ESA proves Microsoft on correct path as physical game sales decline and gamers want best graphics

Over the past 5 or so years, the gaming industry has changed dramatically, and while some factors remain the same like the types of games customers buy, there has been a substantial push towards digital purchases. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) put out a report today which highlights the changes that took place over the past year in the United States and compares them to historical trends. The highlight of the report—aside from the best-selling games—has to be the fact that digital sales accounted for 74% of 2016’s game purchases in the country.

When the Xbox One initially came out, it was lambasted for focusing on digital distribution. The console had some great ideas and was definitely ahead of its time because people now seem to prefer storefronts that don’t allow the resale of games and other benefits which come with physical media. The fact that only 26% of games are sold at retail in the United States, the biggest gaming market, is proof of that. Even publishers like EA said that worldwide digital sales were up in 2016. While a lot of the digital sales can be explained by the proliferation of add-ons, there’s no denying the trend. People preferred digital distribution in 2016, no matter where they played. This is one of the major reasons why companies like GameStop are posting heavy losses and closing hundreds of stores.

The ESA report also gives us insights into the types of titles gamers prefer. For example, as has been the case for years now, the shooter genre remained the most popular. The top 20 games of 2016 are as follows:

  1. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
  2. Battlefield 1
  3. Grand Theft Auto V
  4. Madden NFL 17
  5. NBA 2K17
  6. The Division
  7. Overwatch
  8. Minecraft
  9. Call of Duty: Black Ops III
  10. FIFA 17
  11. Pokemon: Sun
  12. Pokemon: Moon
  13. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  14. Star Wars: Battlefront
  15. Final Fantasy XV
  16. Titanfall 2
  17. NBA 2K16
  18. Rainbow Six Siege
  19. Far Cry Primal
  20. Dark Souls III

While this means that franchises like Battlefield and Call of Duty are here to stay, we still have to analyze why gamers prefer certain experiences over others. The ESA went on to say that the top factors when buying a game were the quality of its graphics and price, not its story or online capabilities.

This is shocking because—since Project Scorpio was announced—we’ve heard how games matter more than graphics, and how frame rate and resolution aren’t that important. However, the top-selling titles are almost all multiplatform releases with the exception of Pokemon. Gamers want the best visuals and this is great news for Project Scorpio. It directly contradicts what certain gaming outlets have been saying since its reveal. Customers want the best visuals and Project Scorpio is the only way to get them at an affordable price, without the hassle of a PC.

The ESA report sheds a lot of light on numerous issues but it signifies that Microsoft is on the right trajectory. Xbox Game Pass fits right into the trend of digital sales and subscriptions eclipsing physical avenues in markets the Xbox brand is popular in. Project Scorpio’s focus on graphics hits the nail on the head because gamers buy the best-looking titles on the platform with the best visuals. Hopefully this will translate to superb sales and put the Xbox brand back on top. We’ll just have to wait until Holiday 2017 to find out.

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