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Europe finally gets a video game chart with digital data

ISFE's digital chart project exits beta in France, with 41 other countries to follow

The official video game charts in France will now feature digital downloads.

It is the first country to see the new GSD (Game Sales Data) charts - led by European trade body ISFE - with 41 other territories to follow.

The UK will receive its own digital/physical GSD chart in January 2019, once the current deal with charts supplier GfK comes to an end.

Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco, Capcom, Codemasters, EA, Focus, Koch Media, Microsoft, Milestone, Paradox, Sega, Sony, Square Enix, Take-Two, Ubisoft and Warner Bros will all be supplying full priced, full game download figures for PC and consoles.

The main hold-outs from the charts are Bethesda, Konami and Nintendo.

"I go into see them periodically, I meet them, I present to them, they know what the project is about," ISFE managing director Simon Little tells

ISFE MD Simon Little

He continues: "The specification right now is paid-for, full-paid downloads. We did it that way because it is a good place to start, basically. We just don't want to try and go too broad to start with. It's also a much closer tie to what is selling currently at retail. It kind-of matches, because a lot of the products are in both retail and network. Although obviously there are some that are only in one or the other. But it does give a much fuller view of the full-game market. So that is where we are right now.

"Trying to expand it to free full-game downloads... that's really a different thing altogether. And DLC is so expansive. It really is a totally separate project to try and cover DLC. And it is, in some ways, more sensitive for the companies involved. So we really needed to start here, get everyone's trust, and then gradually look to expand the scope."

The way the project works is that the participating companies will submit their sales reports from PSN, Xbox Live and PC (primarily Steam, but also other digital retailers). Outsource service provider B2Boost will then process the data, and pull together weekly, monthly and quarterly GSD charts.

"It is all real sales data and that is the huge difference between our project and anything else out there," Little continues. "These are sales as reported from the networks. It is a rather roundabout route, but there is no guessing or extrapolation or surveys. These are actual sales that have happened during the previous week."

"It is all real sales data and that is the huge difference between our project and anything else out there"

As Little says, it is a roundtable process, which does make it tricky when it comes to widening that pool of contributors. There's a large number of indie game developers who are not accounted for in these charts, and although ISFE is eager to get them involved, it's not without its challenges.

"We are keen to try and get them in," says Little. "At the moment, it is quite a convoluted route to getting the data, and the platforms' data delivery isn't perfect yet. So, even with the list we have right now, with our data update every week, there is always somebody missing. And it's not their fault; they may not have got the data from the platform necessarily, or something else went wrong in the process. So scaling up is really difficult. Particularly if we're looking at trying to capture folks who one week may have almost no sales. And then suddenly they have something.

"We want to be able to develop a system to capture those guys, but right now it's tough. But we are already capturing more of the market than NPD is in the US. They don't have as many publishers as we do. We are already pushing ourselves to the limit of how many we can process each week."

The digital charts project is not an easy one to manage. The digital retailers (Steam, etc.) say they have no right to share sales figures of developers and publishers, forcing the likes of ISFE to get the numbers directly from the publishers instead. This creates a political headache, and it is why the industry's history is littered with failed digital charts projects.

The GSD chart has been in the works for years. "There's been a few moments in this project where I have had to take a calm breath and show some patience," admits Little.

Game Sales Data

"This isn't a commercial venture. We are doing it by the industry for the industry. Which is a great concept, but it does sometimes bog me down in that anything slightly different, I need to get everyone to sign off on."

It is, however, something that is hugely overdue. The video games industry significantly lags behind its entertainment sister industries when it comes to digital tracking. The music industry can even track radio plays and streaming figures.

Most major publishers are now on-board, and the ISFE project is appealing: 42 countries are included, so that means publishers can compare data sets between countries on one platform. Currently, each country operates on its own and comparing figures is complicated.

It will also allow the media to accurately report on the state of the market. In recent years, it's not uncommon to read articles about the games market being down, or for game X to sell worse than its predecessor. But this is all based on physical data, and therefore the truth is (more often than not) the opposite.

"We want to have data that we can use to promote the industry," Little says. "It wasn't looking good when every year retail sales were going down, and that meant we were reporting that software sales were falling. But really, they were never going down. We just never had the data to prove otherwise."

The new reports will look somewhat familiar to what exists already. The big publishers that have helped fund ISFE's GSD project will receive access to the online platform directly. The individual trade bodies of the various countries will then have the sales rights to sell weekly, monthly and quarterly charts. Meanwhile, a weekly ranking will be distributed to the media and other interested parties for free.

"It wasn't looking good when every year retail sales were going down, and that meant we were reporting that software sales were falling"

There will, of course, be a transition. GfK had been looking after the charts in France (as they do in many markets) and we can therefore expect some inconsistencies or inaccurate comparisons. In the UK, GfK accounts for around 90 per cent of the physical software sales currently. When the new UK GSD chart goes live in January 2019, it is likely ISFE will not have the same level of coverage. But Little isn't concerned.

"Because we are using the data from the publishers to split the market into different categories, we can extrapolate according to the different product types," he explains.

"At the moment, generally, if you have an 80 per cent panel size for a territory, all sales are upweighted by 20 per cent to get you to the full market. What we do is look at product types. The best example we use is Toys R Us [in the UK, which does not share game sales data with charts companies]. In that case, you are going to be under-reporting some of the toys-to-life products - say, Skylanders when it was big, compared with a GTA-type product. That's because Toys R Us are likely to do better with the former rather than the latter. We have about five or six different product types and categories, and we upweight differently in-order to build a full market picture. And that's based on data we get directly from the publishers, so even at the lower panel size we believe we are reasonably accurate.

"Although it does depend by week and whether we have that retail coverage. If one retailer has a big promotion, and we don't have them in the panel, it can be harder to spot. But we are getting there."

The transition may be more acutely felt when the new chart goes live in the UK. The division of GfK that looks after the UK charts (formally known as Chart-Track) is highly regarded for its reporting. However, that system is only used in the UK, and ISFE's remit was to partner with a company that can handle the whole of Europe (in this case, B2Boost).

"Chart-Track was the clear leader in terms of quality of the data and quality of the customer service," Little says. "But the folks I have been working with on this project are all at HQ level, so they have all the data coming in from other territories as well. They made a decision to go ahead with this project because of the total European view, not just the UK.

"The structure is also different. B2Boost is a service provider that has been contracted by the industry to process the data. Whereas GfK is a market research company, so they did it off their own back and took the commercial risk as to whether they could sell the data or not. B2Boost gets paid its processing fee, and that's it. The data doesn't belong to them. They are processing it on behalf of ISFE, which is doing it on behalf of its members and the industry. It is a different way of approaching it. But they are really specialists in electronic invoicing and data processing, so we really approached it from tech and IT point-of-view."

What's more, Little concludes, starting all over again may seem like a big task, but it allows the team to build a system that's best suited to the modern games industry.

"If you were developing this from scratch, how would you do it? We now have one database. At the moment, Europe has one database per country. When you start with a clean slate, you can do something that is much closer to what people want and need."

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