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gamescom 2017 – Media coverage analysis

This is the week after gamescom, and as is tradition, I have some numbers to share about the event. I will reference data from previous years (some slightly adjusted), as this exercise has been done now for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

gamescom 2017

New dates

As for the last 3 years in a row, the dates have changed, with gamescom roughly a week later than the previous year. Moreover, it now starts on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, and ends on the Saturday rather than the Sunday. For professionals (at least the ones coming from Europe), it has the advantage of covering the work week, you can easily be back home on Friday.

Press Conferences

Microsoft kind-of had a press event? It was more similar to the Nintendo Direct format, with no onsite event, just a live video event being streamed. For reference, the last time Sony had a press event at gamescom was in 2014; while Microsoft skipped last year.

The Microsoft event seemed very weak to me. They only announced one new game for Xbox, Jurassic World Evolution, and it is not a very strong fit for a console genre-wise. They actually held their best game announcement for the following day, revealing a new Age of Empires is coming. The limited Scorpio edition also got decent coverage, but it seems to me it is more a sign of how light the event was in content.

Numbers

I went and pulled the attendance numbers from the previous years, to see how gamescom is doing in that regard. You can find the 2017 numbers here.

gamescom is not growing much. It seems to have reach its critical mass a few years ago now. I was wondering if the change of dates, especially not having the Sunday anymore, would impact the attendance numbers negatively, but it seemingly had no effect, or it might have even helped that slight growth in attendance.

Trade visitors is also very stable, even if lower than the peak seen in 2015. 30,000 professionals attending is quite impressive, it has to be said.

The number of exhibitors though is ever increasing. The multiplication of smaller companies (indie studios; micro publishers; other vendors) is probably at play here.

There are also the odd exhibitors, whose presence is always a bit confusing:

https://twitter.com/icotom/status/899550107779178497

gamescom in the media

This year’s edition of gamescom was relatively underwhelming when it comes to strong media beats (new games; high profile announcements; trailers on high expectation games) – and the media coverage would reflect this.

gamescom 2017 has seen the worse performance where media coverage is concerned since I started tracking it in 2014. Arguably, the numbers stay in the same range as the ones of 2014 and 2016, but it seems like on one hand Microsoft didn’t put any real show with its media event; while on the other hand no one picked up on the opportunity that gamescom represents.

Looking at the volume of media coverage per languages, it is interesting to see the past trend of increased visibility of the event with English media continues. The drop of German coverage (both in volume of articles and number of media) is intriguing and might be the results of a shift in the German media landscape.

The Platforms

With Xbox having an extra dedicated event, it should not be surprising that it secured more coverage during the week of gamescom, regardless of how weak the announcements there were. Xbox One X is getting a lot of attention as the newest hardware to be available, and the games supporting it got their fair bit of coverage.

Despite 2017 being weak overall, it is the best gamescom for Xbox since I started tracking media exposure. I find it very interesting that at the Cologne Messe, in the public area, the Xbox booth was actually quite small again. Microsoft seems to be careful with their spending there, at least for the second year in a row. Both Nintendo and Sony had vastly larger spaces, but even major publishers, or game studios had more space. It seemed to me that the Farming Simulator’s booth was only a third of Xbox’. And the Wargaming booth, also in the same hall, was probably twice as big.

Despite this being a good year, I can’t help and wonder how much it could have been for Microsoft with a stronger line-up of reveals considering their performance with their half-hearted presence.

Rather than compare the media performance of the Switch to the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One, I found it much more interesting to present it compared to the Wii and Wii U coverage of previous years. Like at E3, Nintendo is really ramping compared to during the Wii era. This weeks Showcase was also very interesting on the indie front, and should contribute to Nintendo media coverage growth.

The Games

Games in orange were the ones first announced during this gamescom (arguably, Biomutant leaked a few days earlier).

