For years, retail sales have been used as a performance marker for video games. A few years ago, they would have been the only performance marker that would have made any sense — reviews don't necessarily translate to sales after all. However, since the release of the Xbox One, every game has also been available digitally, and it's a growing market that cannot be ignored or discarded anymore. Anthem is a perfect example of this. Despite reports of poor retail sales, Anthem reached #3 in the Xbox Gameplay Chart just two days after it was released, and it's a perfect indication that retail sales are becoming a very outdated way of gauging performance accurately.
The Xbox Gameplay Chart's data is derived from a cross-section of the entire active Xbox player base – not just TrueAchievements users . For more details on how the Chart is calculated, click here
Like all of EA's latest releases, EA Access members were able to play Anthem for ten hours before its release. This early access period began seven days before the game's release. Despite the limited playtime, it was enough for the game to enter the chart at #18 without a single physical sale. It beat Metro Exodus and Far Cry New Dawn, as well as Crackdown 3: Wrecking Zone. It gathered only marginally less players than SUPER BOMBERMAN R, which was the new Games with Gold release.
When the game was fully released on February 22nd, there is no doubt that physical sales accounted for some of its success in debuting at #3. However, the UK Sales chart, which relies entirely upon physical retail sales, recorded low sale numbers for the title. When compared to developer Bioware's last title, Mass Effect Andromeda, it sold just 39% of those copies at launch, but more and more outlets are realising that physical sales aren't an accurate indicator anymore. We looked at a tracked player numbers instead. The graph shows the number of players on TA who had begun each game within the first ten days of their release.
It's true that Mass Effect Andromeda was far more popular. Although the two games' growth curve is extremely similar, Anthem attracted only 65% of Andromeda's initial player base, although that's still far better than the 39% indicated by sales figures. However, to compare a new IP to an established franchise is a bit unfair. The comparison would be more accurate if taken between the first game in the franchise, Mass Effect, and Anthem.
Anthem sold just 3% less than Mass Effect according to the physical sales chart. However, the player chart gives a much different picture. In this case, Mass Effect did significantly worse, attracting just 20% of Anthem's initial player base and meaning the latter had a far more successful launch; in fact, it had a better launch than Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, although they both then grew their player base at a much quicker rate.
The problem is that Mass Effect vs Anthem isn't much of a fair comparison either, especially not in today's world where multiplayer titles dominate the Xbox Gameplay Chart. It would perhaps be better to compare the game to something like Destiny 2, which offers similar co-op gameplay mechanics where the aim of the game is to hunt for better loot. Once again we looked at a tracked player numbers. The graph shows the number of players on TA who had begun each game within the first ten days of their release.
Anthem sold just 25% of Destiny 2's units when it was released. When comparing the gameplay figures, there is a clear difference, but it isn't as great as the physical sales suggest. Anthem attracted 81% of Destiny 2's initial player base, although the latter title has grown much faster. After ten days, Anthem had only attracted 54% of the player base Destiny 2 enjoyed over the same period of time. Again, though, we're comparing an established franchise to a new IP, so the comparison isn't completely fair. Unfortunately we were unable to find sales figures for Destiny to compare those two accurately.
Regardless, while physical sale charts can give some idea of how a game is performing, they certainly don't paint the full picture. With the introduction of the Xbox One in 2013, all titles have been available to buy digitally, and the digital market has been growing ever since. Some publishers who would have previously only released their games at retail now even forgo retail releases in favour of digital-only; for example, Onimusha Warlords was released physically in North America, but was only released digitally in other regions. Many TA community members state they've moved exclusively to digital titles for this generation, and our community is far from unique.
The digital market has also grown enough for Microsoft to be considering a future where streaming is their main focus, and there are strong rumours that they're going to be releasing a discless Xbox One later this year. With this move coming in the near future, physical sales will have even less of an impact. If digital sales can't be included in those sales charts then we'll just have to rely on other sources like our Xbox Gameplay Chart to accurately judge a game's performance.