It’s somewhat ironic that just as the UK is leaving the European Union, it’s a British man who is going to be uniting the tricky-to-navigate games sales territory like never before. Simon Little, managing director of the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) has, after five years of negotiations, succeeded in unifying the territory with a truly pan-European sales report.
That service is the Games Sales Data (GSD) charts. And for the very first time, figures from across the region will be available in a single report; that’s both physical and digital sales, all collated in a single database. For starters, we have full digital sales rankings as of yesterday.
It will allow the industry to better understand regional differences and to see how their marketing spend has played out across Europe, and all without having to collate numerous national reports into something semi-coherent. It’ll make a lot of people’s working lives a lot easier.
“That was one of the drivers behind this,” Little begins. “The system as it existed was multiple systems, using different data standards for each country. I was
working with the [big publishers’] European HQs, and what they wanted was a pan-European view using a standard approach.”
Little is keen to note that the current UK Chart-Track data “was extremely highly regarded, that wasn’t the issue.” What was needed is the new system’s Europe-wide capability, which will have uniformity of data such as genres, game names, PEGI ratings and more.
And it’s up-and-running now in some countries: “It’s live in France, meaning that we’re publishing the data and charts on a weekly basis, but we’re also in a closed beta, an industry test, in Spain, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Nordic countries, Switzerland, Poland and this month hopefully in Portugal.”
Later this year, it will expand to Austria, Germany and potentially Russia. In fact it will likely be the UK that will be the last to go live. GSD combined digital and physical charts (or 'network' and 'retail' as Little calls them to avoid confusion with digital codes sold at retail) will take over from the current retail-only system on January 1st, 2019.
HELLO OLD PAL
Digital shift has made Europe a far more unified sales territory than ever before. “On the network side we cover 42 countries which is basically what we used to call PAL," Little says. "That doesn’t really exist anymore, but it’s pretty much the sales territory of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.”
And speaking of Sony, it’s worth noting at this point that initially the data will only cover the biggest publishers, with a couple of exceptions. This was done to get the largest possible sales volume from the off, as their are practical limitations to the system. Namely, despite having the big platforms onboard, Sony and Microsoft, as well as Steam and other online PC retailers, GSD still gathers its data from the individual publishers.
“It’s a bit of a convoluted ruse,” Little explains. “Every week the networks [eg, PSN and Steam] send their sales reports to the publishers and most of them simply forward theirs straight onto our service provider. Some are more sophisticated and integrate them into their own data processing system, and we get an extract of that. We don’t get the data directly from the network.”
The reasons for that are varied but the key is that “the networks don’t want the liability of accidentally sending the wrong data or the wrong person’s data. That’s why it goes round this route.”
The ISFE retains audit rights to ensure the data is correct, though that’s more for errors than any need to police the validity of the data. “Can you imagine the fuss if a listed company had been misstating sales,” Little comments with a sense of disbelief.
“Getting weekly data, there are sometimes slight glitches. So we also get the rolling data from the publisher and that corrects the data in the long term, so maybe it’s a few units out last week but by the time we look at the previous month it’s all fixed and correct.”
LITTLE ON THE LITTLE GUYS?
It’s this method of data collection that is currently limiting the ISFE to just including the biggest publishers for digital data. Though Little obviously isn’t happy with that situation.
“I’m keen people don’t come away with the feeling that it’s just a project for the big guys. I’ve had to tackle this from a very practical point of view because of the the intensive way we gather the data. By signing up Activision and EA, I get a lot more data than by talking to 30 of the smaller guys.”
With smaller publishers come potential problems, he tells us, especially with a manual, weekly task. Key staff being ill and the company not being able to cover those absences is the main one.
“We’re fairly close to our limit in terms of the number of publishers we can onboard for now. There’s a few more we could accept but then the system starts to bog down,” he explains. However, Little is open to the suggestion of potentially adding smaller companies in on a less regular basis, for monthly or quarterly reports for instance.
He tells us that his long-term goal is to “be able to ingest the data from everyone” but that would require “an extra level of cooperation from the platforms.” He hopes that the industry will quickly get comfortable with the new system, though, and then they can again discuss getting the data from the platforms directly.
Long-term is a recurring theme of the discussion. The project was never going to be a “quick fix” but Little is mindful that “without the considerable commitment of the ISFE board, the platforms and the membership to the long-term vision of the project, it would not have survived the set-backs and delays. It may not seem like it when I am always trying to push my members for ‘more’ but I must keep in mind how much they have already supported and that even small steps are still steps.”
WHAT WILL IT COST?
The ISFE is a not-for-profit organisation that represents various publishers and trade organisations to the EU and associated bodies. “The aim of the project, because it’s been run by us rather than as a commercial venture, is to create something that adds value for every part of the industry, for [the press and analysts], for the retailers, for the publishers and smaller firms,” states Little.
Though that doesn’t mean that the data will be freely available: “The prices are based on our analysis of several other markets but they should all be competitive and ultimately the project will be run on a sort of profit neutral basis. Ideally the costs and the expenses will match.”
However, the ISFE will first need to recoup the substantial investment it’s made, thanks to members and investors, in setting up the new service. “Once that’s all repaid, then we can look again at the pricing and try and balance income and expenses. So the expectation is that it will become cheaper,” Little predicts.
The biggest publishers and the platform holders will want full access to the online portal with all the data. But that depth of information and the prices that accompany it would make most blanche. “Basically, unless you’re employing a team of full-time analysts you’re probably not going to want that,” he reassures us.
“It’s good value but it is still relatively expensive if you’re a small operation. If you’re a publisher and you want to get that kind of access then you come to me, we’ve got a standard price list and we figure that out.”
For anyone else interested, Little has granted exclusive rights to the national associations for “the standard weekly, monthly and quarterly sales reports”. So in the UK the new charts will be available via Ukie just like the current Chart-Track figures – so get in contact with Ukie’s commercial manager Sam Collins (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any queries.
It’s a big step forward for the industry, providing what should prove to be accurate and easy to comprehend data for the whole of the European games market for the first time.
Arguably it’s well overdue, and comes at a point when full-game sales are no longer the be-all and end-all of the games industry. And when the UK's status as a European sales territory is somewhat obscured. But it’s no less welcome for all that.