Like last year, these were the top 30 games based on their media coverage. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Final Fantasy XV had multiple announcements that week, taking it to the lead in coverage. Interestingly, it was also a top game last year.
  • Overwatch is still very strong in the media. Blizzard is quite careful about always having announcements to make during gamescom, and it is paying off.
  • Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds took a while to build its media presence. The Xbox One port is certainly helping, but the general strong interest in the title is putting it firmly on the list of media darlings, in a similar way to Rocket League.
  • Biomutant’s strong media presence is proving that gamescom is an excellent opportunity for publishers with less muscle than the publishing powerhouses using E3 as their main media event of the year.
  • Jurassic World Evolution and Age of Empires IV, the two new titles announced by Microsoft, secured a significant amount of coverage, but nothing actually crazy. Most of Microsoft media coverage was around the titles supporting the new Xbox One X, rather new games.

Closing Words

Next year, gamescom’s dates are for once not changing. They keep the Tuesday to Saturday formula, at the end of August. It will be interesting to see if more companies decide to use it as a springboard to announce new titles, following the steps of THQ Nordic’s Biomutant.

 

Post-Scriptum – If you have been following us for a while, you might have recognized Martin Rabl, an ICO alumni, on the coverage of Angela Merkel’s visit of gamescom:

E3 2017 Media Coverage Analysis – aka “Who won the E3 media battle?”

[EDIT – the dataset initially used didn’t properly cover the articles published on the 10th of June, making the EA coverage much lower than it should be. I have replaced the following graphs: Top 15 Games; Publishers Conferences Compared; Publishers in the Media]

It’s that time of year again: the week after E3, and time for me to go over the numbers and media coverage from the show, as per tradition. If this the first time for you, please fee free to have a look at the methodology used, and read the blog posts for 2015 and 2016.

Platforms

First, looking at the biggest players at E3, the console manufacturers, in many ways this was an interesting year in light of their performance at previous E3’s.

For the first time since we started measuring media coverage at E3 in 2014, Sony is not leading. It has to be said that the gap between them and Microsoft is very small, but this comes on the back of Microsoft growing for the 4th year in a row, and where Sony had its 3rd best performance out of 4 companies (on the back of its best performance last year).

Nintendo, on the other hand, has had its best E3, doubling the coverage they got last year. The Switch is clearly a commercial success and is also popular with the media. With a smaller lineup than its competitors, it is quite the performance for them. The wider 3rd party program, with Ubisoft’s partnership at the forefront, is likely a significant contribution.

Like last year, I created a Google Spreadsheet to list all the announcements done at E3’s press events – feel free to have a look for your own analysis of the lineup announced for each company:

https://twitter.com/icotom/status/874684542220722176

Personally, here are my thoughts on the 3 manufacturer press events:

  • Microsoft. It was their best E3 conference to date, as far as I am concerned. They finally hit the right tone in their announcements. However, nothing they have announced is really pushing the Xbox consoles over their competitors. Not many exclusives that would drive someone to pick an Xbox over anything else. The Xbox One X, if anything, is a console for the convinced customer, the one already in the ecosystem.
  • Sony. The conference wasn’t mind-blowing, and the media coverage reflects this, but I think Sony was just playing it safe. There have been enough PlayStation exclusives to come out ahead of the show to allow them to message the console as the better alternative in terms of catalogue. The numerous VR games shown was a great reminder of the PlayStation VR, a strong differentiator when compared to other consoles. My biggest issue with the event was the format. It was hard to understand if the pre-show was meant to be considered as part of the main event – and many of the more interesting projects were revealed there. I will also note that during the show, the dates of this year’s PlayStation Experience were announced. This is a strong message that PSX is becoming the main press event for Sony, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve held back a number of high-profile announcements.
  • Nintendo. The numbers are quite telling – this was the best E3 for Nintendo in years. They were coming off of the back of an excellent launch for the Switch, and announced a number of high-profile games that are coming out very soon for the console. In terms of short-term hype, this was brilliantly executed. I am still somewhat confused by the Pokemon and Metroid Prime 4 announcements – they are likely to hype a core fanbase, and have the risk of setting expectations beyond what is being developed. I find announcements of this type are better done with something to show in order to frame what is being put together. But who knows with Nintendo? They may well knock these titles straight out of the ballpark.

Looking at specific platforms, a few things are interesting to highlight:

The Switch got more coverage than the Xbox One X last week – which is impressive considering the higher profile of the Xbox brand. Also impressive: the 3DS is still getting a decent amount of coverage.

