Was Black Friday in the UK all it was cracked up to be?

A closer look at the data behind last week's pre-holiday sales

GfK's latest market report read like a glorious (and much needed) ray of sunlight in what has been an otherwise dark and dreary few weeks for UK games retail.

Over the past month we've run four effectively identical headlines on the latest UK charts. 'Titanfall 2 suffers bad first week', followed swiftly by 'Call of Duty suffers bad first week', which turned into 'Dishonored 2 suffers bad first week' and then, just to mix it up, we had 'Watch Dogs 2 suffers bad first week'.

But this week, buoyed by Black Friday and the resurgence of the Pokémon phenomenon, we were spoilt for choice over which positive headline to run.

We went for 'Pokémon Sun and Moon is Nintendo's biggest ever UK launch', but we could have also gone with 'PlayStation 4 has most successful week since launch' or even 'Watch Dogs 2 sales rise in its second week' or perhaps 'FIFA 17 smashes 2m sales barrier in the UK'.

It's easy to get carried away with the positive hyperbole, especially in the wake of such doom and gloom. Yet just as we shouldn't spend too much time dwelling on the negative headlines about games being 80 percent down, we also shouldn't overstate the results of last week's Black Friday.

For starters, Black Friday is a difficult and unwanted sales period that destroys margins and forces publishers to completely rethink how they approach Q4. Does it make sense to release so many games at the end of October/beginning of November when gamers are expecting huge discounts just a few weeks later? Pricing at Black Friday also, effectively, sets the tone for the rest of the Christmas period. Titanfall 2 will not be able to go back to £45 after this weekend. The price has been set now (at £20 for some people) and it's the price consumers will expect to pay until the end of January.

Furthermore, Black Friday's UK physical software sales were up around nine percent compared with the same period a year before (1.93m vs 1.77m). Admittedly, in a year beset by declines in this space, any growth is a positive. Yet when you consider the increased install bases of PS4 and Xbox One, the aggressive bundles where titles like Uncharted 4 were effectively given away for free, and the depth of the cuts that took place (Call of Duty down to £24 just three weeks after launch, Dishonored 2 reduced to £30 just two weeks later, Watch Dogs 2 dipping to £32 after just days on shelves) and it's actually a little underwhelming. Factor in the statistic that fewer consoles were sold overall during the week, year-on-year (14 percent down compared with 2015), and actually Black Friday wasn't quite as spectacular as it may first appear.

Upon saying that, there will be few out there unhappy with the weekend's figures. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Gears of War 4, Watch Dogs 2 and even, to a lesser extent, Titanfall 2, are now approaching respectable install bases that will allow their publishers to monetise them successfully via DLC and other digital means. Profit may be hard to come by at these prices, but in this digital age there are no shortage of commercial opportunities in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Also, with over 230,000 new PS4 and Xbox One owners in the marketplace, that's plenty more UK customers to sell games to - even if many of them will be satisfied, for now at least, with the free games that came bundled with the hardware.

Yet the real success of the week to take comfort from comes in the form of Pokémon Sun and Moon. Sure, that game's success can be traced back to the one-off phenomenon that was this summer's Pokémon Go (and its more than 500m installs). There's little disputing that. But don't let that take away from Nintendo's achievement this week. If you had told anyone in the games industry that Sun & Moon's first week would be more than three times higher than Watch Dogs 2 - or not too far off Call of Duty's opening weekend - you would have been laughed out of the room. To think that Nintendo, on the back of a failed Wii U and ageing 3DS, could achieve its most successful UK launch - beating the performance of even its big Wii and DS games - is incredible.

It goes to show that if you have the right product at the right time (and perhaps targeting a slightly different audience) then consumers will still come out to the shops to buy games in boxes.

And at full price, too.

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Latest comments (2)

James Prendergast Process Specialist 5 years ago
... and if they'd had enough units in the channel they would also be killing it with the NES classic too!
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It was a decent week for interactive entertainment sales....(in contrast to traditional retailers, which are already offering sales year round)

I doubt if overall (digital/boxed) sales were more than a 5-6% increase, if it were not a Black Friday/Cyber Monday (bs)

The market is in addition quite saturated with bestsellers...and heavy hitters
A good week for FFXV to premier (without discounting)
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