Street talk: MCV’s 2015 Annual Retail Survey

It’s time for MCV’s Annual Retail Survey – what was the biggest challenge facing UK games retail? Who was their favourite publisher? What game sold the best for them?

This year we spoke to over 130 games stores from across the UK – both independent outlets and the big chains – to see how the last twelve months has been for them.

The stores we spoke to included: 24/7 Games, Backyard Games, Barkman Computers, Bits n Pieces, Chips, Console Connection, Discover, Eclipse Home Entertainment, Ego, Excite Games, GAME, Games Connection, Game Dojo, Game-On, Gamepad, Game X Change, Games Centre, GamesNation, Grainger Games, HMV, Insane Games, Joypad Games, Playnation, Seedee Johns, Seventh Heaven, Stan’s Games Exchange, Stark Gaming and Computers, Super Games World, That Game Shop, Video Gaming 247 and Wayne’s Movies and Games.

Below are this year’s results in full:

For the second year running, Microsoft has been crowned the UK’s best games publisher by retailers.

In 2014, the platform holder saw 26 per cent of the vote, but this year the Xbox firm was put forward by 31 per cent of retailers asked. The company was praised for its strong first-party line-up.

However, if you just factor in indie stores, Sony would have come out on top.

For the third year running, PlayStation 4 is predicted to be the dominant machine in the coming year.

The hardware took 70 per cent of the vote, up hugely from last year’s 55 per cent.

Stores called out games such as Uncharted 4, The Last Guardian, Horizon: Zero Dawn and No Man’s Sky as big PlayStation 4 exclusives, plus the return of Final Fantasy VII and the launch of PlayStation VR.

In last year’s survey, 41 per cent of UK retail predicted that the Xbox One would be the dominant platform in 2015 thanks to a strong line-up including Halo 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. This year, only 27 per cent of store managers said that the platform would be No.1 in 2016.

Exclusive content and pre-order incentives continue to be an incredibly important issue for UK games retailers.

Many independent stores said that this content was what made or broke a sale in some instances. Some said that exclusive content and pre-order incentives should be offered to all games stores to create an even playing field.

A number of indie retailers said that they were unhappy with the level of pre-order bonuses and exclusive content offered to them by publishers and distributors when compared to the chains.

Indies pointed to GAME exclusively selling the Nuketown map for Call of Duty: Black Ops III as an example of the chains having too much of an advantage, with many saying they lost sales due to this.

At long last, VR is going to be hitting stores in 2016, but UK games retail is reticent.

55 per cent of the stores MCV spoke to said that the fancy new tech will not be a hit in 2016, with many saying that they feel it is a fad akin to 3D television

However, 39 per cent of retailers said that they thought it would succeed, but only if companies like Oculus, PlayStation and HTC put the proper effort into marketing the tech and making sure that people get hands on with it. Even then, they said that publishers need to support it with a strong line-up
of content.

And five per cent said they simply do not know. Those who were unsure told MCV that the tech is so new that there is no way of knowing just how well it will do when it finally comes out.

The biggest demand from UK games retailers is to have more releases next year.

19 per cent of the stores MCV spoke to said that they wanted a busier release schedule, saying that there were too many dry periods with nothing of note hitting shelves in 2015.

Meanwhile, 14 per cent of UK outlets said that they wanted to see more VR products next year.

Ten per cent said they wanted to see Nintendo’s new NX console – due for announcement in 2016

And while many proclaim that ‘print is dead’, one per cent of UK games retailers say they want to see more games magazines next year.

Nearly half of games store managers are most looking forward to the latest entry in Sony’s Uncharted series in 2016.

41 per cent of UK games retailers say that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is their most anticipated title. Sony’s game was initially set for a Q4 2015 release, but it is now coming to shelves on March 18th, 2016.

In second place is Ubisoft’s online shooter The Division, which claimed 11 per cent of the vote. That game is coming out on March 8th.

