How We Talk About Games: The Division Breaks Launch Records

How We Talk About Games: The Division Breaks Launch Records

Ubisoft says The Division has broken launch records, but the company lack real numbers to back up the PR.

Ubisoft announced that 24 hours after launch, The Division has sold-through more copies than any other game in the company's history. Ubisoft Massive's title set records for Ubisoft sales on digital sales on PC, Xbox One, and Playstation. The company also revealed that the game had one of the best new game brand launches in history, a list that includes Destiny and two other Ubisoft games, Assassin's Creed and Watch_Dogs.

"We're extremely happy with The Division's record-breaking launch," said Ubisoft Massive managing director David Polfeldt said in the press release. "The Division really represents Ubisoft at its best, with the Massive team and all the teams at our associate studios working at maximum capacity in highly-productive collaboration to deliver an incredibly innovative and entertaining new game."

This has been a huge game in the making for Ubisoft. The company has been defined by its open-world titles, but now those games are beginning to see significant online components. The Division and The Crew are both Ubisoft titles that are open-world, but also essentially operate like massively-multiplayer online games.

"Internally, I've heard people saying that for Ubisoft there will be a 'before The Division' and an 'after The Division,'" Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told Polygon. "That signifies how incredible we think the game is and how much we think it has to offer to players."

Everything above sounds really good, I just have no clue what it means. The previous holder of the "fastest-selling in 24 hours" title was Watch_Dogs, which went on to sell 4 million copies in its first week. The Division is better than that, but will it continue? What are those 24 hour numbers?

I always find it odd how game companies will do their best to hide the numbers when the time comes. Metrics aren't always readily available in other mediums, but for the most part, I know how much a movie has made each week thanks to box office numbers and can clearly track television ratings every single night. Are these numbers perfect? No, the Nielsen ratings for television are known for missing viewers who watch shows on streaming platforms, but at least they're better than nothing.

Even in Japan, we have the weekly Media Create data, which gives us a clear picture of how many copies of each game were solid per platform. The NPD Group, which tracks video games retail sales in the United States, used to give out hard numbers, but decided to change that practice in 2007. The NPD Group charges for those numbers instead, meaning they're only for corporate customers, not the rank and file.

"Beginning with the October sales data, which is due later this month, NPD is going to cut way back on what they share on a monthly basis with their non-paying customers, i.e. media," former Newsweek writer N'Gai Croal wrote back in 2007. "Software sales figures will only be given for the Top Five SKUs, not the Top Ten as we normally receive. We'll eventually receive hardware numbers and Top Ten software numbers, but only on a quarterly and annual basis. There are signs that this may only be a temporary pullback, but for now, this is where things stand. As you can see, this is going to make our job more difficult."

This leads to others coming up with ways to glean that information, like the Steam Spy service that estimates Steam game sales by mining data that's already available on the service. I can check that to see that around 338,000 people own Stardew Valley on Steam, which is pretty damn successful for an indie game. That's valuable information for some readers and journalists. It provides insight into how well a game is doing, which allows us to speculate on future support or follow-ups. It helped me write this article about Japanese developers finding a solid market on Steam with ports of older titles.

I'm happy to hear that the Division is doing well for Ubisoft Massive. I'm sure it's exciting for all that hard work to pay off. But talk of sales records without any specificity isn't particularly useful. It's pure PR. That can reinforce social pressure, convincing people to buy the game because everyone else is already playing it, or let shareholders know that The Division wasn't a costly boondoggle. (It might help Ubisoft fend off that Vivendi takeover.) Beyond that, there's no real need for the information and little reason to report it, which is why I generally don't. I just find it increasingly odd that there's a lack of readily available information.

Microsoft's decision not to share Xbox One sales numbers only makes the console look weaker, given Sony's ongoing releases of PlayStation 4 sales. Likewise, leaving out real sales numbers feels like worry and doubt. "Game X is successful, but what if others could tell that it's not as successful as Game Z?"

I feel like publishers are saying. NPD Group deciding not to release those numbers for financial reasons makes some sense. A company declining to do so makes me think they're not really confident in those numbers. Hopefully that confidence will grow in the future.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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