Metroid’s Troubled Childhood
If you get into the history of Metroid as a franchise, you’ll find some pretty sad stuff. It’s creator Gunpei Yokoi was pushed down the ranks, stripped of his titles because of the Virtual Boy’s failure. If you know anything about Japanese culture, it’s nearly impossible to fire anyone, but it doesn’t stop companies from tossing you into the mail room for life. This was the same man who brought Miyamoto under his wing and gave him a chance. Gunpei later left Nintendo in shame and created a new handheld that was gaining ground just before he got hit by a car and passing away. This is why I’m never surprised to see fans of the game show more love than Nintendo. The harsh reality is that Nintendo just doesn’t know what to do with one of it’s staple franchises. Some of the more critically acclaimed titles in the franchise are also some of the weakest in sales, with numbers jumping all over the charts without an obvious reason.
The only concept that has stuck with Nintendo is Yokoi’s vision of, “Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology”, as shown in every console Nintendo has ever put out.
Metroid Is Pure Fan Service
Retro Studios has roughly 100 employees. Let’s put our accounting hats on and do some math to calculate the cost of developing a Metroid Prime title. Please note that these estimates are based on industry standard approximations. If you have an issue with my math, go scream at the bean counters of the games industry and they’ll likely laugh in your face until their monocle falls off their nose. Now that we’ve settled that concern, let’s begin.
100 employees * $10k/month per employee = $1M/month burn rate for the studio.
$1M * 12 months = $12M/year * 3 year development cycle = $36M development cost
Now that our Metroid game has been built and tested, lets take this game to print and ship it out to the stores. How much did we make?!
Metroid Prime sold around 2M units, with progressive Metroid Prime games actually declining in sales. To be kind, we’ll take the largest number.
2M units * $50/unit = 100M gross, not including print, packaging, shipping, and retail cuts which generally total to around 50% of the MSRP.
That means Nintendo pocketed only $14M ($50M net – $36M development cost) on shipping a Metroid title. Oh wait, no they didn’t, because they still have to tell people about it. So do a couple trade shows, run a few commercials on targeted Networks and that will likely run you in the neighborhood of $10M – $30M depending on your faith in the game. In the case of Metroid (see first paragraph), I’m betting it’s closer to $10M. That means that, after 3 long and hard years of making a Metroid game, Nintendo pockets like $4M.
For a Billion dollar corporation, this is the change that falls between the couch; it’s the round-off error in their tax reports… Also, Metroid is generally considered to be a great pillar in the Nintendo house, but it’s hardly a system seller due to it’s more “core” audience appeal who likely already bought their consoles sight unseen. They can’t even use the excuse that it would at least increase their console sales margins.
Let’s face it, Metroid fans don’t matter that much to Nintendo. Making these games is not smart business, Metroid is pure fan service…