So we’ve had our long Easter weekend, and the charts are in. Perhaps unsurprisingly the awesome Portal 2 is sitting at the top with Mortal Kombat close behind it. Both games are excellent (look out for our MK review later this week) and both offer some exclusive bonus content to those who purchase their games on the PS3. However Mortal Kombat has sold more on the PS3, Portal 2’s best selling format has so far been the 360. There are probably a few reasons for this, not least the obvious PR disaster of the PlayStation Network being down since both games were launched, but allow me to offer a few theories of my own as to other possible factors in this result.
Firstly and perhaps most prominently I think is in the marketing. In my interactions with people, either from Facebook, in person or otherwise – most of those intending to get Mortal Kombat were aware that Kratos was going to be in the game fairly early on. They made a pretty big song and dance about it with the announcement video. and just a search on YouTube for “Kratos Mortal Kombat” brought you a truckload of fan videos celebrating this fact. Leading up to the launch, they kept reminding the public that Kratos was to feature, have his own fatalities, storyline and extras making him more than just a routine palette swap or costume option. Finally of course, they mention it pretty clearly on the front of the box in clear view to anyone having a look on the shelf.
Portal 2 meanwhile – although it got a lot of attention from the PC audience thanks to the potato ARG and indeed those who keep an ear to the ground of the gaming newswires – to the layman you might have no idea it even connects to Steam. I myself heard people wondering what Steam was, and they had no idea what the code inside the packaging was for. A post on the PlayStation Blog gave some information on details, but there was very little fanfare or anything mentioned in any of the trailers or adverts either for the consoles or the YouTube video shorts about the Steam features. As for the packaging, it turns out you have to look at the back of the box to know you even get a free copy to play on PC & MAC regardless:
Then it’s worth considering – how many people who own PS3s actually have a gaming capable PC? Even if that figure is quite high, then it has to be considered whether customers actually think they have a gaming capable PC. Even now in a time where game system requirements have remain relatively low in order to support releasing on five year old platforms the old stigma of requirements remains in people’s minds. I know a fair few people who have PS3s and laptops and the precise reason they bought a PS3 was because they think their laptop can’t run games so they ‘wanted something to play games on’. As such, although the extra copy is nice they see no need for it, as they do their game playing on their machine they bought expressly for that purpose. There’s also the consideration as to whether PS3 owners are still hurting from the frankly poor conversions of the Orange Box PS3 version, handled out of house. Again, although many of us in the know will know that Orange Box wasn’t done in house and Portal 2 was, to many those terms will be completely alien to them.
Finally, as Portal 2 is the first Steam game on PS3 and supports cross-platform play – which is great and a much welcomed addition. But being the first time Steam has appeared on the console, who’s to say that the people buying it would have any friends on Steam anyway? I would hazard that most PS3 owners who play with their friends already have them registered through the PSNetwork as it is, and likely do not have that many friends on PC to add in the first place. Of course, with the current PSNetwork issues this one is a bit harder to track until it gets switched back on and we might start seeing more friends in our lists playing on PS3. This isn’t Valve’s fault and to the contrary they should rightfully be applauded for kick starting something new – hopefully when we see more cross platform games take advantage of Steam, we might see a bigger uptake. Time will tell.
When it comes down to it though, number 1 in the charts is certainly not something to be sniffed at on any format, and this is all just my opinion/speculation and a hell of a lot of guesstimation, so you should probably take this with a punch of salt. However if the industry is to learn anything from this, it’s that platform exclusives alone are not enough to guarantee victory for a format on a cross platform title. Knowing your audience, good and targeted marketing and indeed playing to your own strengths is a big part of the battle.