It’s that time of the year again when MCV – and our competitors – start talking about who will be the Christmas No.1.
Every 12 months we try, and fail, to get people to care.
Sure, seeing the bookies make ridiculous odds on which game will make the top spot always makes entertaining reading (oh how we love to laugh at the uninitiated). But we all know that the Christmas No.1 every year will either be FIFA or Call of Duty – depending on which one has an offer on at GAME.
And it doesn’t even matter. It’s not as if the games industry floods the market with festive-themed charity products in the days before Christmas Day (even in the music industry, it’s become a monotonous battle between the X-Factor single and whatever track social media has decided to pit against it). It’s not even the biggest sales week of the year. The real winner of Q4 is the one that emerged triumphant from Black Friday (it was FIFA 16, by the way).
This year, however, it does matter. At least for one game: Star Wars Battlefront.
Let us be clear, despite what GameStop seems to think, Battlefront has not been a failure. It has sold extremely well. In the UK, Battlefront has already left the year’s other big sellers – The Witcher III and Batman: Arkham Knight – in the dust. Just Fallout 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops III and stablemate FIFA 16 lie ahead of it, and it’s closing in on Fallout.
It’s also the most successful Star Wars game launch ever. And if you remember the ill-informed hype that surrounded 2008’s The Force Unleashed, you’ll know that’s a pretty good thing.
But it all comes down to expectation. And when you consider the not-so-hushed whispers that Star Wars might actually topple Call of Duty this year, you can understand some of the negative reports.
I directly asked EA if the game could be the biggest launch of the year back at E3. EA COO Peter Moore, aware of my ever-so-slightly-leading question, said that those were my words. But followed it with: I can’t think of a game right now, and I am biased obviously, that has more buzz and anticipation.”
It wasn’t the biggest launch of the year. And if anyone was under any illusion that Star Wars could defeat Call of Duty this year, let’s put that to rest: it won’t. Black Ops III’s sales are already more than double that achieved by Battlefront.
Were we expecting too much? That is what Peter Moore suggested when responding to GameStop’s claim that Battlefront had ‘failed to hit’ their reduced expectations. And indeed, it seems GameStop were not the only ones over-estimating the Star Wars effect.
In the past month, MCV has been told by three different companies in the toy industry that their Star Wars lines have ‘performed below estimates’. Maybe the world of business was so caught up on Star Wars hype, they didn’t consider that the toys and books and games wouldn’t start selling until the movie came out.
Moore’s words in response to GameStop suggests that EA weren’t so naive. They were expecting a longer-tail seller, particularly around the launch of the movie. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which is out in a matter of days, will be the No.1 film in cinemas for months and months, and EA will feel confident that it has a game to ride that wave of consumer excitement.
And that movie’s release coincides with the exact same week that the video game Christmas No.1 will be decided. And this is why this year, for a change, whoever emerges as the festive frontrunner, does matter.
At least for one game.