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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.

 

 

Games in the media in 2016 – Overwatch comes out on top

To complete the usual series of blog posts reviewing the past year, I present to you 2016 and video games in the media.

Like last year, bear in mind that we are using our internal tool to collect these numbers, and understanding the methodology is important. It is particularly worth mentioning this year Pokemon Go is definitely making things crazy. Or crazier than usual I should say. In order to account for that, a lot of the numbers presented here are limited to video games media. We do have General Interest and Tech media in our tools, but they are not as exhaustively collected on our end.

Games

 

Let’s address Pokemon Go now. I wrote about the game shortly after the launch, and while things have calmed down since July, the game is still receiving an impressive amount of coverage daily, even at times where there is no new update to discuss.

This being said, it wasn’t the number one game mentioned in the games media (important to be specific here), that was Overwatch.

Pokemon Go, while announced in September 2015, received very little coverage until it launched in early July 2016. The amount of coverage collected here is basically only 6 months worth, where Overwatch was already well covered prior to its launch in May.

If we compare these numbers to the ones from last year (which take into account a wider range of types of media), Pokemon Go’s performance is striking as it is a Nintendo game (only Splatoon managed to barely get in the top 15) and a mobile game (there were none in that ranking in 2015).

Overwatch is also impressive as it had 50% more coverage than any game in 2015. The online nature of the game, with its constant updates, coupled with the power of the Blizzard brand, pushed the game to the top here, making it by far the game with the most media presence in 2016.

Overwatch is also striking in the sense that it is one of the only two new IPs in this ranking (The Division being part of the Tom Clancy’s franchise), alongside No Man’s Sky. Many industry commenters pointed to No Man’s Sky’s hype as being the main reason for its fall from grace, and you have to give them credit here, when you see the game is in the top 15 most covered by media game of the year, while coming from a small independent studio. Even the Sony PR machine can’t be the only thing at play here, as many very large productions didn’t manage to make it in these rankings. The game’s hype took on a life of its own, and got big.

For the fans of the respective series, it will interesting to note that Battlefield 1 secured about +40% more coverage than this year’s Call of Duty game. Year-on-year, Call of Duty’s media coverage dropped about -12%.

Monthly Data

For a very long time, we wanted to run these numbers. As ICO is also a PR agency, a lot of the discussions with the studios and the publishers come around to the best timing to do a particular communication. The above is a great way to understand when certain periods are swamped, while some are on the contrary very light.

You’ll see that I removed Pokemon Go from the data. The game was so dominant at its launch that it was skewing the data (more than 7% of the  articles in the games media in July 2016 mentioned Pokemon Go). Removing it is not a perfect solution either, but it draws a slightly better picture.

There are different ways to understand these numbers, but here are my takeaways:

  • You probably want to communicate when the ratio of articles for AAA is lower. It means the coverage is more varied and more likely to be covering your game. From that perspective, November is often deemed a tough month for communications, and both graphs illustrate this well.
  • When there is a lot of coverage, you also have more chances to be covered, however, the communication will also stand out less as higher volume of articles means more noise overall. In that sense, communicating during the E3 period (June) can be a blessing and a curse at the same time.
  • While media coverage does drop during the Christmas period, it is the only time in the year where there is a visible drop in the volume of coverage across all media. It means that any other time, there will always be a minimum number of articles that need to be written, and it can pay off to aim for the periods outside of the AAA games releases, like January or July.

While making these graphs, the question came up about the number of games beyond those top 20 games. The truth is, we don’t know how many games communicate in any given month. We do know how many games are released on Steam on average, and this is where the 500+ number comes from. In reality, you can expect all the games releasing to have some form of communication that month, but you would also need to add all the games that are announced, the games that are communicating about their upcoming release, the released games having some newsworthy announcement, like an expansion, or a DLC release, not to mention the live games with significant updates.

That 500+ figure for games is quite conservative in truth.

Platforms

2016 was interesting as far as platforms are concerned. While there were no new console coming out, there were upgrades, iterations and major accessories announced and released. The Playstation 4 and the Xbox One are hitting their stride while the Wii U is in its last year being the main console for the Nintendo line up, with the Switch being around the corner.

What is interesting in the media coverage is the fact that it was yet again a strong year for the Playstation 4, with even more media coverage than in 2015 (+14%). The console has established its lead, the media follow the trend. The PlayStation VR and the Playstation 4 Pro both helped bring the device in front of the media as well.

For Xbox One, it was also a good year compared to 2015 (+18%), a growth in coverage not necessarily being a given considering the most important announcement, Project Scorpio, related to a new version of the console to be released in 2017.

The Wii U year-on-year numbers see a steep decline overall (-24%). Comparing it to the Oculus Rift, which is a niche platform that had its first release in the year both shows how much Oculus has accomplished, and how much the Wii U has dropped.


