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

By James Batchelor.Published Wednesday 25th October 2017, 7:45am GMT

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.

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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.

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"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.

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"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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