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Does the World Cup halo contribute to video game sales?

The Fields of Green asks: Are gamers more likely to buy EA Sports soccer titles during the World Cup?

MLS: FIFA 14 Launch
(Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

FIFA Soccer is one of Electronic Arts’ (EA) largest and most successful sports properties. It sells millions of copies, and gamers set calendar reminders for its release. EA creates more hype by marketing and advertising the game extensively, showing life-like graphics and smooth gameplay on television and digital ads. In short, the video game has worldwide appeal.

Prior to 2013, sales increased consistently from FIFA 08 to FIFA 13. Last year was the first time that a newer version had not outsold the previous year. FIFA 13 (released Fall of 2012), outsold FIFA 14 (released Fall of 2013) by 2.5 million copies, a 20 percent decline in sales YoY.

EA also releases a World Cup game every four years, and 2014 is no different with its April release of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. The questions are: Does releasing another soccer property hurt or help EA Sports? Does EA sell more soccer games in the years of the World Cup or will it cannibalize its business? Will EA’s soccer properties receive a World Cup halo-effect as the entire world gears up for the games?

It is important to note that these numbers all come from the year the game was released. For example: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa (Spring 2010) and FIFA 11 (Fall 2010) were released in the same year, both counted for soccer sales in 2010.

Taking a first glance, EA saw a 38 percent increase from 2008 to 2009. FIFA 2010 (released Fall 2009) sold over six million copies world-wide. In 2010, EA sold almost two million copies of its World Cup release, and almost 8.5 million copies of FIFA 2011. That means EA sold 10.48 million soccer video games in 2010, good for a 70 percent YoY increase. 2011 only had a one percent increase in sales (10.62 million copies sold). It sure looks like there is a World Cup bump for EA.

In reality, the reason for such a large increase was the extra title. If you take out the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa sales, the numbers start to normalize. FIFA 2011 sales increased 38 percent from 2009 to 2010 (same as the year before), and FIFA 2012 sales actually increased 25 percent from the previous version (and not one percent).

So, can the World Cup release make up for the decline in last year’s sales numbers? Probably not. First, EA only released 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil on PS3 and Xbox360 (hence only using those platform’s numbers for the sales calculations above). That wouldn’t normally be a problem, except both PlayStation and Microsoft recently released PS4 and XBoxOne, respectively. This means a portion of the customer base may have already switched to the new platforms. Those customers probably aren’t buying games for their old consoles. This could also have played a role in decrease in sales from 2012 to 2013.

Why would the firms only release on PS3 and Xbox360? Because those consoles have a greater market penetration around the world. Emerging market countries may not have access to the next-gen PS4 and XBoxOne. International sales could drive the market for this specific title, and EA is saving money by not developing the game on multiple platforms. It wouldn’t make fiscal sense.

So in the end, the World Cup doesn’t truly affect FIFA video game sales, but it does affect overall soccer video game sales. If EA can keep development costs low enough, and use the same engine and gameplay on both titles, it could drive revenue growth because sales growth will be difficult with a console fractured user base.

****

Note: Numbers are provided by vgchartz.com

Numbers are a combination of PS3 and Xbox360 global sales.

Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.

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