Sony’s communication strategy is well established by now, with most of its coverage originating from E3 and a combination of their own events and industry conferences.

gamescom, despite the absence of a press conference, is still an important source of coverage overall, but it does come after the press event ahead of the Tokyo Game Show.

And like last year, the Playstation Experience event in early December was a tremendous success for Sony as far as media coverage is concerned.

The Microsoft coverage over the year has fewer events sparking spikes in coverage. The two most notable ones are the E3 in June, and gamescom in August, even though, like Sony, they didn’t put a press conference together in 2016.

Microsoft seemed to be on the defensive in its communication strategy the whole of 2016 and the fact it still managed to grow the coverage is a good sign. Hopefully they will be more aggressive this year, with the Project Scorpio device coming, to shake things up a bit.

Media coverage analysis – How good was the Nintendo Switch announcement?

This month has not only been busy with new game releases, as expected for this time of the year, but also with new announcements. On the back of the analysis of the PlayStation VR release and its media coverage, I went and looked at the media coverage that the recent Nintendo Switch reveal has secured.

A tweet and a video

There are not many console announcements; their life cycle is long enough to make them a rare occurrence. Our media monitoring tool has been running since mid-2013, but getting really in shape from early 2014 onwards, so I don’t have much data to properly compare the Nintendo Switch announcement. I will mostly use this year’s PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio announcements, keeping in mind that these are not full-blown new hardware being released, but upgrades of existing consoles.

The way the Nintendo Switch was announced is also unusual. It was outside of any major media event and in the middle of the busiest month for video games media with the release of many AAA titles; a new format for this kind of announcement. Also, Nintendo has been very sparse when it comes to details about the console (no detailed specs, no price point, no confirmed release titles), and stated clearly that they wouldn’t provide any of this until nearly next year.

With all this in mind, how well was the announcement covered by media?

articles_compared

Purely looking at the number of articles, the Nintendo Switch secured fewer than the PlayStation 4 Pro did at its reveal back in September, but way more than the Xbox “Scorpio” did at E3. I would call this a small victory for Nintendo, if only because there is very little to talk about on the Switch at the moment. Of course, there are many speculative articles, but it doesn’t feed the media cycle the way the Sony press conference did, where there was a price point, technical specs, and titles to discuss.

But to call it a win, I have to say I had to double check the number of unique websites that wrote about the consoles first:

websites_compared

The Nintendo Switch managed to secure coverage across more media than the PS4 Pro or the Xbox “Scorpio”, even if not in a massive way. Nintendo is clearly behind the two other console manufacturers, and it shows in the monthly tracking we do on the coverage of each platform, so being able to get this amount of attention is good for them. It is the biggest beat related to the Nintendo brand since we started tracking media coverage (January 2014), but it is still way behind what Sony and Microsoft gained for their biggest announcements in the period (usually around E3, but not exclusively, as the PlayStation Experience managed to build a lot of significant coverage the past couple of years too).

Where is the interest?

websites_compared_lg

Looking at the same metric (unique websites covering the announcement), there is a similar level of increased interest for the Nintendo Switch compared to the PlayStation 4 Pro across most languages. The notable exceptions being French and Spanish media, which covered this announcement in a bigger proportion than the other languages (and which makes sense considering the findings from the report on the different media landscapes) and Italian media where the increase was smaller than the other languages (and contrary to the same findings).

The websites parsed by the monitoring tool are also put in different categories and this is where an interesting pattern appears for this announcement:

websites_compared_mt

Nintendo is often seen as a family-friendly brand, one that has a wide appeal and name recognition outside of the video game industry. The bigger reach the Nintendo Switch announcement had with General Interest media would reflect that, and is quite significant here (note that the tool’s database is very much geared towards video games media and is not as exhaustive when it comes to media from different categories). But the significant reach the news had with websites qualified as Special Interest, is one I didn’t expect. Special Interest media cover a range of very specific topics, generally only tangentially related to video games. For example, it includes websites that focus on board games, “geek culture”, and science-fiction in its broadest expression. The news seems to have found a very strong resonance with those media compared to the “upgraded console” announcements.

All in all, this was a massive announcement for Nintendo, one on a scale that they don’t often have. And while it worked and found a significant reach in the media, it was not spectacular. Pokemon Go, at its highest week, saw a lot more coverage than the announcement of a brand new console. Of course, Pokemon Go was an extraordinary phenomenon, but so should be the reveal of your new device.

Here are the last couple of numbers to give some food for thought: at the time of writing this blog post, 5 days after the reveal, the Nintendo Switch reveal video on Youtube had 17m views; the Battlefield 1 reveal trailer had 22m views over the same time period.