Why You Should be Skeptical of Rosy Video Game Industry Numbers



The industry was a bit quieter than usual this week, with little saucy news beyond a pair of high-profile departures from BioWare that invites speculation as to just what’s going on at the studio that used to be EA’s crown jewel.

But in the absence of lurid gossip and sensational headlines, we had a bunch of numbers to look at. Look, it’s a business column. It’s bound to happen every now and again.

But numbers need context, and the context we give them can be just as informational, enlightening, or even entertaining as the numbers themselves.

So here’s a bunch of numbers and a few quotes taken out of their original context in the hopes that putting them together here actually helps them come across as more than the sum of their sums.

STAT | $3 billion – The amount of money the Call of Duty franchise has brought in for Activision in the past 12 months, up 80% year-over-year thanks to a full year of Call of Duty Mobile and the March debut of Call of Duty Warzone.

STAT | $3.16 billion – Activision’s highest full-year revenues ever, achieved in 2009, when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 led a lineup that also included games from the Guitar Hero, Tony Hawk, Transformers, X-Men, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and Spider-Man franchises, among others.

QUOTE | “We don’t view the App Store as a really big opportunity for dedicated games… Right now, we don’t see an opportunity for us to participate in that market.” – Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, 10 years ago this month, explaining why the company wasn’t interested in getting into mobile game development and publishing.

STAT | $121,000 – The average annual compensation (including wages and benefits) of someone employed in the games industry, according to an economic impact report commissioned by the Entertainment Software Association. That’s up from $97,000 the last time the ESA had a report like this made, even though the new report includes the retail sector and arcades, which account for nearly one-third of all jobs in the industry in the new report and would predominantly be comprised of low paid hourly workers.

QUOTE | “The methodology and sources used were different than previous reports, which is why it is not possible to compare the 2020 report with the 2017 report to draw conclusions or compare.” – An ESA representative, when asked how those numbers could possibly make any sense.

STAT | 10% – The year-over-year worldwide digital sales decline over Black Friday, according to SuperData.

STAT | 50% – The year-over-year UK digital sales growth over Black Friday, according to data from GSD.

STAT | $1.1 billion – Market research firm Omdia’s projection for worldwide spending on VR content this year.

QUOTE | “When I think about BioWare’s future and the next generation of talent in place, I could not be more confident or optimistic.” – EA chief studios officer Laura Miele, announcing the departures of BioWare GM Casey Hudson and Dragon Age executive producer Mark Darrah with a bit of phrasing that could be interpreted two very different ways.

QUOTE | “If you are a member of Phoenix Labs and you harass somebody, I will put you into a cannon and fire you into the sun.” – As Phoenix Labs expands to Montreal and LA, CEO Jesse Houston is pretty clear with one workplace safety policy his new employees will need to familiarize themselves with.

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