Arcade Games Struggling to Survive at Retail

Posted November 30th, 2010 at 7:31 pm

The recent release of NBA Jam, and the rumor of EA Sports possibly reviving NFL Blitz, prompted some thinking on my part as to the future of arcade style games. One has to wonder if they simply are no longer viable as full retail releases. Sluggish sales of NBA Jam are the latest example of the struggles to succeed in the marketplace.

I was initially surprised by a comment made on Twitter by Stephen Totilo of Kotaku earlier today. The exchange between Totilo and John Riccitiello was more in regards to the NFL Blitz rumors, but I more focused in on his positivity towards NBA Jam.

ST: EA boss Riccitiello, happy about EA’s NBA Jam, wouldn’t tell me if EA’s doing an NFL Blitz revival: “We haven’t announced anything yet”

PP: Wonder what he means by being “happy” about NBA Jam. Sales have been very poor.

ST: He didn’t say “happy,” which is why I didn’t put it in quotes. He seemed proud of the reviews, if nothing else.

The Metacritic score for NBA Jam is 73 for PS3, 75 for the 360, and 80 for the Wii. Solid scores, particularly for an arcade game, but nothing that would make the game seem like a must-buy. Regardless it is difficult to look at NBA Jam as a success if it isn’t selling well. The Wii version sold under 50K its opening month, and all indications are the HD versions have failed to take off.

The arcade landscape is littered with series now in the graveyard. NFL Street, NFL Tour, Blitz: The League, NBA Street, NBA Ballers, FIFA Street, The BIGS, MLB Slugfest, NHL Hitz, Facebreaker…and those are just the ones off the top of my head. Many of the games were well regarded but especially in this generation they just have not been able to deliver sales, even those that release at $50 or $40. That has become more of a concern as development costs have risen to where companies are tentative to invest in fringe titles.

EA Sports BIG was shut down as a label and replaced by EA Sports Freestyle in 2008. That was a dud and has since disappeared as well. So the company has tried different tactics to spurn success in the area but have yet to find the formula.

On the other hand last year EA Sports released 3 on 3 NHL Arcade and Madden NFL Arcade. Those games were cited as having done particularly well. They released only to PSN and XBLA for $10 and $15 respectively. The price points, instant access nature for consumers, not having quite the same “expiration date”, and reduced costs such as not having to manufacture copies contributed to their success.

The more arcade style games continue to fail at retail, the more likely they are to shift to digital distribution paths which are less risky. It is difficult to say if NBA Jam has at least started poorly because consumers no longer value arcade games like they did years ago, or if damaging the brand with the NBA Elite 11 tie-in was more of a driving factor in consumer disinterest.

It however is yet another in a line of arcade games that have been disappointments and that brings into question whether NFL Blitz would work as a retail release or if it is ultimately doomed by going in that direction.