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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

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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