The PC’s Influence On Long-Term UK Sales

By Kieron Gillen on August 6th, 2010 at 8:00 pm.

A Eurogamer story earlier today got RPS a-chatting. Basically, it was the news that the original Rayman actually spent five whole years on the UK Top 40 charts. That’s 269 weeks. Worms had a 239 week appearance. Theme Park had 172. Loads of more stuff in the article, always interesting – in terms of what sells lengthily rather than immediately. What the feature doesn’t mention is what actually links those three particular games. They’re ones who existed as five-quid PC budget games indefinitely. There was a time in the UK where you couldn’t go into a shop – in fact, didn’t always have to be a game shop – without seeing piles of the big conked little fella there. And, it’s also worth noting, that PC-sales never get their new sales cannibalised by the (non-Top-40-influencing) second-hand market, which is another reason why you end up seeing this enormous longevity in some games.

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54 Comments »

  1. geldonyetich says:

    Though I’ve certainly heard of him for over a decade, my first encounter with an actual Rayman game was one where when he was caught and forced to perform strange games with the Ravid Rabbids.

    Suffice to say, I was deeply confused.

  2. LewieP says:

    I really think that the current indies should try to target supermarkets.

    Why is world of goo not on the shelves of Asda for £6.99?

    Why can we not buy Rayman as a download?

    Where did I leave my pipe?

    • cliffski says:

      because with a typical retail deal, you would earn sod all. The publisher would just claim to have sold no units, or claim that manufacturing and marketing costs ate all the profits, knowing you can’t afford a lawyer to prove them wrong.
      I sold a game in retail with one of the biggest publishers in PC gaming. (years back).
      They didn’t pay a *single penny* in royalties.
      That’s why indies don’t fall over themselevs to care about retail.

    • LewieP says:

      That’s a real shame.

      Would it not be possible to do without a publisher?

    • Mo says:

      Yeah, same thing happened to me. Wrote a mobile game with a publisher back in 2005, completed it on time and exceeded their expectations, and basically never heard a word about our sales since then. Whatever sales did get made were withheld for “distribution, marketing & porting services” which was the norm.

      So glad I don’t need to deal with publishers anymore. :/

    • RobF says:

      Not really. I mean, it’s possible in the “anything is possible” sense but there’s just too many things that can go tits that would make it a massive, massive risk.

      Can you organise your own distribution? If so, how so and at what cost? Can you get on board with a traditional distributor (possibly falling back into the same trap as you would with a publisher). What if supermarket x will -only- deal with distributor y? What do you do with regards to stock and are the supermarkets likely going to want a sale or return deal? In which case, what if you’re landed back with a ton of stuff that you’re either going to have to shift elsewhere, clutter up your house with or junk?

      If, on the vague off chance they’d take a short run of stock on amenable terms without running through a publisher or traditional distributor, the rise in costs of doing a shorter run would offset the chances to make any sort of decent profit. Can you afford to take that sort of cash hit in the hope that it takes off and you can do a larger run later?

      That PC games will be bunged in a shit pit on a rotating shelf somewhere out the way next to GENERIC KIDS CARTOON FROM ROMANIA 7:Alice In Snowqueenland Volume 12 means you’re likely going to also be marketing your wares on par with them* Gone are the days of being able to wangle a deal with Smiths to get your tape on the shelf next to the fetid tripe of Everissian game hell or whatever.

      And so much more.

      The two biggest arguments against it though are:

      1. All the time spent on that is time you could be spending writing games.

      2. Most game developers are shit businessmen and can barely manage an online shop, never mind selling stuff to the public in a box.

      *although there is a publisher out there that is way more than happy to file their stuff amongst that sort of thing, will even bodge games together from Romanian Cartoon 95: The Disney Cloneorisations and I believe makes a fair bit out of it. I wouldn’t recommend buying anything they put out though. Unless you’ve got 5 quid or whatever to piss away and fancy a laugh – in which case, go for your life.

