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Why Gamasutra is skipping monthly NPD reports

Why Gamasutra is skipping monthly NPD reports

June 17, 2013 | By Kris Graft

Hey Gamasutra readers,

I just wanted to drop a quick note to say that for the foreseeable future, we won't be running the regular monthly NPD Group sales numbers for U.S. video game retail.

Many of our readers know that the NPD's monthly public reports focus primarily on U.S. physical retail, and headlines often say how the game industry is in decline, when in fact it's new physical game retail in the U.S. that's declining, not the industry as a whole. The NPDs, as you may understand, do not paint a 100 percent accurate picture of the health of the game industry today.

NPD obviously knows the importance of tracking and reporting revenues from digital venues, such as paid downloads, subscriptions, mobile, etc., as well as used game and rental revenue: The company now includes monthly estimates for these streams. But the way that publishers and digital distributors like Steam lock down their sales data, it's hard to imagine anyone making accurate estimations of sales by title, or even overall digital sales.

The fact that NPD only focuses on U.S. sales is also an issue -- some of the biggest players on digital platforms are internationally-operating companies like Blizzard, Riot, Supercell, DeNA and Rovio.

Additionally, a while back NPD stopped reporting on software unit sales in its monthly report, leaving us questioning for some time, "What's the point?" So as editor, I need to ask myself if the monthly NPD figures paint a truthful picture of the video game industry -- does conveying monthly NPD releases to our readers help in their day-to-day decisions? I have to say "no." I've seen on Twitter and in Gamasutra comments that a lot of our readers also answer "no." Even the president of the Entertainment Software Association, Michael Gallagher, agrees that the monthly NPD U.S. retail figures hold little value these days.

As a resource for the game industry, it's not enough for Gamasutra to disclaim monthly NPD articles in the phrase, "Keep in mind, these are only physical, new U.S. retail sales." We probably should have stopped running the figures (particularly the software sales figures) a little while ago, honestly.

This isn't meant to bash the NPD at all -- I don't envy its very difficult position, to be in a business of numbers when many of the most important numbers are locked down so tightly. Everyone can agree that transparency of sales data is an ongoing issue. Our in-house analyst Matt Matthews still plans on working with NPD from time to time for in-depth analyses, putting physical hardware and software sales in better context than NPD's bare monthly releases.

If it makes sense for us and our readers, we will use NPD as a resource for hardware sales figures, as those are easier to track than say, a U.S.-based in-app purchase in Hay Day. We'll all be watching closely how next-gen hardware sales pan out. And if the NPD is able to transition its reporting more towards a digitally-focused industry, we'll gladly reconsider its sales data. Surely (I hope), NPD is working to resolve this. But who knows what the future holds there.

Thankfully, we've been seeing a lot of developers coming onto Gamasutra, sharing the sales figures that they get from their distributors, and analyzing those trends. Those analyses are extremely helpful to your peers, so I hope you keep them coming. We may not be able to get broad, overarching sales numbers for the entire industry, but we have enough patches of data where we can drill down deeper, and get some helpful takeaways.

Thanks for reading.
Kris Graft (@krisgraft)

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