Around sports video gaming's water cooler, much is being made of NBA 2K13 clocking in as October's No. 1 seller on the NPD charts, and it is indeed an affirmation for sports video gamers as a whole. Sports video games are, culturally, treated as an outlier in core video gaming, yet they routinely send two, three or even four titles to the NPD's top 10, a kind of Dow Jones Industrial Average for the gaming industry.
But the NPD figure is decreasingly relevant, as it specifically excludes digital sales, the one channel looked to for growth in a business still losing sales—of traditional, full-version video games—month to month. Further, a game releasing on multiple platforms has an advantage as every title sold, regardless of platform, counts toward its overall total. NBA 2K13 released on the 360, PlayStation 3 and PC—and PSP and Wii. Resident Evil 6, by all accounts a bad game, made No. 2 releasing on just two consoles, albeit with an assist from marketing and brand incumbency.
Still, the game's delayed Steam release—it came out Oct. 30—meant that for a full month, PC users who wanted NBA 2K13 had to buy a physical copy—the kind that counts toward the NPD charts. NBA 2K12 released on Steam on Oct. 4, 2011 and NBA 2K11 on Oct. 6, 2010, the same dates as their console launch.
Sports video games frequently show up in the NPD's top 10, and the global popularity of the leagues they emulate is only one reason. The other is that they have been, ever since EA Sports canned Madden on the PC, predominantly console-based products, with a strong majority of sales coming at retail locations. 2K Sports is, to its credit, one of the few sports publishers willing to deliver a PC version of everything it makes (although that will not include MLB 2K next year. FIFA and Tiger Woods PGA Tour likewise offer PC releases.)
Still, it appears to me that this launch month was all about selling through retail channels to make sure NBA 2K13 outperformed its predecessors—and it did, by 19 percent more in October 2012 than the phenomenal NBA 2K11 sold in Oct. 2010.
Across the office at 2K Games, however, XCOM: Enemy Unknown didn't even make the top 10. NPD said 114,000 units of it were sold though, again, that's physical media sales only. It's preposterous to think XCOM's cash register appeal stops there, when Steam showed 70,000 PC users playing it, concurrently, on the weekend after its launch.
You can't convince me that XCOM isn't one of October's 10 best sellers across all channels. You also can't convince me NBA 2K13 is really No. 1 for the month, either.