Nintendo: ‘Chinatown Wars’ Sales Will Prove M-Rated Content Belongs On DS

Nintendo won’t reveal what its sales expectations were for “Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars,” but the company claims the game has a bright future.


Nintendo took the unusual step today of making representatives available to discuss the sales of a third-party game. The occasion was the widely-covered seeming flop of “Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars,” the highly-rated “GTA” debut on Nintendo’s DS that sold just 89,000 copies in the U.S. in its first 18 days of sales.

The game’s publisher and retail chain GameStop already told me earlier today that there’s no reason to count the game out yet. Later in the afternoon, Nintendo said the game thing.

“’Chinatown Wars’ is performing in line with AAA titles that have come to our platform like ’Spore’ or ’Lego Star Wars,” Steve Singer, vice president of licensing and the man who manages third party relations for Nintendo of America, told me in a phone interview. “Those games went on to have very different life-to-date sales numbers.” A Nintendo rep pointed to sales of “Call of Duty 4” on the DS, which had sales of 36,000 units in its first month and went on to sell more than 500,000 copies.

Singer attributed the sales of “GTA” in the first month as “the result of having only a limited number of M-rated games on the platform.” The DS has only had seven.

But it is word of mouth that he believes will help the game in the long run. He expects the conversation around the game’s sales may be very different five months to a year from now.

He noted that DS games have a history of “non-traditional sales curves” that don’t start high and drop but instead grow for a long time. He said consumers are responding to the quality of this game, even if “maybe they’re responding slower than others would expect.”

When pressed, Singer did not provide any figures for what Nintendo’s own sales expectations were for the game.

The release of “Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned” in February saw a lot of promotional support by Microsoft, which had the new “GTA” episode exclusive to its platform. The Xbox 360 dashboard was taken over with promos for the content. By contrast, Nintendo has offered no demo for “Chinatown Wars” on its Nintendo Channel — the Wii online channel that offers downloadable DS demos for top DS games — and seemed to offer no visible promotional boost through its hits platforms or ad campaigns for the game. Could Nintendo have done more to ensure a stronger start for Take Two and Rockstar’s game? Singer said he preferred to keep the arrangements between Nintendo and its publishers private, but did say that, for “Chinatown Wars,” Nintendo has ” worked with them on a marketing plan, a communications plan, [and] television advertising” in both the U.S. and Canada.

In the end, Singer said Nintendo hopes that the sales story of “Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars” will be an encouraging one for game publishers. “I think strategically, this is a very important game because it helps send the message that great M-rated content can come to the platform and will find a home.”

And if that’s not the message coming through today, he said, give it time. “I think all it’s going to take is time.”

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