 

The main point to consider, looking at the reach of each console, is the fact that the Xbox brand seems to be very good at getting covered by higher profile media. The short lead the Xbox One has over the PS4 is translated to a more significant lead in reach. And the Xbox One X, being slightly behind in terms of the number of articles compared to the Switch, sees a significant lead when considering the corresponding reach.

Finally, I wanted to check the VR device coverage, to compare it with last years.

Again, PSVR is leading. But, there were about half as many articles as at last E3. That’s a steep decline, most likely due to the fact that the speculation on VR is now in a different phase, with all the devices on the market and being known quantities.

Games

Like the previous year, I looked at the top games based on the volume of media coverage.

 

Here are a few thoughts coming to me immediately after looking at this list of games:

  • [This was what was initially written in the article] EA didn’t do as well as last year. At that time, they had two games that had more than 2,000 articles. This year, Anthem, their best performing game, doesn’t reach that threshold. It’s interesting to note that Anthem is the only newly announced IP on the list.
  • [EDIT –  Anthem and Star Wars Battlefront 2 show up as two very strong titles in the EA line-up, bringing the total number of games passing the 2,000 articles during E3 week to 3 this year, compared to 5 in 2016. EA keeps 2 titles in that threshold though, a solid, constant performance.]
  • Assassin’s Creed Origins is leading for a number of reasons: the game was featured significantly at 2 press events (Microsoft and Ubisoft) on top of being playable at E3.
  • Skyrim is marked with an asterisk because it featured in a few different capacities: the Switch Port during the Nintendo conference, the PSVR port during the Sony conference, as well as the fact that the next expansion for Elder Scrolls Legends is featuring Skyrim. This means it’s more difficult than usual to point to this as a game singularly featured.
  • With only one game in the 2,000+ articles category for coverage, 2017 is a year with weaker big game announcements than 2016 (which had 5 games in the 2,000+). It says nothing about the quality of the games of course – it is purely a statement of their media coverage.

There were 3 publisher-powered press conferences this year, with Square Enix skipping it again this year. Ubisoft, after three years of growth, is finally coming on top, in large part thanks to the Assassin’s Creed Origins coverage.

[This was what was initially written in the article] EA didn’t seem to manage to secure the right attention. It might be the EA Play formula that didn’t work as well as last year (a single location this time), it might mean the lineup didn’t catch the attention in the same way that last year did. It has to be said that FIFA 18 being a top game for EA this year isn’t actually a good sign, as FIFA 18 didn’t get as much coverage as FIFA 17 had last year. The most disappointing of all is the coverage for Battlefront 2, considering the power of the Star Wars brand and the release this winter of Episode 8.

[EDIT – With the proper dataset, EA’s performance is much more in line with the profile of the company over the past few years, with Star Wars Battlefront II as a top game, and Anthem’s performing very well, in great part due to the double featuring at the EA conference and the Microsoft event]

Bethesda did OK – the two new games obviously getting most of the coverage. But the really strong IPs of the publisher, Elder Scrolls and Fallout, had no revolutionary announcements around them, and in that respect, Bethesda still performed quite well considering.

Finally, Ubisoft’s conference was praised by many attendees and analysts as the best of the show. It had a wide range or projects showcased, an unexpected number of new projects revealed. The lineup was very strong, and then Ubisoft also managed to throw a few curve balls. The fact that they’re going after the declining toys-to-life market with Starlink was totally unexpected, for instance.

Looking into the publishers’ names and how often they were mentioned in the media reinforces the apparent success of Ubisoft:

All 3 companies with a press event did far better than all the others which didn’t. Bethesda and EA both had significantly less coverage than last year though (-25% for EA; -15% for Bethesda). And to nail down Ubisoft’s stellar performance this year, you can look at the progression over the past two years:

Case studies

No short selection of games for this year’s case studies. Instead, I looked at how 2 games’ coverage evolved year-on-year, and how two games from Klei compared to each other a year apart.

After its 4th year being featured at E3, Cuphead is finally going to be released. This illustrates quite nicely how much having a release date helps you coverage-wise. At this point, the game has been covered a lot over the years. The fatigue shows through the numbers at E3 2016, so the 2017 numbers overall indicate a very good performance for a game of that profile.

