescent" in nature. I mean, hopefully, by the time a person is 20-30+ the appeal of blood, boobs, and swearing just for the heck of it has worn off (which is what the vast majority of M rated games consist of currently).



How about we see some more evidence of why the game actually failed instead of blaming one of the best game consoles out there at the moment - with arguably the best selection of games that are simply "Generic FPS#1001" through "Generic FPS#2003".

Ben Versaw
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In my above post "but the type of people interested in this game likely only" should be "alreadly" instead of "only".



And - "with arguably the best selection of games that are simply "Generic FPS#1001" through "Generic FPS#2003" - Should be "that are not simply".

jaime kuroiwa
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"...they created an M-rated game for a largely E and T audience, and those DS owners who are legally allowed to buy an M-rated game are not particularly interested."



I don't believe this statement has to do with the content of the game more than the platform itself.



Chinatown Wars did not come across as a mature game to me. I've heard the plot of Chinatown Wars in a million movies, I just wasn't interested in Cooking Mama-like minigames with a criminal theme ("Thug Mama?"), and I've seen enough gunplay, violence, and explosions.



That being said, if they got my attention with an original plot and gameplay that had some emotional impact, maybe I would have been more interested. Perhaps I'll be part of that "long tail" if I hear something contrary to my expectations.



I hope all this talk doesn't affect the development of the next M-rated game on the DS. The audience is out there!

jaime kuroiwa
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Let me rephrase:



"I BELIEVE this statement has to do with the content of the game more than the platform itself."

Laurence Nash
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@Sean Parton



I'm not discounting that there is an audience for long portable games, I personally prefer "shorter" games with a replayable core mechanic, like arcade games.



You make a good example with Pokemon and Fire Emblem, and I had forgotten about that. When I compare GTA, Pokemon, and Fire Emblem, my gut just tells me that GTA feels a lot longer and more complex. I guess the thing that sings to me about that is that the core gameplay mechanic (the battles) for both Pokemon and Fire Emblem can be covered in a few minutes. For GTA, I just remember how complex the game had gotten and how much longer the core gameplay mechanic of each mission had gotten, that I'd prefer not to deal with it and play a game that's a bit more simplified for my aging brain.



At least that is my reasoning for not purchasing the game.

Bertil Hörberg
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Interesting to see how much discussion these articles spur up.



@Ben Versaw

Chinatown obviously isn't a bad game with a metacritic score at 94, and I've heard several people say it's better than GTA4. However, while the PSP games were straight forward portatle GTA, Chinatown fundamentally different and I don't think it has the same appeal to most casual GTA fans. Apart from excellent story and gameplay, the main appeal of GTA has always been to go on a virtual crime spree, and that just isn't as exciting to do in an ant city.

Victor Bunn
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@Bertil I agree...A friend bought GTA:CTW and he raved about it for weeks. He's in his 40s and we game together constantly on DS and PSP. I'm in my 30s. I played his copy of GTA:CTW and it's definitely not a stripped down console GTA for DS. It's its own game using the strengths of the DS to impressive effect. To suggest that it is watered down is ignorant at best and shows that many people haven't played it.



I still don't understand why these articles are written as if the current sales trends are some great mystery. A lot of developers will lean towards what sold at the highest levels. On Nintendo hardware, it's easy to see. Instead of trying to truly expand the audience and service a higher diversity of gamers, to many publishers/developers will take the "me too" road to cash in on the success of other games. Sometimes, these games tend to be gimmicky, thrown together, trash that the average gamer would never play.



Does DS have a core demographic? Ridiculous question. Yes it does. How else can you explain the FF games, Chrono Trigger, CoD4 (which btw, the Wii didn't even get), Metroid Prime Hunters, Dragon Quest, Ninja Gaiden, Advanced Wars, Age of Empires etc....DS has a huge library of games for the core demographic.

To suggest that the demographic doesn't exist because GTA didn't shatter sales records in the first month is ridiculous.

Branden MacAffee
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I think the fact that Square Enix has been porting every 8- and 16-bit game they've ever released for the last 3-4 years proves that their is a market for engrossing games. There are lots of kids who only have a DS to play with and adults who have long plane/car rides that probably want more than just a 5-10 min experience.



Why did GTA fail on the DS? I think it has a big part to do with the perceived backslide in quality in terms of graphics. Part of the draw of the GTA series, especially the last three, is the realism of the city and characters as conveyed by the graphics and I could see people being put off by DS' graphics.


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