Sit around and I’ll tell you a tale,
A tale that’ll make you think.
About the things you play that make your stay,
So grab yourself a drink.
What do we play?
While not the most obvious image in the world, we can see a dissimilarity between what gets made (top) and what gets bought (bottom). If the trend of “what we like and what we’ll buy” were easily predictable, the number of sales per game would increase regularly across the genres. Compare the different genres for sales per title for yourself. You can see that Shooters do exceedingly well while Racing, Fighting, Miscellaneous games don’t. But this is a very bland picture. Let’s try another view of it.
You got your Data in my PlayStation. Get it out. Now!
PlayStation has been a bit of a finicky console over the past few generations, hasn’t it? PS has always seemed to have heavy sport sales, but we can see a shift in what gamers want to play among the other genres. Decreasing success since 2001 with Platformers and Racing games from Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter taking the majority of sales in the Platformer category with 5.4 and 3.6 million respectively; Gran Turismo and Simpsons: Road Rage with 14.9 and 5.2 million respectively. While having such huge numbers, why is it that gamers stopped getting interested in these genres? Well, what were the heavy hitters since released in the meantime?
Needless to say, If you release a Gran Turismo game or a Need for Speed game, you’ll be ahead of everybody else. The problem is, unless you are a Need for Speed or a Gran Turismo, it’s hard to be a big seller amongst gamers. Maybe it’s because racing games are niche among the gamers or the ability to create a good racing game requires the need to have a well-worn architecture in place, making games with a long history like GT and Need for Speed gain a leg up on the competition in terms of realism and driving mechanics, but among games trying to compete there are fewer and fewer.
Over Saturation Trends
Looking at this graph, though. We can see a few trends that gamers will be familiar with. Like the Miscellaneous genre. This catch all gets those weird game that come from Japan, the games that are very non-traditional, but also the music-game genre. So the sales bump that we see the 2006-2009 region is going to show up with many games familiar to the end of PS2—early PS3 generations. Games like Guitar Hero, Rock band, Sing Star and such and such, the hallmark of home party games, right?
If you were a Guitar Hero, you could make some sales, but for how long? Guitar Hero was the best among them with 6.4 million sales at its peak, but it tried to do the yearly release cycle and gamers just weren’t having it. With new iterations coming out which were essentially glorified song packs, it really didn’t justify the cost of buying a new game when there were only a handful of songs that I would want to play on the newer games. The yearly release model works for two big reasons, you’re offering something substantially different from the last year or that you’re giving a small changes but charging the yearly access charge to interact with the community that has developed. The different generations of the games didn’t really have substantial differences aside from the inclusion of more than just Guitars in World Tour, but also the online community was never really developed making the need for access to interact with others online non-existent. The games were promoted heavily as local-offline party games and the result was a quickly dwindling market with little reason to buy the newer iterations.
But yearly iteration model does work for games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Madden and so on because they follow the latter (access for interaction), while advertising for the former as well (innovative gameplay).
But no Colossus is immortal forever and even the Call of Duty franchise might be seeing signs of a community fed up with lack of innovation. While shooters take up a large chunk of the current market (mainly Call of Duty by the looks of it), the gaming community still responds positively to change as well as good gameplay. While you could argue that Call of Duty has great gameplay, with its fast-paced die-respawn-kill-die loop occurring in a matter of seconds at a time and extremely active community of hundreds of thousands of players at any given time in a multitude of gameplay types, the Call-of-Duty franchise isn’t really known for its effect on the genre. We don’t remember Call-of-Duty for its pioneering of new mechanics, story-telling, genre bending in the Shooter-genre. This is left to games like Bioshock, Metro or The Last of Us which spawns trends that we see in games coming out nowadays.
My wallet crys very loudly three times a year
The last thing that is fun to look at is when the best time for game releases are, or when to make your mark in sales. Now this graph shows a bit of information.
End of Life
The first is how long it takes for a console from a previous generation to lose game sales, or how long it takes for adoption to be nearly complete to a new console. In the case of the PS, it took about a full two and a half years March 2000 – August with the PS2 being heavily adopted early on. The end-life for the PS2 on the other hand lasted from 2006 till roughly 2009-2010 to stop seeing sales, with the last big hurrah in sales coming from the 2008 region. So again 2.5 years to see an general end-of-life.
When We Buy
The second thing to note is that there are cycles of spikes that are easy to point out. The obvious one is from holiday sales, largely coming around the Sept-Oct-Nov region. This is something that we instinctively know about; holiday sales, shopper impulse or lack thereof, added free-time to become addicted to games for kids young and old. But there are two other spikes that occur. One around March and the other around May, Spring-break and Summer-break respectively. Spring is usually assumed to be a lull in gaming because of the big release and volume of purchases in the fall-winter games but there are still games that come out around March and May that are meaningful to gamers. Just looking at last year. We got Bioshock Infinite in March and The Last of Us in June, the two big hitters outside of the winter releases.
I know this post is very PlayStation Console heavy, but there are similar trends seen in both Xbox and Nintendo as well, though I wanted to focus my images strictly to PlayStation so too much wasn’t completely spraying you in the face.
I’ll come back to this with more analysis in the future. Even though I didn’t write as much as I normally do, this still took up the same amount of time as other posts, which is terrible IMO but understandable.
All data in this post was scrapped publically from VGChartz.com and any inconsistency in the data is likely due to unreported information towards VGChartz.com as well as improper handling of scrapping by myself. I argue that this is minimal because games that do well and that make up a large portion of trends is from publishers willing to advertise their successful(larger) sales numbers, and less successful games that don’t constitute a noticeable trends have lower sales figures to contribute heavily towards analysis. But without these numbers, this is hard to say definitively.