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ANALYSIS: Digital Charts

Christopher Dring
ANALYSIS: Digital Charts

MCV wants a digital download chart.

First and foremost to prevent industry veterans like Geoff Heath saying things like this: “I look at my MCV once a week and I see the size of the market in there, and I can’t resist a wry smile, because what’s covered in there is not that big of a percentage of the market anymore.”

He’s right. Those worrying figures that we print every week only shows one part of our games market. And misses out the growing, exciting, promising bit.

We also want a digital chart so that we’re not so reliant on what digital firms tell us. Rovio revealed that on Christmas Day 6.5m Angry Birds games were downloaded. Which of the three Angry Birds games sold the most? How many were free versions and how many were paid for? iPhone or Android? How did it do compared to its rivals?

We don’t know.

We also don’t really know how healthy the PC sector is. Square Enix Europe’s online publishing developer Simon Protheroe has seen the data that UKIE hopes to make public over the coming months. And he says that “you can truly see that the PC market is not dying.”

But right now we can only take his word for it. The data from Chart-Track shows us that the PC market is dying. If it isn’t dead already.

STUDIO BENEFITS

But aside from improving our media coverage, it is the fledgling developers and publishers that will benefit most from a digital chart.

Data will let developers know if what they’re doing is really profitable. It will tell them which genres to target and which platforms to release their games on. It could also show where there are niche areas of business that they can exploit.

“Is it worth bothering getting to the heart of the games industry?” asks Dermot Stapleton, operations director at digital retailer Get Games. “There’s lots of headline figures about the industry being worth x billion pounds, but is the industry sustainable? Is there a living to be made out of it?” 

Protheroe adds: “The chart gives established players and start-ups the ability to identify opportunities in the market, areas where they think they’ve got something to offer. Right now, without the data, it’s bewildering.”

Although UKIE says that companies are coming around to the idea of a download chart, not everyone is eager to share their data. And why should publishers reveal their numbers? Especially if it takes away competitive secrets and gives them to their rivals.

UKIE’s digital group says that a chart is not just useful in building games. It can help young people when it comes to choosing career paths and, perhaps most significantly, it will help the industry attract investment.

“It is very important that the finance industry invests in games,” says Heath. “But there is an absolute vacuum of information in terms of what’s going on in digital.“

There is a massive market out there that nobody is quantifying, and there is a ton of investors who want to invest in games. I know quite a lot of them and what’s holding them back is getting good data on the non-boxed business.”

Green Man Gaming’s chief Paul Sulyok agrees: “Any solid information you can provide the City when you’re looking for funding means you can refer to that and you have the market size. You don’t have to start scrabbling around to extrapolate data from elsewhere.”

WHERE’S THE CHART?

UKIE says the digital chart for PC is imminent. Yet it has taken over two years to get to this point. What’s been holding it back?

UKIE chairman Andy Payne explains: “We have not got to place where we are totally confident about the inclusivity of it all. The levels of content and the types of content out there, just on PC, is enormous. So whatever we do is going to only be part of the story. 

“What has held us back is ourselves. We are used to 97 per cent data coverage. When Chart-Track first started it was less than 30 per cent, but someone had to put a stake in the ground and say ‘we will never get from 30 to 50 to 100 unless you declare your hand.’ There are people stuck in the old-style thinking of ‘I’m not giving my information away.’ But once the curtain comes up and the show starts, people can start taking part, whether that’s on the stage or in the audience. Hopefully it’ll be on the stage.”

Indeed, getting all the individual PC companies on-board is a huge task. The first digital chart from UKIE won’t be definitive. Not even nearly. Perhaps the Group should have started with something simpler, like a Xbox Live or PSN chart, where there are fewer titles.

“I wouldn’t disagree with you,” adds Payne. “Yet at the time, people were touchy about that kind of thing. Over the two years attitudes have changed amongst content owners, retailers, platform holders and distributors.“This project has kicked off with PC downloads, but we are having conversations about other formats.”

WHAT DOES IT TELL US?

UKIE says the first digital chart won’t look too dissimilar to the one we receive from Chart-Track, and it will come out at similar weekly intervals.

Yet surely a digital chart can be more flexible than this? Shouldn’t it be daily??Even hourly? What about DLC? Can’t we combine digital and physical sales together? And as pricing is so variable in the digital space, should the focus be on revenue and not units? 

“You could slice it whatever way you want,” says Payne. “Trying to replicate the current boxed chart but for digital games may be meaningless because of all these other options available. But it is a good place to start. We will do something people understand. But beyond that there is a wealth of more information available.”

Sulyok concludes: “What we’re trying to do is zero in on one piece of the puzzle. Get it built, get it right and get it out there. Everyone in the industry recognises the benefits of having data that you can compare yourself against.”

UKIE is inviting member and non-member companies to take part in its digital chart.

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Tags: UKIE , video games , Digital , Charts , analysis , need

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