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NPD Data Hates iTunes

Well, not really iTunes, but the point made by EA’s corporate communications’ Tiffany Steckler is an apt one when she says to CNN Money:

“Using NPD data for video game sales is like measuring music sales and ignoring something called iTunes. We see NPD’s data as a misrepresentation of the entire industry.”

I could not agree with Ms. Steckler more. Much like how we like to talk about Metacritic and how PR misuses it as a resource, NPD sales tracking is equally as silly when you want to look “big picture” and not hard sales and to use that as a true guide to total sales is disingenuous.

NPD Data fails to track anything that isn’t sold over the counter. This includes WiiWare, XBLA, PSN, subscription based games, Facebook games, downloaded PC games, etc. To say that removing those sales figures skews the stats a bit is an understatement and to see companies start to say so I think is a good thing.

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Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

8 thoughts to “NPD Data Hates iTunes”

  1. NPD will gradually become obsolete because…retail will become obsolete. It’s starting to happen now. Eventually, we will be at the point where we never exchange dollars for software over a counter. And we will never again be asked to buy a $3 warranty to protect our discs in case of scratching.

    There’s good and bad about that, but the point is that retail is really quite cumbersome, requires tremendous logistics, and it’s a cost center for businesses- particularly large, corporate ones. It will be phased out once the idea of not actually buying physical media becomes more mainstream than it already is.

    I used to rail against this. I didn’t want to give up physically owning the plastic or vinyl that my record collection was on. “Feh, corporate scheme to keep me from OWNING this stuff!” But then, I got an iPod and I was carrying around- in my pocket- the complete David Bowie catalog, the audiobook of Lord of the Rings in its entirety, and who knows how many feet of shelving space worth of media. Suddenly, all of my 1500 or so CDs suddenly seemed like a total waste of time, money, and space.

    With games, I’d just as soon have everything on a hard drive with the right to download it whenever I need to. I don’t need to own 360/PS3 discs. I get nothing out of it. It just means I’ve got to go buy them at a store and bring them home. PC gamers are already broken of this mentality, and it’s becoming time to let the disc go in console games and also in movies as well.

    I can’t wait to reclaim sections of my house because I don’t have to find somewhere to store all of this stuff…and I can’t say that I’ll miss driving out to a retailer either.

  2. I love Steam.

    I hated it when it was a requirement to play my excitedly purchased copy of Half-Life 2.

    It came out before the world was ready for that type of thing. We’re all ready now albeit for 1 thing…

    … The idea that Steam can hold my purchased games hostage. What if Pay Pal messes up? What if someone reports me saying I said something I didn’t and I get banned? Why must I lose hundreds of dollars of games?

    That is my only beef with Steam, these issues hasn’t affected me, but it could.

  3. Yeah, but your house/apartment/dorm/cardboard box could catch fire and every game you own be turned into a puddle of blackened goo without any recourse…

    I don’t know, some of that kind of thinking is old fashioned to me, like old folks not trusting ATMs. I’ve had Paypal mess up on me (BIG TIME) but that was one transaction out of thousands (I used it for business for a while).

    The EA issue and the banning, that opens up a different issue but it is a valid one.

  4. My cardboard box is the opposite of flame retardant. It may be my Gen One PS3 that sets it ablaze too. I’d say my xbox, but that already burnt down my last cardboard castle when it Red Ringed.

    Anytime we become accustomed to something, we like it the way it is. Change is a word that brings fear. I prefer evolution to dramatic change. Makes me feel more warm and fuzzy inside.

  5. Finally, companies starting to talk about this. NPD only tracking retail sales was the single biggest source of fuel for the ridiculous ‘PC gaming is dying!’ talk for too many years, as dropping PC retail sales were interpreted as meaning the whole platform collapsing.

    Gamers caught on to online buying long ago. It’s about time sales analysts did the same. if they can’t, good riddance…their numbers are worthless anyway.

  6. I also look forward to the non-retail dependent future. I’m not sure it will totally go. It might… but I’m not totally convinced yet. Either way, removing any significant role of that beast in the distribution system would be nice. They should be relegated to the position of the modern record store: more personable service and expertise less pushing your terrible business model down my throat.

