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Feature: What the hell happened to Tony Hawk?

Wednesday, 15th December 2010 10:16 GMT By Keza Macdonald

tonyhawk6

Once upon a time, the Tony Hawk series was one of the biggest in videogames. If you listen to Metacritic, the Tony Hawk Pro Skater titles are some of the best games of all time, and every one of them was a runaway bestseller. At the beginning of the last decade – just after the release of Pro Skater 2 – the franchise was generating $250 million a year, according to figures from analyst Wedbush Morgan.

Last year, the year of Tony Hawk: Ride, franchise sales were closer to $100m. This year, Activision’s trying – failing – to flog $120 fake skateboards to children, whilst Activision publicly defends its abysmal sales.

What on earth happened, and why, when Activision is culling the likes of Bizarre Creations, won’t Activision finally shoot the Hawk?

If you’re wondering just how popular the Tony Hawk series once was, you only need to look at its ubiquity as a gaming cultural touchstone – everyone who so much as looked at a videogame in the late Nineties and early Noughties had played Pro Skater.

We’ve got some numbers too, if you’re into that. It’s done well in the UK, but sales in the US were phenomenal.

The original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, released in 1999, sold about 3 million in the US according to Activision’s boasts at the time. Pro Skater 2 did even better, shipping 1 million in less than a month in the States – and that really was a lot back in 2000. Wedbush Morgan puts the series’s total sales at around $1.7 billion globally over the last 11 years.

Dropping in

Things dropped off a little in the following years, with Pro Skaters 3 and 4, Tony Hawk Underground and its sequel pushing everyone towards brand fatigue. Since then it has all, rather appropriately, gone downhill. Neversoft, the series’s now very rich and famous inventor, attempted reinvention with Project 8 before finally relinquishing Hawk in 2007. Its last title was Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground.

Clearly already worried about the IP’s future, Activision set new developer Robomodo to work on the infamous skateboard peripheral for Tony Hawk: Ride. Ride completely missed the top 40 in the UK – to put that into perspective, Pro Skater 2 went straight in at number 1 and stayed in the top 10 for 24 weeks.

In the US, it sold just under 140,000 copies in its first week. Put that next to 1 million shipped in three weeks a decade ago – when the game market was much, much smaller – and it really doesn’t look good.

Shred, the latest Hawk game, did even worse. It sold a mind-bendingly abysmal 3,000 copies in its first week in the States, the brand’s homeland.

If Ride was the critical and creative trough of Tony Hawk’s videogame career, this is the commercial one. Activision rewarded Robomodo’s work on the series by firing everyone back in October. Must do better.

Big air?

The series’s future, then, is in doubt. Given that this is a publisher that’s got no problem with culling failing franchises – or, indeed, cancelling games and closing developers that it doesn’t see delivering immediate financial benefit – you might justifiably wonder why it bothers sticking with the Tony Hawk series in such times of adversity.

There’s a fairly boring answer to that: Activision is tied into the series, and there are still about four years left on the contract, which expires in 2015; March 31st 2015, to be precise. The deal was signed in 2002, near the peak of Hawk’s gaming popularity. The publisher has to pay Tony either way, whether it releases any more games or not. But is that the only reason Activision is persisting?

Wedbush Morgan super-analyst Michael Pachter reckons the publisher might still be eyeing another multi-million-selling hit.

“The brand has performed well in the past, and although the genre isn’t growing, it’s large enough to continue to chase,” he says. “I think that they see the potential to sell 3–4 million units a year if they get the formula right.”

Activision’s original mistake was probably in making the Hawk series annual. There’s only so much you can improve in such a short space of time; by the time Pro Skater 4 came out way back in 2002, fans were already getting tired of the same thing. It’s been faltering since then, making ill-advised forays into novelty without doing anything creatively brave, declining consistently in quality. Meanwhile, the Skate series showed us that there was still something new to be done with skating games, though it wasn’t rewarded with astronomical sales.

Wii Fit and skating don’t mix

With Ride and Shred, of course, the publisher compounded the problem by leaping on the back of a dying peripheral trend.

“I think that their mistake was in trying to replicate Wii Fit with their own accessory, and then trying to sell us another skateboard,” says Pachter. “People don’t love skate games enough to spend $120, or even $100, but if they made a great $60 game, they would probably have been more successful.

“I think that the peripheral craze has run its course. Sales of band kits, turntables, balance boards and skateboards are all on the decline, while sales of Move and Kinect are replacing them (for a time). People have only so much room for these things, and certainly don’t want to replace them every year.”

