Waiting on a hero…
You have probably heard by now that Rayman Legends for the Wii-U has been delayed until September, to launch alongside newly-planned PS3 and X-Box 360 versions of the game.
Now, I don’t really want to degrade this into a Nintendo-slagging match because truth is, there’s very little Nintendo can do about this. Ultimately, UbiSoft are big boys now and they have the power and intelligence to decide their own course through the market. Nintendo can authorise or refuse its release but ultimately, Nintendo have no investment in the product and therefore are at the mercy of the whims and decisions that UbiSoft are free to make on their own accord.
What I am intrigued by is the backlash from fans who want to boycott the game if UbiSoft don’t release it. There is a petition begging for UbiSoft to release it now, but it seems very unlikely. Because UbiSoft appear to believe that releasing all the versions at the same time will increase initial sell-through and look better on next years sales reports.
There’s some sound logic there. A multi-format game will have millions of people there available to buy it. I mean, it makes some sense; go for the maximum amount of people you can, and hope they all want it. You can’t fault the reason there. What you can fault is their timing; and in the video games industry, timing can be the difference between a successful launch and a poor performance.
The thing is, if you take a look at the barren Wii-U schedule as it is, alongside the news that by the end of January the Wii-U has reached 2.63 million sales, there’s a potentially lucrative market right there. You have over two and a half million people with a machine where there are no killer games being released this month. It’s ostensibly an open goal, and one which you’d assume would have dollar signs swimming around the heads of the chaps and ladies running UbiSoft. What else will people buy for the Wii-U this month? Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Revenge 2? It doesn’t really have the same punch in the Western market that Rayman does. On a new console with people screaming for new content, the idea that a game will be delayed because UbiSoft just decided to do versions for the other systems as well and withhold the finished Wii-U version to have a multi-format release does, of course, smack of failing to understand their target audience.
Of course, this was further exacerbated when UbiSoft offered Wii-U users a “new, exclusive demo” as compensation for the delay. A limited time/use demo as well. Sometimes, it is quite sensible to not offer an appeasement. Appeasement is hard at the best of times in the gaming world, but never more difficult when you have a legion of fans who are at best displeased. In offering a new demo, with restrictions upon it, UbiSoft may not realise that they simply fuelled the fire more; people don’t like being treated with sub-par apologies. They don’t want a demo. They want an actual game, the game many of them paid for and were keen on getting their hands on, a game that even the developers have pointed out is finished and ready to roll out to the market. In a world where this news can be noted and pushed into the public consciousness, people can become very worked up and very passionate, and perhaps a little greedy on all fronts – not just customers, but the industry too. We know the game is finished, and in time for its intended Wii-U release date. Holding it back seems strange.
Not least because UbiSoft should have learned a few lessons by this point.
In September 2013, we will be in what can only be described as the twilight months of this generation, you will start to see many games intended to be released this generation pushed to the market – things like Grand Theft Auto V, and Dark Souls 2, and Remember Me, and Deadpool and a whole host of other titles. Similarly, Nintendo are also likely to ramp up their own game releases, with The Wind Waker HD as an apology for the other Zelda title delay, and Bayonetta 2 amongst talk of Eternal Darkness 2, Mario Kart U, Super Smash Bros, Metroid and others. This fall season will probably be the most packed release schedule for many years because of the ending of this generation; there will be a lot of games, and there will be a lot of frustration that games won’t sell quite as much as they perhaps should because there will be so much competition there. Everyone is going to have the same problem; get the games out before the new consoles release and people begin packing their older ones away in lieu of the newer ones, whose cost and launch titles will no doubt make life quite problematic for other games being released around that time.
The thing is, UbiSoft watched this happen with Rayman Origins. Critically it was very well received, and yes, UbiSoft made some money from it. But sales numbers were frankly terrible, and the reason was not just that they delayed it, but they moved the game into November 2011 – the Christmas push, where you had not only the Call of Duty dominance, but games like Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed 2: Revelations, Zelda: Skyward Sword and others. The market was full to bursting, and Rayman – for all the love we have of him – couldn’t quite compete with industry behemoths such as these. Given a choice, people have demonstrated they will skip over really good games for brands they know. Hey, this is one of the Ouya’s most pressing problems right now too, after all. I understand Sonic Generations sold more than Rayman did – that’s awful to say since Generations wasn’t that good, but it demonstrates the point; Sonic is a known quantity. Rayman is, but it’s not as strong as others. Heading for a market where there are other big names on the move as well isn’t likely to increase sales at all – indeed, Origins should have proven that it’s more likely to decrease them.
That’s perhaps the thing that doesn’t make sense. Knowing the Origins problem, and then looking at the market as it is now, you’d think UbiSoft would desperately want an open market with a couple million potential sales on offer, and heck, it might even generate more console sales as well, deepening and strengthening a relationship with Nintendo that was so clearly begun with the excellent Zombi-U. But they’re making the same mistake, again, not that long after the last one should have sunk in and woken them up to the harsh reality that Rayman doesn’t have the same pulling power on the market that they think he does. Heck, worryingly, the Rabbids – who began life with Rayman – have more market pull now than Rayman does.
But of course, you should never really underestimate the greed at work here. There is no “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”, just “Having your cake and eating it” (A phrase someone did kindly explain – you can’t own a cake if you eat it because then there is no cake left to own. Thank you!). UbiSoft hope that a cross-platform release will increase its sales; but it’s like walking along the road and a wad of £5,000 falls from the sky and into the path in front of you. UbiSoft in this case is walking on, thinking down the road £10,000 will fall from the sky. Sometimes you need to be grateful for having such an opportunity, and squandering it can really cause problems down the line. UbiSoft are so focused on this idea of cross-platform sales that it simply doesn’t seem to understand that it has arguably the most unbelievable opportunity available; a Wii-U market, blossoming with 4 million units predicted to sell by April. 2.63 million by the end of January. And a games release schedule crying out for something because there isn’t anything. The stars are aligned in UbiSoft’s favour here. They couldn’t hope for a better time to release a Rayman game.
Instead they think Rayman can go toe-to-toe with Grand Theft Auto V and, potentially, Dark Souls 2.
Sorry, but given the choice there UbiSoft – as a gamer, I love Rayman but my money would go on other games first. And this is the nub of the problem. We can’t buy every single game. We just can’t. So we’ll pick and choose from the selection on offer. Right now, there’s nothing on the shelf. Put a lot of Rayman copies there, and people don’t really have a choice – it’s a new game, a game they want as well, and they will buy it. Further down the line this year – there will be choice. Lots of choice. And no-one will care much about Rayman – it was delayed, they feel hurt and instead buy something else, saying UbiSoft can wait for their money if they have to wait for their game.
Releasing Rayman Legends right now on Wii-U seems to be a complete no-brainer.
That UbiSoft can’t see that is perhaps the most troubling thing of all.