How NPD persuaded Activision, EA and Ubisoft to share their digital sales data

Alex Calvin
How NPD persuaded Activision, EA and Ubisoft to share their digital sales data

US research firm NPD has revealed it's done what many thought was impossible – getting publishers to share their digital sales data as well as their physical information.

This will see digital sales information from some publishers included alongside physical data in NPD's monthly reports about the US games market. We speak to NPD to find out a bit more the origins of this new initiative, how it convinced publishers to collaborate with them and whether the firm is going to roll this out to markets other than the US.

What was the thinking behind your new digital game tracking service?

Liam Callahan, executive director (pictured): A lot of it had to do with a collaboration and conversation with our clients. There were two things, of course recognising that is a big part of the industry and keep in mind we have been doing this for a number of years. Digital has been receiving a lot of more attention in the last few years. We've been ahead of that and it's just taken time to go through the process of recruiting publishers and setting up the service. And even getting games companies comfortable with sharing this type of data in the public domain – it's really on their behalf that we've moved forward with making this data available publicly. So it's a combination of recognising that this is a big part of the industry as well as a conversation with our clients and understanding that this is a real need, as you do with all research really. You say: 'We think this is a big trend and we want to try to track it'.

MCV knows first hand from our Digital Counts campaign just how hard it can be to persuade games publishers to share their digital sales information. How did you convince these companies to give you their digital information?

Callahan:A lot of it had to do with time. We did have a long beta period so publishers could see the value of the data and to see that nothing catastrophic happened once the data was shared. The physical data has been out there on the retail side, we've been tracking that since the early '90s. Our database still has data all the way back to 1995, so you can go back and check out the trends back then. That has helped the industry. That's an incentive. People are getting smarter and are understanding what works and what doesn't. People say you have to learn from history and I think that helps. So it's about that same sort of messaging and saying: 'Hey, sharing your digital data isn't going to end the world so to speak'. You'll be able to have the same knowledge you get from the physical data now in the new digital space and have the added bonus of learning how that works. DLC is part of this, too, and it's sort of a different animal and relatively new in the grand scheme of the history of games. Just understanding the nuances of that is important.

David Riley, executive director of public relations: A lot of it has to do with the key selling point - NPD's history, capabilities and integrity. I don't want to sound too marketing-centric but there has to be a certain amount of trust between the publishers and the research firm. That's a key hurdle there. Protecting that information and making sure it stays within the participating publishers only is our number one priority. What we're providing media is very top line of course, but it does give reporters and the media what it has been asking for for years. It's a start.

Callahan: Just to add to that, it's not just the reputation that we have, but we also have the capability. We are dealing with massive amounts of data beyond games. We track multiple industries and we are handling a tonne of information in a very secure way. That reputation and capability and competency also was a big part of why the publishers chose to go on this journey together with us.

At the moment, you have some big publishers – such as Activision, EA and Ubisoft – involved with your digital tracking service. But there are some big names missing, including PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, Bethesda and Sega. What is your message to those companies that aren't participating yet?

Callahan: We're continuously engaging with those folks and it's an on-going conversation about where their comfort level is, their understanding of the benefits of this and when it makes business sense for them to be part of it. If it doesn't make sense for them to share this information, then we respect that. But I'd say that we're just keeping the conversation going would be the key message for this. It's not like we're not talking to these folks, we're keeping the conversation going and trying to move towards an industry that's providing clarity around what's happening in a key space, with of course the strong caveat that we respect a publisher's right to say it doesn't make sense for them. That's fine. That's why we're both trying to actively recruit as many companies as we can.

But at the same, we're trying to develop projection methodology that accounts for the publishers that aren't participating. That means that in the event that they are a 'no' forever, we'll have the ability to project their games accurately. We're currently exploring some different methodologies to do that, but we're just not quite ready to incorporate that yet. Just know that we are thinking about it and that our goal is that we have the same gold standard we have on the physical side projecting and everyone understands how accurate the projection methodology we have is.

At the moment, NPD's digital tracking service is focused on the United States. Do you want to roll this out to other markets over time?

Callahan: Not that we are going to speak to today. Just as we listen to our clients to shape the service, we will go where our clients need us to go. In the near term, it's about making this product as robust as possible with recruiting additional participants, developing that projection methodology, as well as getting greater comfort with participants to begin to potentially incorporate DLC in the immediate deliverable. There's a lot we can still do in the US, but we'll go where our clients need to go and we'll be there for them.

What's your ambition for this digital tracking service going forwards?

Callahan: It's to take it in steps. This is the first of many steps forward with a great set of companies that are already on board. We want to continue to build on that and evolve the service in step with how the industry evolves and what it needs. I can't put on a pin on it and say 'it's going to be exactly like this', because you have to be flexible and realise that the industry is dynamic and changing. We'll change with the industry and continue to track it to understand precisely what's happening within it.

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