After checking out Rockstar’s amazing console game, Red Dead Redemption 2, I have to chuckle about this idea again. Rockstar’s ode to the dying of the American West is going to debut on October 26 on the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One — the two major hardcore game consoles. This game could be so successful that it should crush that notion about the death of consoles once and for all.
Meanwhile, Nintendo’s Switch has just launched a long-awaited online multiplayer mode, giving players a reason to stick with their games longer on the hybrid portable-home-console device. On a global basis, this generation of consoles has sold 140.6 million units since 2014, according to the admittedly rough estimates of VGchartz.com, compared to 274 million consoles sold in the previous generation. The consoles may not beat that previous number, but this console generation’s growth isn’t pitiable. The Switch sold 19.7 million units in its first 15 months and drove the sale of 87 million games.
NPD reported that in the U.S. market, total game hardware, software, and accessory sales are up 17 percent to $6.43 billion to date in 2018. But having seen Rockstar’s latest title, I can predict that it’s going to be a blockbuster, and the only game that may give it real trouble is Rockstar’s other game, the five-year-old Grand Theft Auto V, which should cross 100 million copies sold any day now. Rockstar is beefing Red Dead Redemption 2’s prospects with Red Dead Online, coming in November.
This week, Rockstar unveiled the gameplay of Red Dead Redemption 2, and it is pushing forward the boundaries of what video games can be when it comes to immersive gameplay and complex storytelling in open worlds. It’s meant to be persistent, immersive, and intimate — using the best console technology today and showing how an open world and a scripted narratives don’t have to be in conflict. It’s going to be an amazing experience, where the townspeople will remember you and react to you based on what you did in their town the last time you were there.
For sure, mobile games have become a $70.3 billion business, the biggest part of the $137.9 billion game market in 2018, according to market researcher Newzoo. But console games are expected to be the No. 2 segment this year, with revenues of $34.6 billion, slightly more than $32.9 billion for PC games. And the growth rate for consoles is expected to be 25 percent this year, Newzoo said.
The mobile game business has given birth to companies like MZ, which generated $4 billion in sales from games such as Game of War and Mobile Strike. But to put that in perspective, the 100 million copies of Grand Theft Auto V add up to more than $6 billion in sales — not counting the sales of virtual items in the amazingly resilient GTA Online.
Of course, China has become the No. 1 market, and the PC and mobile dominate game sales in China. Consoles never took off there, thanks to tough government regulation. But the Chinese government has throttled back the release of new games over concerns about addiction and myopia. That could hurt all segments of the market, but the console business has very little exposure to that threat.
And while it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Red Dead Redemption 2, with seven years of pent-up demand for the Western game, is going to be a blockbuster, the console business hasn’t been lacking in big hits. Marvel’s Spider-Man sold more than 3.3 million copies in its first three days on the PlayStation 4, beating out the record set earlier this year by God of War on the PS4. Some excellent games are out for the fall already, like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and we have big titles like the battle-royale-enabled Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 coming on October 12 and Battlefield V coming on November 20. Nintendo will not be left out of this party, as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will be coming for the Switch on December 7.
Does the console game business face any long-term threats? Sure. The consoles are by their nature proprietary machines, and they will face the threat of open standards espoused by rivals such as Android and the Windows PC, which can embrace new technologies at a more rapid clip. Gamers may force the console owners to give them rights to used game sales, curtail the use of greedy monetization schemes, or force cross-platform play (as we’ve seen with Fortnite).
But if I were buying a console, I wouldn’t worry that Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo might crash and burn and stop supporting their machine with new games. It’s time to put to bed the tribal notion that console games have to die in order for PC or mobile games to thrive. That’s nonsense, as all three of those segments look like they’re going to be strong for years to come.