UK Charts: Need For Speed goes top
Yet another No.1 for EA.
EA scored yet another number one last week after Need For Speed: Underground swapped places with Medal Of Honor: Rising Sun to claim the top spot for the last chart of 2003.
Incredibly, Chart-Track revealed that EA managed to sell 65 per cent of the total Top 10 units, with no fewer than five titles still going strong - actually one less than the previous week. FIFA 2003 continues to outsell Pro Evolution Soccer 3 by a wide margin, back to No.3 compared to the performance of Konami's critics favourite which currently resides at a less impressive No.23. Predictably, of the other EA titles, Return Of The King holds firm at No.5, The Sims: Bustin' Out moves up to No.6, while Quidditch World Cup drops to No.13, Tiger Woods moves up to No.14, Total Club Manager (No.16) interestingly continues to outsell Championship Manager 03/04 (No.20), while SSX 3 (No.26), Sims Makin' Magic (No.30), Rugby 2004 (No.31), and The Sims Double Deluxe Pack (No.40) all continue to sell well on the full price listings. Needless to say, the likes of Frontline, Two Towers and Harry Potter all dominate the budget listings. On the current form it's hard to see EA's position being challenged.
The rest of the chart doesn't show a whole lot of movement, although it's heartening to see that consumers have taken advantage of Ubisoft's heavy discounting to snap up the excellent trio of Prince Of Persia (No.9), XIII (No.11), and Rainbow Six III (No.27), although we can't emphasise enough how ridiculous it is that a game of Beyond Good & Evil's quality continues to remain outside the chart. We've seen it everywhere for £20! Buy it now for goodness sake!
Elsewhere, Rockstar's slow-starting Max Payne 2 has finally forced its way into the Top 10 at No.10, while Sony Europe will no doubt want to have words with the company for allowing every retailer in the land to break the January 2nd street date of the GTA Double Pack by a spectacular two weeks. As a result, the pack moved up to No.18 in the listings and managed a fairly disappointing No.6 debut; although it's fair to assume a large proportion of Xbox owners have already bought the game on PS2. Manhunt, meanwhile, sits at No.24, and although Rockstar has thus far avoided unwelcome controversy, it's arguable that it's one game that needed it as anecdotal evidence suggests that awareness for the game is still very low.
Talking of Xbox matters, Project Gotham Racing 2 struggled up to finish the year at a lowly No.17 despite being No.1 in the Xbox chart, while it was interesting to note that you have to go down to No.17 in the Xbox chart to find another Xbox exclusive - the original PGR. A further place down at No.18 in the Xbox listings, Counter-Strike made a belated appearance after its December 5th release, but Microsoft must be desperately disappointed at the UK performance of all its other exclusive titles - especially Rare's Grabbed By The Ghoulies. Expect to find a plethora of bargains this month as retailers try and clear their stocks of the likes of Links, Top Spin (well worth a look), Amped 2, Voodoo Vince and Crimson Skies.
By contrast, the GameCube chart featured ten format exclusive titles (mainly budget Nintendo games), but only Mario Kart: Double Dash!! came anywhere near the Top 40, while Nintendo's reportedly low license fee deal with EA appears to have been a wise one, with no fewer than three of the top six coming from EA, and five titles in the Top 20 in total. However, with many (arguably the majority of) publishers having publicly dropped their Cube support, it'll be interesting to see how the machine's fortunes fare in the months ahead.
As ever, the GBA continues to go from strength to strength, and EA's decision to release The Sims on the format for the first time has proven an instant success, with Bustin' Out topping the format's chart already. Outside of that, though, software sales are spread thinly among the hundreds of titles available for the system, with not one single format exclusive figuring in the Top 40 - proving once and for all that the Pokemon phenomenon is not what it was when every title was a guaranteed chart topper.
With Sony UK celebrating five million PS2s sold in less than three years, and the format dominating the rest, it's perhaps a surprise to note that there are just three titles in the Top 20 that are currently exclusive to the format. Only EyeToy (No.10 PS2, No.15 overall), SmackDown (No.11, No.19) and Manhunt (No.15, No.26) show up among the all format releases. And what of Sony's first party line up? Check out the sales racks to seek out the likes of Jak II: Renegade, Ratchet & Clank II, WRC 3, Ghosthunter, EyeToy: Groove, Dog's Life, My Street, EverQuest Online Adventures and the rest at knockdown prices. It's unprecedented to see a format holder's own titles fare so poorly, and Sony will be no doubt keen to work out why 2003 was - by some margin - its least impressive Christmas in terms of software chart positions since coming into the market eight years ago. If it wasn't for the success of EyeToy: Play and the superb hardware sales Sony would be reflecting on a radical downturn in fortunes.
The PC chart, meanwhile, is dominated by - you guessed it - EA and its Xmas/Sims catalogue, and apart from the ubiquitous CM 03/04 (No.1 PC, No.20 all formats), you have to look hard for good performance of the increasingly rare format exclusives. Activison's Call Of Duty (No.4, No.33) is the best of the rest, but you have to wonder how well it would be doing if EA had released it. Meanwhile Sierra's War Of The Ring (No.10) is nowhere to be found, neither is Empires: Dawn Of The Modern World (No.12) nor Hidden & Dangerous 2 (No.19). PC gaming has never been seemed so far away from the mainstream although this is certain to change the moment a certain Valve game gets a long overdue release.
Looking ahead, we're certain to see the sale effect truly kick in (as if it hasn't already given that sales had started before Christmas), with a number of underperforming titles slashed to £19.99 or less. We've heard several horror stories of publishers massively overproducing in expectation of scoring big hits, so don't be surprised to see all but the biggest titles being cut to less than half their original price. With discounting rife like never before, it makes you wonder why most publishers even bother releasing games at full price at all. Surely the consumer is getting increasingly wise to this practise, not to mention more than a little annoyed about it?
In terms of new releases, this month is as barren as it usually is this time of year, but look out for Mafia on the 16th, and the Vietcong: Fist (yes, that's Fist) Alpha expansion pack the following week. Aside from that there's not likely to be much chart action to report until sanity is restored sometime in mid-February.