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NPD: Loot box controversy having no impact on game sales

Despite consumer outcry, the analysis firm tells GamesIndustry.biz AAA titles with microtransactions still appear among biggest sellers

Players may complain about loot boxes, but it appears the vast majority of them aren't letting the mechanic deter them from picking up the latest releases.

NPD analyst Mat Piscatella tells GamesIndustry.biz there are no signs that sales of AAA games have been impacted by the recent controversy surrounding titles such as Destiny 2, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and Forza Motorsport 7.

While the latter two titles were not released until October, for which NPD data is not yet available, Destiny 2 was released in early September and is not only the best-selling game of the month but also the US' top-selling game of 2017 so far.

Also among the top ten is FIFA 18, which includes the microtransaction-based Ultimate Team mode that earns EA $800 million per year, and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege, a two-year-old title rife with cosmetic loot boxes.

Piscatella adds that the inclusion of loot boxes cannot be taken as a sales driver, either.

"I would not say that the presence of loot boxes causes games to sell at higher levels than games without loot boxes," he tells us. "What [this week's] release does suggest is that the loot box or microtransactions controversy has not yet resulted in clear noticeable limitations of the sales potential of the games with [those mechanics]."

He further observed that the best-selling games are those that "strive towards achieving player engagement and extending retention" - something EA's Patrick Söderlund openly discussed around the closure of Visceral Games. These are the titles that tend to carry loot boxes or other forms of microtransaction.

Last week, developers told us that the rise of loot boxes is partly a response to increasing development costs. Piscatella commented on this via Twitter, observing that: "Presence of loot boxes correlates to higher game sales volume."

When asked to elaborate on this further, he told us: "As every stats professor has ever declared correlation does not necessarily mean causation. It could just be that the biggest games with the highest marketing budgets tend to have these mechanics, and that the games are selling well despite the presence of loot boxes in the games. "

The current wave of AAA titles featuring loot boxes seems to be slowing down, with only three games using the mechanic due for release before Christmas: Assassin's Creed Origins, Call of Duty: WW2 and Star Wars Battlefront 2.

Battlefront 2 has already courted controversy when the beta suggested multiplayer character progression will be locked behind loot crates, although EA has attempted to assure concerned consumers that this is not the final business model. Meanwhile, Ubisoft has said Assassin's Creed's boxes will not require real money, while those in Call of Duty are purely for cosmetic items.

Piscatella expects the sales data for Q4 to paint an even clearer picture of whether loot boxes have any impact on sales. It will be particularly interesting to see October's sales data given the controversy surrounding Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and Forza Motorsport 7.

"Things continue to evolve, very quickly," he concludes. "I'm sure we're going to learn much more over the next few months."

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Latest comments (3)

George Williams Owner 24 days ago
It's clear that the industry is trying to protect some dirty habits that are creeping into triple A games, with excuses of increased developer costs to justify the increase use of Loot Boxes. It's clear that gamers have no problem supporting the method, providing it has ZERO impact on gameplay.

EA of course, want to cross that line and bring Pay to win as swiftly as possible. Remember the backlash over Bad Company 1? Locking progression behind pay walls should be frowned upon by ALL corners of the games industry and there is zero justification unless your game is actually free to play.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 24 days ago
It is a bit early for victory laps, since people have barely started experiencing the phenomenon, let alone started talking about it with any form of rational distance and proper self-reflection. The discussion does not even exist outside the people who either create or consume the product. The situation is akin to trying to have a real talk about Heroin in 1910 with only Bayer and addicts at the table. Regulation comes from scared people on the outside, not from within. So as long as Fox and Friends are not scared of loot boxes, it will be fine in the short term.

An impact can be expected when more non-sensationalist mainstream discussions happen, when former whales and industry whistle-blowers give better insight; see you in 10 years. Until then, it will be an industry-internal shouting match and a wild west of psychological analysis and exploitation.

It is worth mentioning that the case for lootboxes is not made by companies after they went bankrupt. It is lead by companies seeking to improve quarterly reports. Studios such as Visceral were not closed because their non-lootbox game was underperforming. They probably weren't even closed out of fear their next game wasn't going to break even. They were closed for their game in development not being compatible to the latest high yield business model. Not that any reddit discussion or YouTube video will ever home in on that. Of course there is no impact on sales then, nobody is really going after the soft spots as of now.

Next year, Arab oil billionaires suddenly get bored of football and get into AAA development while declaring DLC and loot boxes haram. I bet the discussions will mirror those about loot boxes.
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Raimundas Banevicius Senior flash developer, Bigpoint23 days ago
I don't know about industry... but..
I own Destiny 1, has no plans to buy Destiny 2.. I own Shadow of mordor, have no plans to buy Shadow of war. I own Deus ex: Human revolution, have no plans on buying Mankind devided.
I play Paladins instead Owerwatch, and don't even plan to try Star Wars Battlefront 2.
There are too many good game without loot box scams, to waste time on these.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Raimundas Banevicius on 26th October 2017 6:09pm

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