Chinatown Wars and MadWorld sold less than hoped for this March. Are they dead in the water or will they benefit from long-term sales?
The March releases of Sega's MadWorld on Wii and Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on DS were eagerly anticipated, but not just because of the high quality and "mature" nature of each title. The industry at large was also very interested to see how two high-quality M-Rated third-party games would fare on Nintendo systems, and whether or not sales data would support the growing perception that Wii and DS audiences are generally uninterested in M-Rated fare. The March sales for both Chinatown Wars and MadWorld have arrived, and they are certainly not encouraging.
MadWorld was released on March 10, finishing the month at 66,000 copies sold. Meanwhile, Chinatown Wars was released on March 17 and sold 89,000 copies through month's end. The numbers for MadWorld, while disappointing, are not entirely shocking considering the game's niche genre and single-player gameplay on a console known for multiplayer excellence. Chinatown's modest numbers are very surprising, however, given the game's incredibly popular IP and the massive installed userbase of the Nintendo DS. Furthermore, while MadWorld received positive reviews, Rockstar's title is currently the highest-rated DS game on Metacritic and is widely hailed as a system showpiece.
Industry analysts have weighed in on the topic, with Cowen Group's Doug Creutz stating that "either the demographics are more challenging than we thought, or core gamers did not view the title as an essential purchase due to the nature of the platform." Creutz did mention that the title was a good experiment for Rockstar, and that over time the game would no doubt be "marginally" profitable.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of these sales results is the future apprehension that third-parties will likely have about bringing mature content to Nintendo platforms. Creutz himself provided an example of this sentiment, declaring that "[t]he disappointing first month sales reinforce our view that achieving meaningful success on Nintendo platforms remains a very difficult proposition for third party publishers."
Meanwhile, Nintendo and Sega themselves look at things in a much more positive light. Sega has described MadWorld's sales as "very encouraging," while Nintendo – undoubtedly based on the "evergreen" nature of titles like Wii Fit and Mario Kart Wii - believes that first-month sales of games on their systems don't always tell the whole story. On MTV's Multiplayer blog, Nintendo Vice President of Licensing Steve Singer pointed to Call of Duty 4 on the DS, which went on to sell 500,000 copies despite moving only 36,000 units in its first month. He refused to reveal what Nintendo's sales projections were for Chinatown Wars, but reiterated that many Nintendo titles have "non-traditional sales curves" that result in sales growing over time, instead of the initial spike and drop-off that most games experience.
When pressed about Nintendo's minimal advertising of Chinatown Wars when compared to Microsoft's extensive campaign for Rockstar's other recent GTA release, the Xbox Live downloadable expansion "The Lost & The Damned" for Grand Theft Auto IV, Singer responded that they worked with Rockstar on marketing, communications, and advertising, but preferred to keep the arrangement private.