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Hard Numbers

NPD's redaction of sales figures is a symptom of a wider truth - industry statistics are no longer meaningful.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

Published as part of our sister-site's widely-read weekly newsletter, the Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to newsletter subscribers.

Readers with lengthy memories may recall a controversy which raged quite a few years ago - the better part of a decade ago, in fact - over the withdrawal of sales figures from publicly available chart data. At that time, it was British chart firm Chart-Track which was dropping the data from its public reports. It happened largely at the behest of GAME, a high street retail group so enormous that its sales made up a very significant chunk of the chart, and which felt that as such it was essentially giving away commercially sensitive data for free.

History is not repeating itself right now, even though it's tempting to imagine so. NPD's decision to redact crucial sales information from its regular reports may mirror the decision into which Chart-Track was forced all those years ago, but the basis for the decision - and the context in which it occurs - could not be more different.

The last time this data was pulled, it was a direct result of strong market growth - which had spurred hyper-aggressive, competitive behaviour on the part of the leading firms in the games retail business. This time, the reverse is true. NPD fully admits that it is redacting its data because it has shown an ongoing decline - thus causing negative coverage and arguably unwarranted headaches for the industry as a whole.

This shouldn't be surprising anyone, although I rather suspect that plenty of people are surprised. Despite clear warnings to the contrary, there are many in the games business who still thought until pretty recently (and may still harbour hopes) that the fall-off in retail sales was a symptom of the global recession, and that growth would return to its former glory as soon as the world's economy sorted itself out.

It should now be utterly apparent to everyone that this isn't the case. Certainly, the global economy is far from being back on its feet again - and in some countries, the United Kingdom being a case in point, it's likely that things will get much, much worse before they have any chance of getting better. On that front, one might still hold out hope that the growth of videogame retail sales has merely been stunted by recession and is not suffering from a more general malaise.

Every other indicator, however, suggests otherwise - a fact which NPD has tacitly acknowledged in its decision to cut back on the data it releases, on the basis that this data is no longer as representative of the games business as a whole as it could once claim to be.

Red herring arguments have been raised as an excuse - such as the claim that the decline is all down to problems with Nintendo's market. On the surface, this is true, since it's Nintendo console sales which are slowing while the Xbox and PS3 show moderate acceleration. A longer term perspective suggests that without Nintendo's enormous success in previous years, the industry would have been seen to sharply decline some years ago - we'd be talking about the games business as a whole climbing out of a shocking slump right now, rather than fretting over a relatively minor slow-down.