Gaming and I have a lot in common. We both lose a lot of money because of college football.
EA Sports didn’t release a new NCAA Football game in July, and while that hurt sales, it was anticipated. What analysts weren’t expecting was for PlayStation 4’s The Last of Us to come up short. New game sales at U.S. retail were down 15 percent year-over-year, according to industry tracking firm The NPD Group. That is worse than the down 11 percent that Cowen & Company analyst Doug Creutz was predicting, and he lays the blame at Sony’s headline July release.
“The PS4 version of The Last of Us undersold our estimate by about 50,000 units,” Creutz wrote in a note to investors. “And it was the single biggest factor in the miss versus our expectations.”
The Last of Us, a cinematic survival adventure that was GamesBeat’s game of the year when it first came out for the PlayStation 3 in 2013, actually finished July as the top-selling game of the month. It’s weird to say something that does that is a disappointment, but the fact is that last month was dismal. The Last of Us simply didn’t have to do much to top the software chart. With no new college football game, new releases took a nosedive compared to a year ago.
“July is typically a quiet month for software sales, representing about 5 percent of annual sales,” NPD analyst Liam Callahan said yesterday. “Typically, EA’s NCAA Football launches in July, and [it] often ranks as the top game. As that title is no longer being produced, new launch sales declined steeply — close to 70 percent in July 2014.”
In fact, The Last of Us’s sales were bad enough to offset better-than-expected performances from three of the biggest publishers. Activision’s new game sales at U.S. retail were down 28 percent year over year, which is better than Cowen’s down 38 percent estimate. EA was down 48 percent, which is better than the down 51 percent. And Take-Two beat Cowen’s guidance of down 30 percent by only dropping 21 percent.
While The Last of Us’s lackluster performance and the absence of NCAA Football put a damper on July’s software sales, hardware still performed well. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 sold enough to help total U.S. game retail to grow by 16 percent compared to July 2013. Paying for those systems now means that consumers have less money to spend on games this month, but it also means that more people will have the right hardware when publishers start shipping new software this fall.
I say fall because August is looking like another rough month for game sales.
“We expect August sales to be down about 10 percent year-over-year,” said Creutz.
Catalog sales for the last seven months won’t do much this month, and Madden NFL 15, which will likely sell better than last year’s Madden NFL 25, won’t completely offset the software’s 2014 sluggishness.
Last August saw Saints Row IV, Disney Infinity, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist, which is a much beefier release slate than Madden and PS4 and Xbox One versions of Diablo III. The negative year-over-year comparison will likely continue through September because nothing coming out this year will perform like last year’s Grand Theft Auto V. Next month will see the release of NHL 15, The Sims 4, and Destiny.
“We continue to believe that Q4 comparisons are likely to be double-digit positive due to a strong slate of titles and what we expect to be robust holiday hardware sales,” Creutz wrote. “We think physical software sales alone have a chance to finish in positive territory, though increasingly the digital plus physical number is the relevant — and unfortunately unmeasurable — comparison given that digital full-game downloads on console appear to be reaching a double-digit percentage of total sales.”