Battlefield 1 Crushes DICE’s Past Titles
It is no secret that console retail game sales have struggled in 2016. The obvious question is can the fourth quarter reverse this trend or is this part of a systemic decline in the overall console market? Battlefield 1 is a big test this holiday season.
Of course, for years now the video game industry has relied on big sequels to its major franchises. This includes annual iterations in games like Call of Duty and Madden or FIFA, plus science fiction and fantasy follow-ups such as Bethesda’ RPGs Fallout and Skyrim. The concern is will upcoming sequels release to a market with declining overall sales.
DFC believes that the good news is console game usage is stronger than ever. Based on the performance of Battlefield 1, which officially launched October 21, there is great reason to be optimistic about holiday 2016 and well into 2017.
Battlefield 1 is the latest in the line of first-person shooters developed by Electronic Arts’ DICE division in Sweden. The Battlefield series does not get annual updates and it had been awhile since the last major game in the series. The name Battlefield 1 could be ripe for causing some confusion, as the previous major game was Battlefield 4. But as the first game in the series was Battlefield 1942, and Battlefield 1 is set in the much earlier World War 1 time frame, EA is using the title to call attention to the Great War era.
Battlefield 4 launched way back in October 2013 and sales were a disappointment, in part blamed on the console transition. In November 2015, Electronic Arts launched a Star Wars themed version of the series, Star Wars Battlefront, that was one of the biggest success stories of 2015 and for the fiscal quarter EA reported in shipped 13 million units of the game.
Surprisingly, the World War 1 setting bucks the current trend for futuristic settings in shooters. Major recent FPS games are set in the near future or out right science fiction settings, most notably in this year’s Call of Duty, which started out with a historic WWII setting, and the Titanfall sequels. In fact, the last few Call of Duty games, including the upcoming CoD Infinite Warfare, rely on such similarly themed high-tech weaponry and gadgets that there may be an argument that gamers might be looking for something different. Battlefield 1 may be delivering exactly that by going all the way back to WWI, a setting largely ignored by the video game industry.
Battlefield 1 gives WWI a sense of speed and swagger not normally associated with the technology of the period and in fact more associated with WWII. The game has a clear tone in the single-player campaign around the horrors of war and being cannon fodder as opposed to the generally heroic tone of WWII games. This seems to be resonating with games and Battlefield 1 has achieved critical reviews in the 85%-plus range. In our playtesting we were impressed how the narrative jumped from exciting combat zone moment to exciting combat zone moment quickly, which keeps the game from bogging down in the general horrors of the conflict. All of these aspects can be reasons why there is a boost of interest in the title.
Early numbers from DFC tracking are suggesting EA could have a huge hit on its hands. The chart below shows daily peak concurrent users (DPCC) of Battlefield 1 compared to Battlefield 4 and Star Wars Battlefront (SWBF). The data only goes back to December 2015 so the best comparison is with Star Wars Battlefront, which had massive sales in that launch month. The data shows that when combining PC and all console SKUs for each title, Battlefield 1 is crushing Star Wars Battlefront’s peak by 2:1.
Breaking down Battlefield 1 by platform, we see PS4 already breaking 350,000 DPCC with Xbox One just under 300,000 and PC just under 200,000. On Xbox One (and PC) it was available Oct 13 for EA Access members. Non-members on Xbox One, PC, as well as on PS4, could start playing as of Oct 18 if they bought the $80 digital deluxe pre-order edition. So once the masses got to it PS4 caught up quickly and, as expected, overtook Xbox One.
Overall the strong reception given Battlefield 1 is a major positive for holiday sales. In DFC Intelligence’s latest global forecasts it is estimated that 2016 sales in the console market would be flat. However, packaged software sales for Xbox One and more importantly PlayStation 4, are expected to grow 14% in 2016 and see further growth in 2017, even as digital sales grow faster. The initial strong reception for Battlefield 1 shows that gamers are ready to go for something new and exciting. – Jeremy Miller