    • neems says:

      In other news, I just bought GSB on steam. Played the demo for about 3 seconds and I thought “I’m having that.”

    • subedii says:

      Call me naive, but I was pretty amazed when I read about the ridiculous things that publishers get away with in in preventing people getting paid.

      These are for the movie and record industries, but given what Cliffski just said I’m certain they can apply just as much to the games industry:

      http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100708/02510310122.shtml

      http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100712/23482610186.shtml

      I mean I read about how they tried to prevent Peter Jackson getting paid for LotR, but I never really understood how and how it all works until I read about how a film like Harry Potter can make $1 billion in revenue, yet somehow “end up” making a $160 loss. Or sell 4.6 million records and not make an actual penny.

      It’s just insane what publishers can get away with.

    • subedii says:

      $160 million loss I should say. And the records in question were separate and not to do with Harry Potter.

      Just clarifying.

    • Heliocentric says:

      @Cliffski how are you doing on the steam sale?

    • BAReFOOt says:

      Guys, how about using basic common sense? If you own a shop, what’s the usual, normal way? Well, usually, the manufacturer sells you X items. And if you haven’t sold them all, perhaps he will buy the leftovers back. But usually not.
      So the most naive way, is to do the same. You sell the items to the distributor. The rest is his problem.
      Or in other words: Don’t give something away, without getting something in return at the same time.

      Of course, in the real world, software is not a “item” and not a product, but a service. And copies can made endlessly. Which is the only reason you’d give them 10,000 of it, without some securities. (You wouldn’t do that with hi-fi electronics, would you?)

      So if you wrote it exclusively for that distributor, you bill him the price for it, and then send him a (one suffices!) copy. (Unless he has proven to be trustworthy enough to bill after the reception. Which is rarely ever happens.)
      After that, you’ve got your money, and it’s done. You can make no further demands. Since the information was already passed on. The control is gone. (“IP” is an oxymoron.)

      If you already distributed it elsewhere, then you can ask for something in return. But never demand it. Because he can just say “no”, and pull it off of BitTorrent. Which is his good right! Information is free! And if someone offers it for free, you can do as you please.

      The third option is, to synchronize all first copies, and have that distributor and the others get a copy at the same time. Then of course they have to share the price for your service. But after that, it’s as free as the freest copy in circulation.

      Everything else would be delusional on a level that is bordering on mental illness. (Believing in “IP” is mentally ill!)

    • JohnS says:

      I hate to derail, but I really need an answer: is BAReFOOt insane?

    • jaheira says:

      He may be insane but he’s a comedy genius. We need to hear more from this guy.

    • dadioflex says:

      @LewieP – loving your work BTW – http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_175/5462-The-Short-Shelf-Life-of-EGP-Apparel

      What happens with indie game producers when they blunder into big retail. You probably already read this, and just needed to be reminded. ;)

    • LewieP says:

      That was new to me, thanks for sharing the link.

      It’s a shame it didn’t pan out, doesn’t mean it couldn’t at some point done differently.

    • dadioflex says:

      barefoot (throw some caps into that wherever you see fit) suffers from the same problem that made me stop watching Emmerdale.

      Many people, and I almost wrote most but I don’t think that’s actually true, don’t understand how businesses work. They assume that there is a mauve box in the back room of shops and businesses that turns money into things.

      There’s a dial on the box that you can set so that less money gets more things, or less things for more money. The business owner decides where to set the dial, depending on how he feels that morning.

      That’s not how it is.

      Commerce is a bitch.

      With a few exceptions (Apple… maybe) nobody gets to demand this or that. Everything is a negotiation.

      You don’t have to have a publisher.

      But… if you don’t have a publisher you don’t get access to their distributor, and without the distributor you don’t get access to their retail partners, so you have to make your own. That’s an expense right there.