    I have mixed feeling about physical media. After abhorring it for a good while, I’ve actually come to love it again. There is something irreplaceable about physical media. The ritual of physical media *does* have value. It is not necessary, and I know that the trends will lead to physical media having a very minimal role.

    There are a number of games that owning the physical disc is less important to me than having the content available. That being said, for the games that have played a more important role, I am glad to have their designed, physical presence as a sort of totem of meaning.

    I’m also not sold by any digital “browsing” experience that I’ve had. The ability to look through physical media is nice. Yes I can read off file names, but it is different. I’m still waiting for a good digital equivalent.

    That being said, vinyl is still doing very well. Cassettes are having a minor resurgence as well. I think there is an ineffable desire to make some experiences tangible. Physical media will have a specialty/boutique role in the future, and I’m looking forward to that.

    I don’t like eating take-out. If I can eat the food in a restaurant, almost always want to eat the food there. That’s part of what I’m paying for. I prefer that experience.

    I will primarily buy vinyl and cassettes until an online music service agrees to back-up my purchases… rumor is Apple is trying to do this. Hope that happens soon. I love vinyl. It creates a totally different listening experience to that of iTunes. Cassettes, yet another experience. For me, those experiences have value. For others, particularly in the tech savvy gaming community, you’ll find less of that. I like owning my favorite albums on vinyl. My digital collection is more of a “pile” upon which all much is heaved… where as my vinyl collection consists of pieces that I have a particular fondness for or other meaningful associations.

    I love Steam. Steam provides back-up and free Mac versions. These things make me a happy camper! But they create a weird sensation of annoyance when things I want to buy aren’t on the service, forcing me to seek out other less convenient means. It’s also tough on indie developers. Many people won’t buy games unless they’re on Steam, and getting a game on their service is less straightforward than most consumers probably realize. Managing accounts with different services can be a headache.

    My rambling is discussing what looks, to me, to be the interesting future. The way we experience media is significant. As the flat-screen television revolution rolled through people’s living rooms, there were people discussing the death of the multiplex… yet… we still have them. From what I’ve read, they’re still doing quite well. Why? Because they offer a different experience. Doing the same thing a different way can change the meaning of the thing being done. That difference can be as simple as getting your game on a disc versus downloading it. Not for everyone, but for many one will provide a better experience to the other. And not everyone will make the seemingly obvious choice.

  7. Really good stuff there, Dranore. I particularly agree about the digital “ownership” (licenseship; however we’re supposed to think of it) resulting in a different attitude towards owning physical media, where it’s not that physical media needs to go away, but that it is thought of differently.

    I don’t currently have a vinyl record player, but I’ve thought about getting one, so I can just get some of my very favorite albums and be able to appreciate that music differently than what I get from listening on an iPod. Games are a bit different, of course, but there’s still enough of a parallel that I think ought to leave enough demand for physical media to keep it as some kind of viable option going forward (although with consoles it depends on how the next gen hardware handles media; hello PSP Go). I think of stuff like The Witcher 2 where I kind of want the extra pack-ins from the collector’s edition; stuff you don’t get if you buy a digital edition.

  8. I think you’re on target. Games have a rich history with physicality and with the exception of Kinect, the Activator ring for Genesis, and other infrared and camera based games, everything is about that. Hell, Ralph Baer’s TV box had a light gun, which still blows my mind! For older games, cartridges have it nailed. Discs feel pretty insubstantial often, though the charm of Game Cube discs is pretty pleasing.

    Once consoles are really designed around download as an industry trend, it will be a different story of course. But I think we’ll see a refinement of the trend towards “Collector’s Editions”, and again I think trends in the music industry reinforce that notion. I see this as a good thing. Forcing people to be creative around marketing their products and creating new connections for players is a positive thing! Less undesired clutter is another important benefit, back to the original point.

    Though companies need to take more cues from Infocom. Their feelies were brilliant and often served to expand the ideas of the game itself rather than tangential material fluff. Interactive Fiction is all about that context.

    Red Dead had some great merch that they should have utilized in a collectors edition. I bought the soundtrack on vinyl, a deck of cards featuring the awesome deck design used in the game, a couple dice, and a brilliant looking bar of soap.

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