If Activision somehow finds a new developer that can tap into what made Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 one of the best-rated games ever, things will almost certainly pick up. But better games don’t always sell more, as Skate proves. Brand recognition is also fading; despite Activision’s claims to the contrary, Tony Hawk just isn’t as big now as he was in the late Nineties. Existing fans recognise the name, but that demographic seems to already be burnt out. Is he really still a household name?

There’s also the fact that skating itself, though enduringly popular, just isn’t the ubiquitous cultural phenomenon that it was during the mid to late Nineties, back when Bart Simpson was doing it and it was a proper worldwide craze.

There’s still a huge market of teenage skaters out there who weren’t part of the original Tony Hawk phenomenon, but its casual appeal is more limited, despite the vastly expanded games market. There could still be another million-seller or few in the brand name yet if Activision finds the right developer to take over the series, but in terms of real, world-changing sales success, the inevitable conclusion is that the Tony Hawk series has had its day.

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23 Comments

  1. barber89

    I spent many a day playing tony hawk 1, 2 & 3 brilliant games !.. sad to see them falter in the latest forms.. I think they should go back to the basics like pro skater 2 !

    #1 4 years ago
  2. Mike Honcho

    Skating somewhat grew old …. though fads/sports are cyclical & will come back eventually.

    Highly agree that the peripheral craze had run its course …. Wii is the main culprit of course.

    Even the casuals saw through the never-ending deluge of crappy games and the crappy peripherals.

    #2 4 years ago
  3. The_Deleted

    Could never play the games, always bailed on the landings. Great fun, though, especially the game that let us play as Marvel characters.

    Skate is kicking my arse too.

    #3 4 years ago
  4. The_Red

    Great read. I just wish more analyst were involved and some industry insiders had spoken about the current situation of the franchise.

    Also, “Activision’s original mistake was probably in making the Hawk series annual”.
    True but then, they are doing the same thing to every succesful franchise they have. Will they all follow the same path?

    #4 4 years ago
  5. Uncontested

    People (Kids) just don’t think skateboarding is cool right now, just look at the X-games brand dying off.

    #5 4 years ago
  6. OlderGamer

    I blame todays levels of gaming. In the 90s we were coming off of the 16 and 32 bit days. While some of us think of thos as the golden age of gaming, they didn’t have the same impact that games today have.

    From the high end graphics to more social apeal of todays games, I figure kids are coming home from school and playing games. I know they always did that, but I think it is more common to log onto LIVE and play with your “friends” then it is to hang out in parks/sidewalks.

    Also skatting has been curbed. Simple as that you can’t rail anything anywhere like you once could. Most local towns and cities have clamped down on open skatting. It has been in large(in my local area) relegated to parks and courts. And the trouble with that is that in each parks/skatting spot there is a king. So to speak. That is to say one two or three friends hang there and “own” the area and other skatters are often left watching. Just not worth the time.

    Lastly the TH demise is activisions fault. Over saturation. They did it to TH, they did it to GH. Next up = CoD. Too much of a good thing = too much. Period.

    At this point I couldn’t careless about TH. My kids either. Now the new SSX? If they make it like Tricky, sold. If they try and make it that open course/world/track/mountian crap, or try and put too much realisim in there I won’t bite.

    But yea as far as X-games and the such … good riddence.

    #6 4 years ago
  7. Gadzooks!

    Sounds about right OG, a decline in interest in boarding and brand saturation I would say are the main factors.

    I also wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts on SSX. I hate when fun, focussed score attack games like Burnout and SSX get turned into bland semi-realistic openworlders with little to no definition or direction.

    Tokyo Megaplex or bust, EA.

    #7 4 years ago
  8. mojo

    OK Acti, here is the magic formula to get the ip back in buisness:
    Take Pro Skater 2, take all of its skategrounds, skaters, music, tricks and basicaly everything from it and ramp it up to hd standards. It will sell like shit.
    Basicaly bring a Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD Collection (and only pro skater. bin every TH which wasnt named pro skater. and bin that useless balance board).
    Then make a new Pro Skater which is basicaly the same with all the old grounds and some new plus some recent skate pros (dont know any of them, never was a skater but the games where fun as hell) and a skateboard editor. Win

    kthxbye

    never change a winnign team, dont know what all the fuzz about innovation is. memory hasnt seen any innovation at all and kids still play it.

    edit:
    the same goes for SSX.

    edit2:
    “People (Kids) just don’t think skateboarding is cool right now, just look at the X-games brand dying off.”
    i disagree.
    Ive never been into skateboarding at all, but the games where fun.

