It's fair to say that UKIE's video game sales charts for the UK haven't exactly been giving us the big picture for a while now.
Each week the organization declares the number one best-selling video game title in the UK -- but chances are that's not actually the top-selling title at all. That's because the UKIE charts don't incorporate digital sales data at all, missing out a significant portion of the market, especially where PC game sales are concerned.
UKIE is well aware of this, and for the last year and a half has been slogging away to make digital sales data a reality in its charts. From June this reality will be realized, as the new digital and boxed sales portal will go live.
But this upcoming launch is a lot more than some pretty charts to look at -- it's a movement. UKIE can't get a good overview of digital sales from around the world with only a handful of developers, and that's why the company is today asking for support from studios, both triple-A and indie, from around the world.
Call to digital arms
Here's how it works: UKIE has signed agreements with 10 publishers, including Disney, EA, NCSoft, Sega, Square Enix and Ubisoft, who will provide their UK digital sales data.
If you want to see that data completely free of charge, and updated on a monthly basis, you can sign up to UKIE's charts now, and submit your own sales data. The data is first verified through digital distributors like Green Man Gaming and Get Games, and then you'll be granted access to sales data for all studios and publishers involved in the system on a confidential basis.
(Oh, and if you're wondering whether Steam is involved, Valve isn't supplying data directly to UKIE -- however, UKIE says that it is able to verify and audit Steam data direction from developers and publishers on the platform.)
Note that the sales information will only be available to those studios who are submitting their own data. The outside world will only see top sales charts with exact figures omitted, although UKIE may pull specifics from time-to-time with the permission of companies.
The idea is that as more and more developers jump on board, you'll be given all of this sales information for free, and the amount of data available will grow to the point that it is extremely useful to those involved. Imagine being about to filter the data such that you can look at how other indie games in your specific genre are selling, or how preorders affect sales.
DLC sales are also considered. Take Tomb Raider
, for example -- you're able to see each version of the game reported individually, from platforms to special editions to DLC, so you can gauge which type of DLC sold well, and whether for example selling lots of DLC at lower prices works better than selling less DLC at high prices.
It's notable that boxed data and digital data can also be combined and separated, potentially giving valuable information about how the two sales markets are faring against each other.
Right now UKIE is only looking for data from any company who is selling end products to users in the UK, and only wants the data for the UK territory. This means any developer can get involved at all, no matter where you are in the world, but of course it means the data might not be so useful to those studios that are primarily targeting other territories.
The UK digital charts for March 2013 -- note that these only includes sales data from 10 companies
UKIE's Sam Collins assured me that UKIE has its sights set on the rest of the world once the UK charts are firmly in place.
"We've built it scaleable, so we can [go global in the future]," he says. "What we've said to companies is, let's start with the UK, let's prove it works, and then expand it. We're just proving that we can do the UK before we take it further."
Why should indies care?
The chart you see just above is rather misleading. It shows the UK digital and boxed sales for March 2013, but it only includes the 10 companies currently involved in the closed beta -- hence why there's so much EA.
Now imagine that chart, but with data from developers all over the world included. Imagine a chart dedicated to indie games. Picture another that shows the best-selling indie roguelikes. Now imagine that along with these charts, you had access to the exact digital sales figures for each and every one (on a confidential basis.)
This, says James Brooksby at Born Ready Games (Strike Suit Zero
), is why indies need to get involved now. His studio has been talking with UKIE about the digital charts for a while now, and he hopes that as many indies get involved as possible.
"We need to be able to make certain business decisions," he says, "and this is something that can help us not go out of business. By being a member and contributing, we get data so that we can make better decisions."
The level of data available could potentially go beyond simply seeing what sorts of DLC sell well, notes Brooksby. For example, when a developer drops the price of their game as part of a sale, other studios will then be able to see how the price drop affected sales, and this will allow them to better judge what sort of price drops they should do on their own games.
This means indies can make potentially harmful decisions less risky, "so that you don't go into it blind" notes Brooksby.
It's not difficult for indies to get involved either. A simple email to UKIE will get the ball rolling, and then it's a case of adding your data to the system each month to gain access to the sales figures for everyone else. This can take just five minutes each month if you only have a handful of games to your name.
What about consoles? Mobile? Free-to-play?
It's all well and good that UKIE plans to expand beyond the UK in the future, but the current setup is still rather small fry. From June, the charts will only focus on PC full game and digital sales figures, with consoles and mobile not yet ready to go.
UKIE decided to start with PC because "it was a good platform to start with in terms of accessing the data," Collins tells me. "Plus, PC is probably the most mature platform that has moved to digital. It's a lot further down the road than a lot of these platforms."
However, the company is currently having conversations with the likes of Microsoft for Xbox Live Arcade data, and Sony for PSN data. "These are hurdles to go through," Collins notes.
As for mobile games data, UKIE is open to the idea. "Whatever measures people in the group want us to bring in, we'll do our best to get hold of that, so long as we're not replacing a system that's already doing it efficiently," he says.
"If there is already a good measure from another company out there, we're not going to replace it with a new one -- we'll have to find a way to work with that organization. So we're not treading on toes here."
And in-app purchases are also being considered. "We've discussed within the group whether we can do free-to-play and in-app purchases," Collins says. "The system can cope with it. It's just a case of getting companies to put that data in. Once we get enough companies putting that data in, we'll start reporting it."
Here's the bottom line then: This digital sales chart will only work if developers get involved. It seems like it's a hugely worthwhile cause too, given that you can potentially watch sales trends unfold before your eyes simply by entering some numbers into a box every month.
Those developers looking to get involved with the system should get in touch with Sam Collins at UKIE