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Casual Friday: February 24th, 2017

 

Hi! Yup, it’s me again. Dom. I know it seems like it’s been a while.

 

I’m back with a new edition of Casual Friday for February 24th, where I round up the week’s most recent and relevant news to give a quick commentary. This week the companies featured are Nintendo, Koei Tecmo, Sony and Microsoft. Take a load off, keep it casual!

 

 

It’s hard to believe that the newest console from Nintendo ($NTDOY), the Switch, is out just a week from now next Friday, March 3rd. But it’s true, it’s around the corner and that means previews of the console-handheld hybrid itself plus its launch games such as Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2 Switch are starting to pop up. While we won’t get full reviews on the Switch until next Wednesday, March 1st or Zelda until next Thursday, March 2nd, we do know the early impressions are somewhat mixed on the hardware.

 

The concept of the Switch is awesome: a device that you can dock at home to play games on your TV, then bring on the go as a handheld gaming device. But according to previews and hands-on impressions, the execution is where it’s lacking so far leading me to believe the launch of the system is a bit premature. The reason? I think it’s that Nintendo wants to release it before fiscal year-end in March, before which the company has stated it will ship 2 million units. All hardware launches are messy, granted, but the Switch is being bogged down by a number of concerns: lackluster launch line-up apart from Zelda, technical issues with its “Joy-Con” controllers, no Virtual Console at launch (a service where gamers can download and play classic Nintendo games) and lastly, certain aspects of its online services will not be available right away.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for the console and will personally be a day-one buyer. I just feel that Nintendo is soft-launching the Switch hardware around its financial calendar, which is causing some features to be non-existent and lots of games are still in development. Good news is that I fully expect the console to look a whole lot better come holiday season later this year.

 

 

In very upbeat news, Japanese publisher Koei Tecmo ($3635) shared that its latest samurai action game Nioh has sold more than 1 million copies worldwide in just its first two weeks on sale. This is great news for the publisher of games like Dynasty Warriors and Ninja Gaiden, the latter of which being made by Team Ninja, the same team responsible for Nioh. You’ll also recognize the Tecmo name from classic sports titles like Tecmo Bowl during the late 80’s. Nioh features action and role-playing elements and is lauded (or cursed, by some) for its very challenging difficulty, pitting the main character William against tough human enemies and supernatural bosses during a trek across 1600s war-torn, Sengoku-era Japan.

 

There are a number of reasons I find this number quite impressive. First, the game is a PlayStation 4 exclusive title and a brand new IP for Koei Tecmo in somewhat of a niche genre. Also, the game is almost entirely in Japanese and its story is communicated via subtitles. Lastly and arguably most notably, Koei Tecmo totally underestimated how much demand there would actually be for this game as it based physical shipments on pre-order figures. This is proven by the firm openly acknowledging that retailers do not have stock. Even the game’s Amazon listing has shown a one to two-month shipping target for the past week or so. I can’t recall the last time that’s happened for any game!

 

What that means is this sales figure could have been even higher if more physical copies were available. Especially in Japan, where in a show of goodwill, the company offered a discount on the digital version if you were to purchase it in lieu of a physical disc.

 

 

 

As you can see, it’s quite a busy time for tech and gaming in particular. In other big gaming news, Sony ($SNE) and its internal studio Guerilla Games is releasing sprawling open-world action title Horizon: Zero Dawn next week and it’s been getting rave reviews. Horizon is another PlayStation 4 exclusive title, set in a world where humans have reverted back to tribal ways and now coexist with technologically-advanced animals of all kinds. It features a strong female protagonist named Aloy (not the most “traditional” name, I know) that is trying to find the origins of both her people and the mysterious, mechanical creatures.

 

Reviewers have compared Horizon to games like Tomb Raider, as both star leading ladies with bad-ass bow-and-arrows, or even RPGs like Witcher 3 in that they are set in beautiful, lush open worlds. Friends at Super Data predict that the title could sell around 8 million copies over its life span, but I actually think it could reach almost that amount just this year IF Sony bundles Horizon with a version of its newest console version the PlayStation 4 Pro. Which it would be silly not to, honestly.

 

Think about a triple-A console exclusive such as Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which has sold roughly 8.7 million copies since its release mid-last year. Granted that’s an entry in a well-established series, while Horizon is a new brand, but I still think it proves there is huge upside for a great exclusive within Sony’s ecosystem. Especially since I predict there will be at least 60 million PlayStation 4’s sold by this year’s end, if not more, I believe Horizon can eclipse 7 million in a year’s time implying roughly 11% of PS4 owners have bought the game. Not an unrealistic amount.

 

 

And now to wrap things up, let’s briefly chat on Sony’s main competitor this generation, Microsoft $MSFT. The firm’s Xbox brand has announced its Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) briefing will take place on Sunday, June 11th at 2 pm Pacific/5 pm Eastern. Now, I tend to place less stock in the importance of public press conferences than other gamers, but even I admit it’s a big opportunity for Microsoft to tell us a lot about the future of its Xbox hardware family, Project Scorpio.

 

It’s no secret Xbox One is not selling as well as the PlayStation 4 this generation. Or that gaming revenues have declined recently for the firm overall. But I still think there is a lot of brand recognition and confidence behind Xbox, and it’s crucial to maintain healthy competition in the console gaming market. Microsoft’s online gaming service Xbox Live user base is up 15% since mid-2015 to 55 million active players despite being the lagging console in terms of hardware sales. Plus, sales are gaining within gaming software and services businesses, with digital game transactions hitting $1 billion for the first time in its history during 2016’s second financial quarter.

 

Additionally, the Xbox division under Phil Spencer’s leadership has placed user-friendly efforts of backwards compatibility (where you can play older games on the Xbox One) and cross-play across console and PC in the forefront. Sure, these types of features don’t necessarily sell consoles, but it’s crucial for Xbox to continue providing fan service in the interim before its (expected) big reveal of Scorpio in June at this E3 presentation. And I think it will be just that: a big reveal that will reinforce my confidence that Xbox can remain a viable competitor in the console space.

 

What are your thoughts on upcoming gaming hardware in Nintendo Switch or Project Scorpio? Have you played Nioh? Do you plan on trying out Horizon: Zero Dawn? Feel free to comment or chat on Twitter, and enjoy your weekend!

 

-Dom

 

Sources: Nintendo, Koei Tecmo Twitter, Sony, Open Critic, Super Data, Microsoft, Xbox Twitter

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