      You definitely can’t demand that a publisher pays you for X amount of units up front, unless X is really low and by making X really low you’re hindering your potential. If your game launches and the supermarket only has two copies per store that’s the most you’re going to sell that way. Number of stores times two. After launch you’ll sell a few, or very rarely a lot, at budget but once a title has been out for a couple of months most people don’t want to pay full price for it.

      In any event, if you are demanding up-front fees for your game, you’re forgetting that in order to get into that particular retail channel you are receiving a massive benefit from the publisher’s distributor just to be given shelf space there. Right there is another fallacy – having an awesome product doesn’t automatically mean you deserve to sell it.

      Remember, everything is a negotiation.

      Hmm.

      How to explain.

      A supermarket is subjected to many requests to stock products. There are more products than there is shelf space in the supermarket. The supermarket has to decide which products get shelf space and which don’t.

      The supermarket can employ a specialist for every potential line of items or they can make use of an existing resource. In this case the available resource is the distributor.

      So if the distributor isn’t offering it, it isn’t going to get shelf space.

      The supermarket wants to make a profit.

      The distributor wants to make a profit.

      The publisher wants to make a profit.

      The developer has signed a deal, and depending on how it was negotiated, they either covered their costs or they go bust.

      Developers going bust must be bad for the games industry, right?

      No. It’s not like most devs become bakers or dentists. They keep on working in the industry. The bad ones fall by the wayside, the really bad ones get hired as managers.

      It’s not really bad news.

      The “Deer Hunter” in Walmart days are behind us. Download is the future. Worrying about Supermarkets in the current gestalt is somewhat backward.

  3. LewieP says:

    It is also worth noting that both Theme Park and Rayman where on pretty much every platform that they could be, across consoles and computers.

  4. Freud says:

    I think we will see the legs of PC games becoming even longer now that digital download have really broken through. Basically we get a budget market where there is no need for manufacture and distribution, pushing down prices.

  5. Matt W says:

    I can’t remember where I saw this info recently, but I’m reasonably sure that games at the bottom of the UK PC top 40 regularly sell under 100 units that month.

    • subedii says:

      Yeah, my understanding was that as you up the sales charts, sales don’t increase linearly, they increase exponentially. This is the same for any market, books, films, music…

      There’s always a sharp dropoff in sales once you’ve gone past the top ten. I mean yeah, the games sold for ages, but what sort of numbers? Even then, you’ve also got to consider the budget price.

      I go into most any games decent games store in my area and they’ve got racks of PC games selling for £5 and £10, with a small shelf dedicated to new releases. Some of those games are over a decade old but still selling. And yet I’d be willing to bet that apart from a special title or too (Starcraft / Diablo / Deus Ex etc.), a decade old game has only made a tiny fraction of the money over the past 8-9 years of sales, compared to what it made in its first year.

  6. zplzr says:

    looking at amazon’s top 100 pc games Starcraft 2 has been on for 503 days, and Starcraft Battlechest for 1269

    Then again the Logistech Extreme 3d Pro Joystick has been on for 2144

  7. Xercies says:

    Once again proof that the industrys obsession with numbers at the beginning is quite quite wrong when actually to get a length time is just as profitable…slower but by the time your finished i bet you would get more money then any of the latest blockbusters in the long run. Even if it was only £5 imagine that to be in the top 40 for so long it has to be selling quite a bit…for 5 years…you multiply that…its probably a very big number.

    • jeremypeel says:

      Absolutely – I remember Feargus Urquhart (sp?) of Obsidian and Black Isle lamenting how big publishers to this day quantify their games’ success with only the first couple of months of sales. For niche games like RPGs particularly – which due to their perculiar quirks can continue to sell for a decade or so – this simply doesn’t work.

      Also, I spent most of my childhood buying those £5 games everywhere, in PC World, ASDA, W. H. Smiths, you name it. I picked up Thief 1 + 2, Deus Ex, the original GTA, Earthworm Jim, MDK2 and, yes, Rayman, amongst plenty of others. These are the games that have helped form my gaming DNA, their purchases solely based on the boxes they came in.

      The importance of the budget titles cannot be overestimated.

