Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Noby Noby Boy: Bringing the Impulse Back to DLC

So yeah, I finished all the games in my marathon, I may post on them later, the Naruto one was the winner with The Darkness finishing as a close second, Harry as a farther third, and LOST in dead last. This is my first post in a while, so you know I mean business.

In a little less than sixty minutes the date will be February 19th, 2009. Hell, in some places we are already there. And what is so special about this particular date in the world of video games? Well I would reckon nothing. Street Fighter was just released yesterday, Killzone 2 is coming next week, and really neither game is likely to go down as one of the most important games ever developed. However something does happen tomorrow, the PSN release of Noby Noby Boy, a follow up from the creator of Katamari Damacy. Now I'm not here to talk about the game, I'm going to pick it up and I am incredibly excited to do so, but Hell if I know what it's about or how fun it will be; I know it's from the same guy who brought me one of the PS2's greatest series, that's all I need.

The striking thing about Noby Noby Boy, in this new fangled age of DLC where the ease of purchasing depends on a person's ability to purchase a points card at the local store or the strength of his internet connection, is the five dollar price point, a modest price for a game from a fairly well known creator. I have to note the similarity between this release and that of Katamari Damacy. Both titles relied on price to push their product during an initial run, and I think this is one Hell of a strategy. I mean what's five dollars? A Domino's pizza when you're drunk? Five cheese burgers at a fast food resturant? A few hours to have fun with a game? It's really irrelevant, at that price I am obligated to take a chance on a product that shows promise. In this economy, where gaming is an expensive habit, every dollar counts, but the impulse buy is still a huge factor, especially with DLC, and hopefully Noby Noby Boy cashes in.

First I would like to examine the Katamari series. It debuted in North America with a modest MSRP of twenty dollars, the cost of a Greatest Hits title. The sequel came out at thirty dollars, a minor increase, but by now you know what you are getting and that purchase is justifiable. Then we skipped a generation and something happened. The failure of Beautiful Katamari can, for me, be attributed to three factors. The first is the timing of release, it came out during the holidays when a slew of considerably bigger games came out, this little name had no chance for its initial 360 run. This leads to the second problem, the 360 in general. While Microsoft's presence with a more Eastern oriented crowd has grown the Xbox had hardly attracted the Japanophiles that it has since the FFXIII announcement, so that interested audience from the PS2 was likely playing Odin Sphere or Persona 3 instead of dropping $400 on an Xbox to play Katamari, plus the controller was not suited for the game. Katamari relies on gamers simply pushing forward, you feel like the silent Prince when both sticks are right next to each other, like a pair of hands, and you just push. The 360 controller does not allow for this stick placement and the game just feels off. And then there is the third problem, and what I would say was the largest, the fourty dollar price point. Sure it's still twenty dollars less than a regular game, but I still cannot get behind the idea that I am not supposed to be paying a premium for a sixty dollar game. I'm a huge fan of Viva Pinata and I cannot bring my self to purchase the sequel at fourty dollars, which will arguably give you considerably more play time than a Katamari game. The price killed it, and the thought that fourty dollars is a bargain cannot sit well with an audience who was previously used to paying fifty dollars for a new game and who can go back and catch up on a couple of older titles for fourty dollars.

This brings me back to Noby Noby Boy and the question of exactly what five dollars means in the gaming world. Braid, last year's independent sensation, had me excited months before release. And then the price was announced. At ten dollars the game would have been a steal, I would have purchased it the first day it released; instead, I have yet to download the title, it is out of impulse range thanks to other games on the market. On one hand you have a game that you get maybe 5 hours out of and that's it, limited replay value if any, and you are out fifteen dollars for a great experience. Conversely, with this fifteen dollars you can pick up an entire album on Rock Band, or numerous packs and/or singles, all of which can potentially add hours of enjoyment if you like the songs enough to purchase them, plus it bolsters your library, who doesn't like to brag about how big thier's is? On its own five dollars is nothing, Noby Noby Boy has it right, price low and you will sell even with a what appears to be a lean experience and certainly a developmental risk, but you know what? I still haven't picked up Flower even at ten bucks because, frankly, I cannot justify taking that big a risk on an impulse buy when I can get those Rock Band songs instead. The DLC market, originally an inexpensive way to purchase a game, has become a miniature version of its older retail brother. Even for me, an almost twenty year old man, the choices in this 'impulse' market have become heavy choices to make because the number of things out there are now as plentiful as games, not to mention that, for ten to twenty dollars, I could catch up on tons of older games from this generation and last that I had previously passed on. Five dollars, here, turned me from a curious and hesitant spectator into a future customer.

So that's what five dollars is, it's the difference, for me, between taking a risk on something new and falling back on the safety option. I'm not proud of it, it's this type of mentality that hurts the industry, it allows the evil corporations like Activision-Blizzard to churn out sequel after sequel whilst neglecting IPs. I'm a bad man, but I guess I'm just like any person, I don't want to be disappointed, I don't want to feel ripped off, and when I don't have the wallet to take these chances, even on a smaller scale, the safe bets win out. I would like to thank Noby Noby Boy for coming out and doing what it does, for better or worse, I wish it the best of luck in the market and I hope it sells like a dead horse at a glue factory, but most of all I hope other independent developers follow suit and make sure their games can get out there to as many people as possible while still remaining profitable. Maybe I'm just complaining because I don't have the money to spend, or I don't want to spend what I do have, but I don't believe this is the case. I think pricing is an art in a market that basically relies on establishing IPs to sequelize for profit (Activision, Insomniac, Microsoft...etc), and I think the best way to compete and get a new concept out these is pricing, and I think, for the second time, Keita Takahashi knows this better than just about anyone else in the industy. He brings the impulse back to DLC, just like Harmonix has done with their DLC or what Geometry Wars did when the concept really started taking off in the console world.

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