It's not been a good few months if you pay attention to the UK sales charts. There have been a handful of success stories: Mafia III, against all odds, exceeded expectations – while Battlefield 1 has done well for itself. But by and large, it's been a quarter of catastrophic sequels: Titanfall 2? Down. Gears of War 4? Down. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare? Down. Dishonored 2? Down. Watch Dogs 2? Down. Final Fantasy XV? Well, we're going to have to wait and see.
But just what's going on? The declines in some cases are massive: Ubisoft's aforementioned hack-'em-up has reportedly fallen some 300,000 units short of its predecessor's launch tally in the UK. Yes, you can chalk up greater competition and a maturing generation for the decline, but surely it should be doing better than that? Titanfall 2 actually launched on more platforms than its forebear, debuting for the first time on the PlayStation 4 – but still came up short.
Digital sales are on the rise, and the likes of Chart-Track don't take those numbers into account. But publishers seem to indicate that, while it accounts for a greater share of the market these days, a maximum of 30 per cent or so sales are coming through virtual shopping plazas like the PlayStation Store – certainly not enough to make up for some of the declines that we're seeing this Christmas in the UK at least.
This generation seemed new and exciting in the heady days of 2014, but the new intellectual properties have dried up
Perhaps there's a fatigue setting in? This generation seemed new and exciting in the heady days of 2014, but the new intellectual properties have dried up, and escalating development budgets have pushed publishers down the path of producing more of the same. No Man's Sky, for all its eventual flaws, generated significant interest because it promised something new and different, and while it didn't quite pan out in the final product, its sales reflected that intrigue.
But then, if it's new and interesting that the market is yearning for, then surely The Last Guardian should be setting pre-order records right now? In reality, the long-awaited Team ICO title will probably flounder – even if its reviews are strong. It's not even that people are sticking with the tried and tested: FIFA 17 may be doing well as always, but Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare couldn't come close to keeping up with Black Ops III – itself in decline from the franchise's heydays.
Maybe the turbulent climate in the UK right now is to blame, with the October NPD painting a contrasting 6 per cent uplift in software sales year-over-year in the United States. Or perhaps it's a case of discount culture taking hold: Black Friday is right around the corner, and games like Titanfall 2 are already beginning to be cut in price. Perhaps the market is simply getting wiser to waiting for price drops, which seem to come quicker than ever these days.
Whatever the reasons, it's clearly not been a great holiday for the big brands – in the UK, like we say. If the issue is one of fatigue, then the major publishers may be sweating, because with development cycles so elongated these days, it's going to take time for them to change course. Let's hope, then, that this is merely a bubble of bad results, which will pop with the arrival of Horizon: Zero Dawn and Mass Effect Andromeda in the New Year.
What do you think has been the reason for this holiday season's seemingly endless run of bad results? Are you buying less games than you have in previous years, and if so, why? Do you think that this trend is going to continue, or is it just a blip? Draw some graphs in the comments section below.