Video Games Need a Billboard Top Ten

Illustration for article titled Video Games Need a Billboard Top Ten

Video games need a top ten list. Movies have them, music has them, but the video game industry still hasn't found a solid way to track the country's most popular video games, according to Michael Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association.

"I do think that the movie industry has a significant advantage over other forms of media because on Monday morning... whether you are driving, or looking at the newspaper, what's there: The top ten movies. What's next to that? Numbers," Gallagher told a gathering of reporters earlier this month. "I don't know if they are completely accurate, but we're trained to believe they are. And that helps the movie industry."

But with video games, Gallagher said, "we're still seeking our center of gravity."


Currently the closest thing fans of and investors in video games have to a top ten list comes from the NPD Group, but the research company's numbers has a few problems. They don't track Wal-Mart sales, they don't track digital sales and they don't share their full numbers with the public.

NPD tracks "all major retailers, excluding Wal-Mart," NPD's David Riley told Kotaku, adding that Wal-Mart doesn't release sales data to anyone.

NPD releases more comprehensive data to its clients, which are video game developers and publishers, but not necessarily the public.

That lack of details is a problem, Gallagher says, one that has to be resolved.

"I think there is thought, because you now have significant revenue, and growth and investment and where that flows you tend to get better information," Gallagher said. "Reporters ask for it, investors certainly do and then there are consumers. There is an advantage to the companies to figure out a way to report that.


"We are looking forward to that evolution, I'd like to see it move faster," he added. "I think this industry is accomplishing great things across a far great reach, than is traditionally reported."

Gallagher points to Zynga, a video game developer and publisher for digital titles that is valued at $4 to $5 billion dollars, but which isn't tracked by NPD.


"It has a phenomenal rate of growth that is not captured," he said. "So there is a disconnect."

A report released earlier this month by the NPD estimates that people spent $4.5 to $4.75 billion on digital content for games last year, that compared to $10.5 billion spent on boxed video games.


But Riley said there are no current plans to include digital sales in their public numbers for now.

"Will NPD be releasing comprehensive digital sales tracking insight into the public domain? We will probably issue some research on a regular basis, but it won't be at the level of detail that you may be expecting," Riley said. "This is information we will keep close to the vest. Remember, we are here to serve our clients."


I asked Gallagher if the ESA has ever thought of stepping in to provide numbers that better represent the full-range of video games being sold today.

"Someone had better do it or you're going to have a trade association doing it," he said. "It has got to be done."

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A Billboard-like list doesn't make sense for video games. With movies, first weekend ticket sales are hugely important because the run in theaters is limited, and there's usually major drop-off in sales after a week. In other words, that information is of great importance in terms of how marketing for a movie should commence after its release, how long it should remain in theaters, whether future releases should be slotted differently, etc.

I'm not sure what real value a list for video games would have. I don't think a list, by itself, would influence sales of a product that costs $60 on average. That kind of popularity/impulse purchase appeal works for movies and music because those things are relatively cheap compared to other forms of entertainment.

It seems like video games work on a longer cycle, at least longer than theatrical movie releases. If a video game is good, then it's good now or 2 months from now, whereas you can only see a movie in theaters for a certain window of time. And even with music, the "newness" wears off fairly quickly as a slew of new albums are marched out every Tuesday.