    • subedii says:

      The Witcher managed to clear 1 million in sales, but that was after over a year of solid sales, and just word-of-mouth advertising. I think it eventually managed around 1.5 million or more units, which is pretty freaking good coming from a relatively unknown (internationally) at the time development studio

    • Xercies says:

      Yeah Game’s 3 for £10 deal is where mostly my PC education comes from loads of great games i got for a budget as a kid. Deus Ex, Theme Hospital, Tiberian Sun, NOLF. Budget was great for a kid like me with only £10 a week to spend.

  8. Simon says:

    Wasn’t the original Half-Life in the Top 20 in one form or another for something like five years plus?

  9. Jimbo says:

    All of this tracking data continues to be useless without £ signs next to it.

    How man copies does the 40th most popular PC game sell in a week? 5? 500? How much profit are they making on a £5 game anyway?

  10. Dan Forinton says:

    If you click through to the Grim Dawn website mentioned earlier, there’s a link to an interview with one of Crate Entertainment’s co-founders, during which Titan Quest gets mentioned:

    “Those low initial sales that were supposed to rapidly drop off to nothing never dropped off. The monthly sales never increased to anything impressive but they just kept going and going, longer than anyone could have imaged. After Iron Lore had shut its doors and Crate was struggling through its first year in existence, sales of Titan Quest just kept rolling.
    According to the Electronic Entertainment Design and Research Institute, only 20 percent of games that are released onto store shelves ever become profitable. At the end of 2008 I found out that Titan Quest had managed to claw its way into that 20 percent.”

    • bill says:

      Wow.
      I’d always suspected that was the case, but it’s interesting to see it confirmed.

      I’ve said many times that one of the problems with games is that the lifespan is too short. Games have a lifespan of months, or possibly a few years. Movies, Albums, Books have a lifespan of decades, or even hundreds of years.

      Of course, some people do still play older games (and I’d bet that, like Titan quest, many notoriously small sellers have now made a decent profit), but the publishers tend to make it difficult. they don’t help at all, they often don’t even allow the games to be sold.

      Heck, even their licensing agreements tend to be very short term. Many games have had to be removed from sale because agreements (with license holders, car manufacturers, or music publishers) have expired. Has a movie ever been taken off sale because it featured a car/song that was no longer licensed???? I doubt it.

      So many people turn to abandonware or other questionable methods as the only way to get these kind of games, that could be earning a nice solid unspectacular passive income for their developers/publishers.

      Hopefully things like the Wii Virtual Arcade, GOG and so on have shown publishers that there’s a market for this stuff – but they need to sort out the hardware/os compatibility and licensing issues too.

    • Xercies says:

      I think yeah its pretty damn bad for games, i mean game stores will not seel anything older then what 5 years. Plus what happened to all those 90s games. Just give you an example i can find anywhere unless i pay stupid amounts on ebay: Day of The tentacle, sam and max, grim fandango, system shock 2,(before it was released on steam) Monkey Island, Planescape Torment, Vampire masquarade. I mean some of those are only last decade. What about the ones from the late 80s early 90s. It truly is mad that games even for one platform like PC don’t last for more then ten years without good copyright or good studio system, or its been put on a budget title.

      Movies got there act together pretty well after the 1930s and music well you can get lots of stuff there. Even 30 years of games we still haven’t gotten our act togetehr trying to perserve some of these games and make sure that future genrations can play the classics. Publishers don’t help with all there “must buy the new thing” ways and probably trying to kill off the older games so you buy there new ones.

  11. eclipse mattaru says:

    I thought there would be a link to buy Rayman somewhere, now I really want to play it again =( Also it’s the perfect kind of game for this education in gaming history thing I have going on with my daughter.

    Come on, GOG, keep up with the f’ing program will you!! Less Roberta Williams, more less not having Rayman!!! >=(

  12. bill says:

    I’d imagine that the number of people who’ve played Grim Fandango, Deus Ex, Monkey Island or any other classics is way more than the sales that were reported in the first few years.