    #8 4 years ago
  9. Hazzarington

    Is it bad that I like Ride and Shred. They’re both fun, and to me that’s all that matters.

    #9 4 years ago
  10. Dr.Ghettoblaster

    @8. Great idea!

    Take all the parks from 1 and 2 and REMAKE (not HD upgrade) them with top notch graphics. Update gameplay to that of Project 8, and add online play plus trophies, fuck yeah I’d buy this shit.

    #10 4 years ago
  11. jacobvandy

    “What on earth happened, and why, when Activision is culling the likes of Bizarre Creations, won’t Activision finally shoot the Hawk?”

    Because for millions upon millions of people worldwide, when asked to name a professional skateboarder, Tony Hawk is the only name that comes to mind.

    #11 4 years ago
  12. DSB

    Skateboarding definitely isn’t cool anymore, but that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t get people hooked on a skateboarding game.

    There’s something to be said for brand saturation, but the real problem is that it wasn’t that great of a brand to start with. Tony Hawk is about as interesting as smoked out wallpaper, and they didn’t really do a lot to add a proper universe beyond the lobotomized Hawk and his voiceover friends that no one knew.

    You simply need something better than that if you’re going to build an empire.

    It is a shame though, I’ve always despised skaters and the whole culture around it, but Tony Hawk (the game) still had me glued to the screen trying to squeeze out the most insane combos.

    @11 Doesn’t explain why they’re holding on to a dead franchise, but the real question should be “Why do they need a pro skateboarder?”. It was a good idea back in the late 90′s and early deuces when skating was cool for 5 minutes, but right now it does way more harm than good.

    #12 4 years ago
  13. spiderLAW

    Skating is still very popular in Dirty Cali (SoCal) but yeah, these games were da shiznit back in da day. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 was the best (got to play as black suit and regular Spiderman).
    After the underground series, they just started falling short.

    @DSB
    You said you are from denmark right? You write like an American though.

    #13 4 years ago
  14. DSB

    @13 Hah! I get that a lot when I talk too. I watched too much Top Gun and Navy Seals as a kid I guess :p

    #14 4 years ago
  15. spiderLAW

    @14 Lol, must have man lol.
    Or the music you listen to. Drake, Chris Brown, J. Cole, Jay Z, etc. ?

    #15 4 years ago
  16. DSB

    @15 Totally, I think RnB is the final frontier.

    It was pretty funny back when I started taking english in school though, because I’d been picking it up from games and movies, and teachers were extremely opposed to anyone talking with an American dialect. Obviously British english is the only “proper” way to talk (I’m guessing they’d never been to London…). Ultimately all I was concerned about was hiding my Danish accent, which is definitely one of the most ridiculous ones in Europe.

    #16 4 years ago
  17. gomersoul

    maybe it would still be a succesful franchise had SKATE not come and completely shat all over it’s next generation versions. tony hawks has been abismal since THPS4. EA obviously saw that with some innovation it could swoop in and completely take over. SKATE is a great franchise and will stay at the top of skateboarding games until someone comes in with a better way of doing it, RIDE obviously wasn’t that way

    #17 4 years ago
  18. Dr.Ghettoblaster

    Speaking of Skateboarding games, if I wanted to but the absolute best skateboarding game available to date for my nephew who’s getting a PS3 this Xmas, what would you say? I’m inclinded to say Skate 3, but wanted some second opinions.

    #18 4 years ago
  19. HighWindXIX

    Dear Activision, please stop making Tony Hawk games. Or if you must persist, remake Pro Skater 1 and 2 in the next four years till the contract runs out.

    #19 4 years ago
  20. Tonka

    The first Tony Hawk game is why I got back into gaming (after my C64 and 486 days).

    Seeing it’s DEMO mode in a game stor blew my mind.

    “What, I can go wherever I want?” (as in non linear)
    “I can grind anything and kickflip over whatever?” (no “trickspots”)

    Those things felt fresh back then. It was the first sand-box style game I came into contact with.

    Loved the first three ones to death.

    #20 4 years ago
  21. Gheritt White

    Agreed – the first three games were properly awesome. I’ve had zero desire to play any skating games since then, though.

    #21 4 years ago
  22. M2Kx

    Give me anything like the games from the PS series and I’ll invest again!

    (didn’t play any other tony hawk game since the ps series, besides american skateland on the DS, which was also fun :P)

    #22 4 years ago
  23. Hazzarington

    @18 Ride is fun, but is a lot flawed. Skate 2 is probably a good bet, and Tony Hawks Project 8 was the one which gives me the best memories.

    #23 4 years ago

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