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Call of Duty halts UK games retail's Christmas decline

But November is taking a larger and larger share of Q4 revenues

5.9m physical video games were sold in the UK during December, GfK/UKIE has revealed.

It's a slight increase of 2% compared with the same period a year before. 2016 was a disappointing Christmas period for the games market, in part due to the under-performance of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

That was not the case this year, with Call of Duty: WWII already surpassing Infinite Warfare's lifetime sales (physical units only). Looking at December sales alone, Call of Duty: WWII sales were up 22% compared with Infinite Warfare. So it is clear where that 2% December improvement came from.

Although unit sales may have only increased slightly in December, revenue was up by a greater margin. £184m was generated from boxed software in the UK during December, a rise of 7.8% over December 2016.

This is due to the price of major AAA games (such as Call of Duty) holding their value compared with the aggressive discounting that took place during December 2016. Furthermore, Nintendo Switch game pricing is also generally higher, and that has resulted in a stronger revenue position.

However, the uptick is still only marginal over what was a disappointing December in 2016. As a means of comparison, 8.3m physical games were sold during December 2015 (£257.6m in revenue), 8.5m in December 2014 (revenue: £260m) and 8.15m in December 2013 (revenue: £251.4m). So as you can see, the Christmas market for physical games in the UK has fallen quite steeply over the last two years.

There are multiple reasons for this, of course. The release slate for Christmas 2016 and 2017 has been a little weaker than in previous years. In 2015, there was the release of Fallout 4, 2014 saw the arrival of GTA V and 2013 marked the launch of PS4 and Xbox One. 2016 and 2017 didn't see a comparable hit release to sit alongside the usual big releases such as Call of Duty and FIFA.

The rise of digital is another key reason (although one we cannot yet quantify) for the drop in December sales. Yet also the increasing dominance of Black Friday.

"November's share of the Q4 sales market has been getting larger every year since Black Friday began"

You can see this if we isolate the final two months of the year. This year, (purely looking at November and December), November accounted for 43.3% of physical games sold over those two months. That's up over 2016, when November accounted for 41.6%, which was up over 2015 (34.5%) and 2014 (33.7%). It's clear that games are being bought for Christmas earlier and earlier, driven by the growing popularity of the Black Friday sales period.

So what does this tell us about Christmas 2017? Well, although the increase in sales over December was only slight, combined with November, there was some healthy growth overall for the boxed games market. 10.4m physical games were sold during November and December 2017, a rise of more than 5% over the 9.9m games sold during the same period a year before.

Looking specifically at December, EA was the No.1 company in terms of physical sales. The publisher will have been disappointed with sales of Star Wars: Battlefront II, while FIFA 18 also sold fewer units in physical form than it did the year before. However, those two games, combined with The Sims 4 and Need for Speed, meant the firm sold more physical software than anybody else.

Activision Blizzard held No.2 spot for December, primarily due to Call of Duty: WWII. Meanwhile, Nintendo took No.3 position due to impressive sales of Switch games such as Super Mario Odyssey (No.6), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (No.9) and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (No.18). Last year, Nintendo was the No.4 publisher of Christmas on the back of Pokémon Sun and Moon on 3DS (this year's Pokémon duo, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon reached No.21 and No.27 in the December charts, but if they were combined they would have been at No.11).

In terms of consoles, unsurprisingly PS4 was dominant with 45.6% share of the physical software market, followed by Xbox One with 32.8% and then Nintendo Switch with 12.2%.

Here is the December 2017 Top 20, courtesy of GfK/UKIE:

December November
1 1 Call of Duty: WWII
2 2 FIFA 18
3 3 Star Wars Battlefront II
4 4 Assassin's Creed Origins
5 13 Grand Theft Auto V
6 6 Super Mario Odyssey
7 5 Gran Turismo Sport
8 New Entry PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
9 20 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
10 15 WWE 2K18
11 16 Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy
12 18 The Sims 4
13 7 Forza Motorsport 7
14 8 Need for Speed Payback
15 24 LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2
16 13 LEGO Worlds
17 22 Destiny 2
18 32 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
19 9 Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
20 17 Sonic Forces
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Christopher Dring avatar

Christopher Dring

Head of Games B2B

Chris is a 17-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who