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All eyes on Red Dead as UK games retail falters

LEGO, SoulCalibur and Starlink fail to lift physical sales in poor start to Q4

Hope rests on Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption 2 as the UK physical games market continues to struggle.

UK boxed game sales are down 6.2 per cent this year according to data firm GfK, despite earlier-than-usual launches for AAA sequels Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Assassin's Creed Odyssey.

Both games, alongside annual hit FIFA, have all sold fewer physical units compared to their predecessors over the same time period.

Part of this will be down to the growth in digital game sales, which have been steadily rising in recent years (the current market data does not factor in digital downloads), but it will no account for all of the deficit.

There are four new games in the UK Top 40 this week. The highest charting game was LEGO DC Super-Villains, which debuts at No.6. It's actually a slightly lower first week than the previous LEGO game - LEGO The Incredibles (released in July). Games aimed at younger and family audiences tend to sell steadily over a long period of time, as opposed to a first week spike that tails off, so it's too early to judge the game's eventual performance.

Nevertheless, boxed LEGO games aren't quite selling in the numbers they were two years ago. Licensed LEGO titles are typically dependent on the IP that they're based on, with the Star Wars, Harry Potter and Batman series the best-selling products. However, last year's No.1 LEGO game was actually LEGO Worlds - a game that did not tie-in with any movie or brand.

The next highest charting game this week is Bandai Namco's SoulCalibur VI at No.8. The fighting game's launch sales are more than 55% lower than its predecessor. However, SoulCalibur V was released in 2012 when the physical games market was bigger and digital game sales were still in their infancy. 80% of SoulCalibur VI's sales were on PS4, with the remainder on Xbox One.

One game released this week that will have had a physical retail bias is Ubisoft's Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which features tie-in spaceship toys. The open world space game is the only new IP released at retail this Q4 and it has started very slowly, only making No.14. This is also a game that targets kids and families, so sales should hopefully improve as we get closer to Christmas, especially as the critical reception was strong.

However, we can already tell which platform might prove the most popular. 82% of Starlink's launch sales came on Nintendo Switch, with just 10% coming on PS4 and 9% on Xbox One. The Switch version of the game features exclusive toys and characters based on Nintendo's Star Fox series.

However, the best-selling new Switch game out this week was Dark Souls: Remastered.

The only other new release to arrive this week comes in at No.23 and it's the 3DS port of the classic GameCube launch game, Luigi's Mansion.

The new games may not have impressed in their first week, but it was a better-than-expected week for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 at physical retail. The game's second week sales dropped 39%, which is very good for a major game in its second week on shelves. But the title is still selling almost half of what last year's Call of Duty had managed during the same time period.

FIFA 19 retains No.2 despite a 39% drop in sales, Assassin's Creed Odyssey is still at No.3 (sales down 50% week-on-week), while Spider-Man continues to impress, rising two places to No.4. Forza Horizon 4 rounds off the Top Five.

Last week's other new release, WWE 2K19, plunges 8 places to No.11.

Next week marks the launch of Red Dead Redemption 2. Rockstar's last major game launch was GTA V in 2013, which sold more than two million units in the UK during its first week. Although Red Dead isn't expected to perform to that level, if the Wild West game even manages a third of that, it will be the biggest game launch of the year.

Here is the UKIE/GfK Top 10 for week ending October 20th.

Last WeekThis WeekTitle
New Entry1Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
22FIFA 19
33Assassin's Creed Odyssey
64Spider-Man
55Forza Horizon 4
New Entry6LEGO DC Super-Villains
77Super Mario Party
New Entry8SoulCalibur VI
89Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy
910Shadow of the Tomb Raider

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Latest comments (4)

Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee25 days ago
I think the chart shows that with so many games released in this period, people only have the will or capacity to buy so many. Since September a lot of big titles have released and more are yet to come. I don't think its a realistic expectation that consumers will immediately find £50 or more every time something comes out and obviously, we all have different tastes.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 22nd October 2018 10:13am

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Garry Williams Licensing Director, Sold Out Sales and Marketing Ltd25 days ago
The 6% drop to which you refer in your piece is volume, surely the figure we should be paying attention to is value? I guess a 2% drop in value is not as click worthy as a 6% volume header? Many of the “big hitters” have come out earlier this year so although they are behind they do have extra time to close their gaps a bit, and more importantly with Red Dead and Fallout still to come, there’s a fair chance we’ll actually end up ahead in revenue (and in units) in which case it’ll be another year on year growth in 2018 to follow the growth in 2017. It’s not all doom and gloom in the “faltering” £3/4bn UK software market!
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.biz25 days ago
@Adam Campbell: I am not suggesting a dropped interest in people playing games. That is clearly stronger than ever. But there's a drop in boxed games released and a decline in sales for them (broadly speaking), which is troubling news for games retailers.

@Garry Williams: We've always used volume. In fact, most places do. I only ever get asked to do revenue when the numbers aren't favourable.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee25 days ago
@Christopher Dring: Apologies if my comment was misunderstood. What I'm chiming in on is the idea that as a consumer, even though there are lots of great games, there's only so much money to spend. Some of which might have gone on earlier titles.

As much as we want sales to increase indefinitely, I do think there's something to be said about just not being able to buy more things. Perhaps people will be ready to spend once again in the near future. I agree that digital will also be a factor and it would great if this data was available all together for us to take a view.
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