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2005 UK Sales Review

Part Three: PC, Xbox 360, and the year ahead.

Concluding our coverage of Chart-Track's annual report, today Kristan picks his way through the PC market, the burgeoning Xbox 360 market, and any other markets he can find. He was round here the other day admiring fish and everything. Multi-Market Reed we used to call him. I'm not saying he's promiscuous though. He is, but I'm not saying that. All data (and trout) from Chart-Track's annual report. Used with permission. And in Fisherman's Pies.

Personally concerned

The steady decline of the PC software market was in evidence once again in 2005, with the total market share (by value) of all PC software (including non-games packages from the likes of Norton) representing just 24.6 per cent. By contrast, back in 1999, this figure was a whopping 41 per cent, although the actual money spent by consumers has remained roughly unchanged since that time (£299.188m in 2005, versus £290.316m in 1999, when you were clearly a bit stingier). Compared to last year, sales are down from their all-time value peak of £310.856m, which is a curious statistic when you consider that the actual installed base of PCs across the country has never been higher, broadband penetration has been soaring and prices of PCs are at rock bottom.

World of Warcraft: If games were sold on the basis of gameplay hours alone, this would be top of the charts.

On the other hand, the number of high profile game releases has continued to drop off. Just 13 game titles sold over the magic 100,000 mark (compared to the 70 or so console games), three of which were Sims 2 titles, with another three based on the noble art of football management, and the usual suspects from the world of RTS, FPS and MMO genres. Just one new brand - Guild Wars - made any real impression at all (selling just over 100k), which tells you a lot, with big PC exclusive games like F.E.A.R (almost 60k), Black & White 2 (over 55k) and The Movies (over 50k) having a relatively minor impact on the PC hardcore audience. Meanwhile, Blizzard's MMO phenomenon World of Warcraft shifted a shade over 160k - by far the best selling massively multiplayer game in the UK to date, making it the 4th biggest seller on PC of the year.

It's impossible to prove without the benefit of official research, but the ease of Internet piracy may have played a significant part in this decline. With this in mind, it's hardly a surprise that developers like Valve have decided to go down the digital distribution route, with even the retail boxed copies requiring online authorisation. Against this backdrop, can you blame them? Another factor, however, may have been the rise to prevalence of a wide variety MMORPGs, each of which commands a monthly subscription fee. It's entirely possible, then, that while sales have remained consistent, the money being pumped into games has continued to grow - just in areas beyond the reach of traditional research.

And now here's the Sim's-dominated PC all-time best seller list in the UK:

  1. The Sims
  2. The Sims 2
  3. Theme Hospital
  4. The Sims: Unleashed
  5. Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
  6. Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun
  7. Theme Park World
  8. Championship Manager: Season 01/02
  9. The Sims: Hot Date
  10. Tomb Raider 2

360 degrees... hot

Perfect Dark: Rare's long-awaited sequel was a disappointment, but that didn't stop it topping the best-sellers list.

Microsoft's early entry into the next generation market barely made a dent in overall picture thanks to the well-documented supply issues, but the machine still arrived in time to account for 0.7 per cent of the total unit market share, with almost 400k games sold in the four weeks to the end of 2005. The higher price of the system's games helped boost the value market share to 1.4 per cent, with £17.351m worth of software sold.

By comparison, the PS2 launch figures back in late 2000 saw the Sony machine sell 0.32m games over a similar period of time - albeit to a smaller market. Back then, these similarly high-priced games netted £13.496m, accounting for 1.9 per cent of the market, back in the days when online discounting wasn't as significant as it obviously is now. Taking into account that the overall UK market is now worth 69 per cent more than it was back in 2000, statistics will tell you that the PS2 launch - in terms of software sales - was comparatively more successful than the 360. The true test, however, will be how the Microsoft system fares in 2006 overall.

Game wise, Perfect Dark Zero took top honours in the race for Christmas sales with almost 70k. The other major exclusive, Project Gotham Racing 3, clocked in just behind with 65k, while Call of Duty 2 claimed almost 60k (though was by far the best seller in the US by a gigantic margin, with figures around the half-million mark, incredibly). Outside of the top three, there's a significant drop-off, with several multi-format entrants selling around 30k, such as Need For Speed Underground, FIFA 06 and King Kong, while Quake 4 nudged 20k, leaving Tiger Woods, Gun, and Tony Hawk American Wasteland trailing some distance behind.

Some of the other big-name exclusives failed to make a big impression as well, with Condemned shifting less than 30k, Kameo a few thousand further behind and Amped 3 struggling to reach 5k. All have subsequently sold way more copies since, especially now the console's in free supply, but at the beginning of the machine's life cycle Chart-Track's figures certainly paint an interesting picture of how polarised the buying patterns are in the early days. It's very much a case of the big names and the rest, showing just how important having a big name is when a machine launches. Interestingly, the lack of an obvious knockout killer app like Halo meant that sales were much more evenly spread around than when the Xbox launched back in March 2002. Back then, end of year figures revealed that Halo was outselling most of its closest competitors by between three and ten to one.