In its third year at E3, the Dontnod title coverage illustrates a few interesting points:

  • Its first year at E3, the game wasn’t featured at any conference, and it had a very decent coverage considering.
  • Last year, it was featured during the PC Gaming Show, showing the significant visibility this smaller press conference can still bring you.
  • This year is the last one before the game releases. The date has been announced, a feature video was released the previous week (and thus mostly absent in the numbers above), gameplay was at the center of the communication at this E3’s beats. A strong coverage overall, even if not in the range of blockbusters.

These projects by Klei are very interesting to compare: they were both revealed at the PC Gaming Show. It is very difficult to get comparable data over time, but this is quite interesting – two games by the same developer, announced at the same conference at E3.

I haven’t shared data over the PC Gaming Show in the past, and it is mostly because the branding is not as strong and many announcements get relayed without mentioning the event. The fact that a games media outlet is attached to the event as the organizer might play a significant part too. Anyhow, there is evidence of growth in coverage for games featured at this event, and Klei’s games illustrate this quite nicely.

Closing words

I have always felt a bit conflicted about titling these articles “Who won E3?” as there is much more to the data than that. However, this year’s E3 is a bit of an exception. The announcements made, the reaction of the media to them, the progress of the media coverage over the past few years; all of this make me want to declare two, very complementary “winners”.

Nintendo – as they come back into the spotlight and significantly increase their media presence, this has certainly been the best E3 in years for them.

Ubisoft – with their numerous announcements, the way they were orchestrated, and the stellar execution of the Beyond Good and Evil 2 trailer release, all explain how they ended up as the leading publisher of this E3 in terms of coverage.

And I want to think that the two companies’ partnership also played a big role, and is probably not a coincidence considering the position they both have at present in the industry, and their respective challenges.

A few technical notes

Why Nintendo and not the Wii?

In the graphs on consoles over the past 3 years, I am comparing the PlayStation and Xbox brands to Nintendo. The fact is that the other consoles have consistent brands whereas Nintendo machines are using multiple brands. Moreover, Sony and Microsoft are two companies with activities spread across multiple industries and cannot fairly be compared to Nintendo, when we look at articles on games. Nintendo is also a strong publisher, and its brand is more established than one of its consoles, compared to Sony and Microsoft. Comparing platforms to brands is the best way to have comparable results to look at the Nintendo brand, rather than the Wii for instance (or even a combination of the Nintendo consoles).

What is the reach value?

* Like last year, I am referring a few times to the notion of reach. Here is a reminder about it:

The following graph requires some pre-explanation. In order to measure the magnitude of an article, with have created a formula based on the websites’ Alexa ranking to give their articles different “weight”. The more popular the website, the more weight we give to their article. This value is called Reach in our tools and range from 0.1 to 10. For example, currently, Eurogamer.net has a reach of 10, Gamasutra.com has a reach of 8, Road to VR has a reach of 6. So what you see below, is a chart of the total reach of all the articles showed above. We refresh the reach values constantly.

Media coverage analysis – Launch of the Nintendo Switch

This is the third article of media coverage analysis for the Nintendo Switch, but it’s the most important one as the console has now been released. While I will discuss previous announcements, you can read again the posts about the console’s first announcement and the January event that revealed most of the details about it.

The console has now been widely available for 3 weeks, and we can look at both the announcement, and some level of data over time, to see how it looks for this new console.

Hardware Coverage Comparison

With our data only going back to early 2014, there are no comparable launches to compare the Nintendo Switch with. For lack of better comparisons, I had a look at the coverage of the first announcements for the PS4 Pro, the PS VR and the Xbox Scorpio, and the coverage of the launches of the PS4 Pro and PSVR.

The PS4 Pro initial announcement was during a Sony event, and set out a lot of details for the new machine. The way the communication was structured for it, there was a short cycle between the announcement and the launch (2 months), and the fact the announcement was done outside of other industry events allowed it to garner significant coverage. The initial announcement also served as in-depth reveal for that matter.

The PSVR initial announcement (as project Morpheus at the time) was done during GDC 2014, and was still very vague on any details. That first reveal wasn’t massive with media coverage. Interestingly, 2 years later, at GDC 2016, the reveal of the details of the device and its price point was its biggest beat.

