Physical releases rising with over 300 games launched in 2016
NPD data shows number of boxed titles up year-on-year thanks to ports from digital and PlayStation VR launch
More than 300 games landed on US shelves this year, marking a year-on-year increase in the number of titles receiving a physical release.
While researching our inaugural Year In Numbers infographic, GamesIndustry.biz reached out to NPD to find out the total number of games released throughout the year. The data wasn't compiled in time for the infographic, but we have been able to present it more comprehensively below.
There were 296 games released at US retail from January to end of November 2016, with NPD estimating another seven boxed releases in December, including Steep, Dead Rising 4, The Dwarves and Super Mario Maker for 3DS. This total includes all retail expansions and software bundles, e.g. game collections, but does not include titles or releases exclusive to a specific retailer.
In total, these 296 games generated more than $3.53bn. Although that's a year-on-year decrease from the $4.05bn taken between January and end of November 2015, the number of games physically released is actually on the rise for the first time in years. Below, you can see a comparison chart for the last five years.
|Year (Jan - end of Nov)||Number of physical releases||Spending on boxed software|
As mentioned, 296 is the grand total when taking into account retail expansions and bundles. Looking specifically at brand new releases in the console space, the number of new launches between January and the end of November is actually 168. That's up from the 139 released in the same period the year before - the first time the count has risen year-on-year since 2010.
2016 saw the release of 29 more games than 2015, but this can largely be attributed to three factors. Firstly, the launch of PlayStation VR saw companies like Sony and Ubisoft releasing more titles than they did the previous year. In fact, PlayStation's portfolio was five launches bigger than in 2015.
Ubisoft's expanded 2016 release slate also includes other indicators as to why the total is higher. In addition to Eagle Flight for PSVR, the firm also released the Assassin's Creed Chronicles collection and Hasbro Fun Pack, with NPD suggesting that collections such as these are another factor in the rising release count.
Finally, the increasing number of digital games receiving a boxed release also helps explain the year-on-year growth. By way of example NPD cites Soedesco Publishing, which released one game in 2015, and ten in 2016. Most of these ten titles included games such as Among the Sleep, Ziggurat and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams - products that had previously only been available digitally. Soedesco's larger line-up actually accounts for a third of the 29-title advantage this year had over the last.
NPD analyst Mat Piscatella tells GamesIndustry.biz that for these reasons and more, he expects the number of physical games to continue rising over the next few years.
"Primarily, it looks like we may get more titles releasing around the concept of the digital port to the packaged space - perhaps [collector-oriented publisher] Limited Run Games could get into retail distribution and really boost physical release count - and hopefully continued support for PSVR," he says.
"That said, I don't think the data currently suggests we're going to see more big AAA games than we have previously. We do have Switch and Scorpio coming, along with an expanded PS4 Pro installed base, so it may turn out that we will indeed see more AAA out there, but that's not the reason why 2016 has bumped up."
Roughly half the new releases in 2016 - 83 titles or 49% to be exact - were released between September and the end of November. That might sound like a particularly crowded Q4, but Piscatella observes this is not too different from the average release distribution for games in any given year.
In fact, while 2016's October was heavier than average with 37 titles released, the Q2 months were actually above the average seen between 2009 and 2015. June in particular was a big month with 19 games released, including Mirror's Edge Catalyst and LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
As mentioned before, the number of games may have risen slightly but the amount of spending on physical releases has actually fallen. While this can be partly attributed to more consumers purchasing digital copies of the latest games as well as the longer tail of releases like Overwatch and The Division, NPD analyst Sam Naji believes it's also an indication of a demand for higher quality.
"Consumers are not just looking for more games, but better games as well," he tells GamesIndustry.biz. "Although there has been a decline in the dollars spent per title during 2016, the trend in the last five years has been increased spending with fewer titles.
"The heyday when over 300 titles got a physical release may be over, due to various reasons, but the appetite to spend money on good quality games is strong. Gamers today know what they want and they will vote with their wallet. As long as the significant sector of gamers prefer physical format I expect the decline in the number of physical titles to slow for the foreseeable future."
Piscatella agreees, adding that the games industry is unlikely to return to that heyday, dismissing the idea that we could ever see 600-plus games launched at retail within a single year.
"But the market doesn't need that," he argues. "To be fair, when we had 600 games coming to market there were quite a few terrible games in that mix, and many games simply couldn't get full distribution because of shelf overcrowding. The shelf crowding also had the tendency to force pricing lower more quickly than demand would have otherwise dictated.
"We have been running very lean on title count for a few years, and I'd like more out there. However, having too many titles can cause just as many problems as having too few. With the increased revenues provided by versions of new games featuring additional content at a higher SRP alongside the more traditional $60 versions, I think that if we could get to 180 to 200 console releases per year in the packaged space, I believe the industry would be in a good place."