Meanwhile, hardcore RPG Dark Souls III was voted for by six per cent of stores, citing strong 2015 sales of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin and Bloodborne, which were made by the same studio – From Software. The new title is out on April 12th.

Only 18 per cent of games retailers voted for new IP – down on the 30 per cent of stores who voted for new franchises last year.

And only one Nintendo title made the cut this year – The Legend of Zelda game set for release on Wii U sometime in 2016.

96 per cent of UK games retail stocks digital content – an increase of three per cent year-on-year.

Of that 96 per cent, 84 per cent were happy with the level of stock available to them, citing initiatives from CentreSoft and Exertis.

15 per cent said they weren’t happy with the level of digital content open to them.

Whether or not retail said they were happy or not, there was demand across the board for more content from Xbox, with stores saying that though the platform holder has made progress, it needs to match the PlayStation and Nintendo ranges offered by DLCSoft. In addition, indie retailers said they were after a range of digital stock from Steam and iTunes.

Prior to doing the retail survey, MCV suspected that Fallout 4 would be a strong candidate for UK games retail’s best performing title of the year due to its strong initial sales, cult following and critical acclaim.

But we had no idea that Bethesda’s action RPG would in fact take the No.1 spot with 62 per cent of the vote.

The post-apocalyptic game has a 52 per cent lead on second place, which went to the also eagerly-awaited and critically acclaimed RPG The Witcher III: Wild Hunt from CD Projekt RED.

That title was put forward by ten per cent of store managers from UK games retail. Last year, FIFA took the top spot with 29 per cent of store managers voting for EA’s football title.

This year’s FIFA scored nine per cent, ahead of Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

Headsets continue to be popular in the accessories market, and retailers praise Turtle Beach as the top manufacturer. The headset specialist took the No.1 spot last year with 27 per cent of stores naming the company as the accessories brand with highest-quality. The firm has managed a one per cent rise year-on-year, claiming 28 per cent of votes in 2015, despite losing its tie-up with Call of Duty (instead partnering with Star Wars Battlefront).

Meanwhile, Xbox and PlayStation were both credited for the build-quality of their peripherals. The platform holders claimed 19 and 13 per cent of the vote respectively. The same was said of PDP for its Afterglow range of products, put forward by 11 per cent of stores that MCV spoke to.

Sony, Xbox and PDP were all highly popular with the indie retailers that MCV spoke to, as was Orb.

CentreSoft is still the top distributor for UK games retailers, this year claiming 84 per cent of the vote. This is an eight per cent increase on the 76 per cent of retailers who proclaimed CentreSoft the best distributor last year.

The firm was praised for its constant support of indie retail, this year has included bundles at decent prices, constant point-of-sale materials to help stores sell games and its DLCSoft digital download system.

Things are not looking good for the pre-order market in the UK games industry.

45 per cent of stores said that they had seen a dip in pre-orders this year when compared with 2014, while 31 per cent said that the number of consumers pre-purchasing games was roughly the same year-on-year.

And only 23 per cent of stores said that pre-orders had increased over 2014.

One thing that was apparent from speaking to UK retail was that those pre-ordering games were doing so much later in the day than in prior years. Stores said this was due to the spate of buggy games releases, meaning that consumers were waiting until review embargoes or Let’s Play videos before spending money.

This year, the biggest challenge facing UK indie games retail was competition from online outlets.

41 per cent of the stores MCV spoke to said that they simply could not beat the low prices offered by the likes of Amazon, as they were already higher than the trade prices that indie retailers pay. Trade prices was the primary frustration of eight per cent of store managers we surveyed.

Meanwhile, another eight per cent of stores said that they weren’t being given adequate support from their distributors, saying that in some instances they rarely heard from their account managers.

Local competition was a concern for five per cent of outlets. The same portion of stores said that they were having issues with shelf space due to toys-to-life games like Skylanders, LEGO Dimensions and Disney Infinity, alongside Nintendo’s Amiibo figures.

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