Project Scorpio (next Xbox One iteration) was first announced during E3 2016, and beyond the fact it would have the highest quality pixels that anybody has seen, Microsoft didn’t provide many details during the announcement. We are basically still waiting for the device’s in-depth announcement, which is likely to be at this year’s E3, leading to a launch before the holiday season.

The communication on the Nintendo Switch was very controlled, and beyond the initial announcement and the in-depth reveal, there were no real major beats before the launch. The only other communication was earlier in the week of the launch with a number of indie titles announced (some officially by Nintendo and a good number of others announced by their respective publishers).

So, what does it mean for the Nintendo Switch announcements and launch?

First, launches are not as exciting as the reveals of the details of the console. By the time they hit the market, the story is a bit dull and generally consists of a reminder of what the console is, probably its line up and the fact that “yes, you can buy it now”. The fact they don’t garner as much coverage as the in-depth reveals despite having a line-up of games immediately available that also should drive coverage seem to highlight that media still prioritise hardware news over games. In that respect, the media coverage of the Nintendo Switch, while significantly higher than the other two devices we can compare it to, is nothing incredibly impressive. The fact is, there were fewer articles mentioning the Nintendo Switch than the PlayStation 4 on the days of the launch, and that’s probably a direct consequence from the small line-up on the Switch, and the impressive head-start Sony has when it comes to media relations.

Second, in-depth events are the ones that matter the most to get coverage. Is it obvious? Absolutely, but I think you should always approach analysis with an open mind and getting evidence of the obvious is still a good take away. What is also very interesting is the relative success of this reveals. The Nintendo Switch being in January, outside of any events, and being quite close to the actual launch, really paid off in my opinion there for Nintendo.

To get a better sense of the Nintendo Switch potential for media coverage, let’s look at coverage over time, rather than at scheduled events.

 

Console coverage patterns

[please note that all the data presented here is as of March 26th – all monthly data labelled as March 2017 are until that date]

 

I have added the Wii U to the mix from the graph over time as  I think it is essential to understand where Nintendo is coming from in terms of their console media coverage.

So what is transpiring here:

  • As we mentioned many times before, the PlayStation 4 is the clear leader when it comes to console media coverage, and this is a constant. Even when looking at the weekly coverage volumes, since January 2015, only once did the Xbox One secure more coverage than the PlayStation 4. It was the week of the gamescom 2015, where Microsoft held a press conference and Sony did not. The gap between the two is actually widening over time.
  • Microsoft doesn’t seem to be learning from Sony when it comes to making big announcements outside of major industry events. Or even outside of E3. That dependence on E3 seems like a very risky strategy. Yes, E3 is still clearly the most important event of the year when it comes to coverage of the video games industry, but at the moment, Microsoft is not learning how to also do announcements at other times. Sony’s September event drove coverage to the level of their E3 weekly coverage, and when it comes to monthly coverage, it was their best month since we started tracking the articles mentioning the PlayStation 4. The Xbox One’s best month was June and E3.
  • The Wii U has been lagging behind the other consoles for a long time now. The decline is clearly visible, and even a major release like Zelda Breath of the Wild doesn’t seem to have much of an effect – it is clear the console is a very low priority for the media. Again, this is not an unexpected result, but we can now see the scale of it.
  • The Nintendo Switch is having an excellent start. Of course, a lot of that coverage is thanks to the January in-depth reveal that got really good coverage, and the momentum of the launch, but for a console with such a limited line-up, it seems that there is significant interest for the console, outside of just the launch. If the average weekly coverage stays around 4,000 articles/week, that puts it a bit above half of the Xbox One weekly average and at 40% of the PlayStation 4 weekly average, which would be an excellent foundation for Nintendo to build on.

 

Conclusion

Nintendo is getting a new console cycle, and the media seem to be keen on supporting it for now. It has a long way to go still, but they didn’t make any significant mistakes so far, and despite a very small launch line-up they secured a decent amount of coverage, and the poor interest for the Wii U doesn’t seem to have damaged the interest for the Switch. They also seem to have learned to make their announcements on their own time and not let major events dictate their calendar. Interestingly, they have just announced that they are planning a “big E3”, which is probably the next important series of announcements for them to get right to stay relevant and present in the media.