Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NPD: SHADOW COMPLEX's Spotlight Sales

When Xbox Live Arcade, Microsoft’s downloadable games service, first launched in November 2004 for the Xbox, it had a grand library of six titles, all of them retro arcade classics. A year later, to coincide with the Xbox 360’s launch, the service was greatly expanded, ballooning to include original content (such as the perennially popular Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, largely considered the 360’s best launch title).

Just two months ago, XBLA was given a shot in the arm that was a long time coming: Chair Entertainment’s Shadow Complex, a retail-caliber game, containing a narrative, gameplay, art assets, and, even, a graphics engine all fully capable of appearing in a full $60 game gracing GameStop’s shelves.

Released on August 19, the title raked in over 200,000 sales in its first week alone – enough to make the NPD Group’s top ten list for the month, one of the very first times a $15 game has managed to sneak its way in with the likes of EA’s Madden NFL Football and Nintendo’s Wii Sports Resort. This is more than banal videogame trivia; it’s a watershed moment for gaming.

As Live enters its sixth year, more and more publishers will take Chair’s example, pouring an ever larger amount of resources into downloadable development, furnishing experiences that will compete with – and, as is already evident, steal from – traditional games’ clout. In an economy that is still faltering, this means gamers will be just as likely to spend their hard-earned money in their living rooms as in Best Buy, playing titles that aren’t that dissimilar. Much like cinema in the wake of television’s grand arrival in the ‘50s, publishers will have to find even more reasons to entice gamers into retail locations for retail experiences.

Of course, Sony is betting that all games, big and small, will soon find their way to users exclusively through digital distribution: the PSP Go, the latest iteration of its handheld, released on October 1st, is completely physical media-less, making it the first system of any stripe to do so. And even Microsoft is already dipping its toes in the market, having launched Games on Demand – a service that offers (slightly) older retail games for (slightly) discounted rates – in August.

And behind this latest evolution of the interactive industry will be games like Shadow Complex, a bestselling title that has put the still-fledgling Chair on the map – along with, for many gamers, digital distribution itself.

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