    I bought Outcast in store about a year ago, and GOG seems to be doing strong. Though the problem is always one of compatibility.

  13. neems says:

    It’s these sorts of situations that Steam and GOG and GamersGate et al are so fantastic for. Every now and then just trawl through the old and / or cheap games available online and see what takes your fancy. I would imagine that Steam has sold an awful lot of those 1 million copies of Titan Quest.

    Which reminds me, I keep meaning to buy Penumbra.

  14. Ice-Fyre says:

    I wish Steam was more cheaper for old games, but they tend to charge £5 or more than online shops. :-( Battlefield 2 is £14 on steam but £7 odd online! That £7 saving could get me another game. I just get my games online as its cheaper, or go in Game for budget titles, who tend to be cheaper for old games that Steam

  15. Howl says:

    The original Rayman – not the sequels, which were rubbish – is one of the best platform games of all time, IMO. It was very accessible but had tons of hidden ‘hardcore’ segments if you actually went for all the caged Lums (lums? Can’t remember now). When I 100% it, that was a massive gaming achievement for me.

    • Ozzie says:

      Rayman 2 is the only Rayman game I ever enjoyed, despite the horrible camera.
      Rayman 1 was too cute, too customized for kids for me, so I didn’t get joy out of it.
      Rayman 3 might be good too, but it never worked on any of the systems I installed it on.

  16. mystery says:

    Although the IP or face-on-the-box is very important, its the nature of the market that rules and back in the Rayman days it was very different indeed. No digital distribution, as many independant little games shops as the now monstrous chains, no significant online retailers and only a few small catalogue ones, and more importantly prehaps the reliance on monthly magazines to get your gaming info and marketing doses – now you can check up on news and stuff daily online.

    The entire thrust to sell as become faster and faster and therefore more shortlived. We now expect a title to launch and then drop in price after only a few weeks, by which time the online forums and the retailers are desperately trying to sell us the next thing to maximise profits.

    I remember saving up my pocketmoney over a period of months to buy certain 2.99 spectrum games, that were always in the same place on the shelf in the shop waiting for me rather than displayed for a while and then replaced with the next blockbuster release.

  17. Bhazor says:

    Just going to say if you haven’t played Hoodlum Havok because it’s a kids game then you are a damn fool. Damn fool.

  18. ManaTree says:

    I’ve always suspected that the “long tail” model would be something of note.

    Publishers, well, need to stop existing, basically. Studios need to push for independence.

    Lower costs for making games (cut the fat where it’s unnecessary).

    PCs (all OSes) need to shape up a bit too, IMO.

    What else. There’s so much!

  19. impeus says:

    I work for a distributor (though not for games, admittedly). Don’t imagine they’re creaming off the profits – they’re just trying to protect their costs. I’m sure its worse for the developer, yes, but I know I wouldn’t touch anything with anything less than full SOR terms, with a fixed off-sale date. And we’d only pay for net sales AFTER offsale. It might be stifling but its certainly less risky.

  20. UnSub says:

    There are two factors at work here: low price and wide physical distribution. This kind of effect won’t match well to digital distribution in that although online you might have near-infinite distribution, so does every other title. A cheap box and a character that screamed out “safe kids’ game” likely helped Rayman achieve such a long time in the UK charts.

    I also note that Brain Training and GTA came in after Rayman and Worms in the All Formats chart in terms of longevity. Although definitely an achievement, a key question would be about number of units sold and profit per unit in order to determine exactly how well the devs of each game were rewarded for their efforts.

  21. Kdansky says:

    I’m baffled that there is no Blizzard title in there. We all know they sell incredibly well. Up to Warcraft 3, all of them managed to snag the record for “Most units sold in first week”, sometimes from each other… And WoW has subscribers in the 11+ million range (and must therefore have sold in excess of 11 million copies, and another 11 million expansions. Twice.)

    I can hardly believe that they would not show up.

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