Analysis: Black Ops 4 smashes digital records but slumps at UK retail

Activision has announced that its latest goliath shooter has smashed records. The company stated that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 “set a new launch day record as the biggest day one digital release in Activision history”.

And there’s lots more. The game set a new PlayStation record for day one digital full game sales globally, was the best-selling Activision Xbox One digital game on day one, again globally. And the move from Steam to also paid off for Activision, with PC sales of the title doubling year on year (benefitting no doubt from the additional of the excellent battle royale mode).

In short, Black Ops 4 absolutely nailed it digitally across the globe.


However, closer to home, UK retail figures saw the usually strong Black Ops franchise stutter, selling just over half the number of copies which Call of Duty: WWII shifted last year. While also posting well below half the number of copies that Black Ops 3 moved in 2015 (though that’s ancient history admittedly in our fast moving market).

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that week one physical sales will undoubtedly have been hit by Activision deciding to shift its release date forward considerably in order to avoid Red Dead Redemption 2. That moves it away from the key gift-buying period, though it may pick up many of those sales in the coming weeks. Plus, as an annual offering, its bound to lose some sales to the once-in-a-blue-moon Rockstar release.

Though that may be little comfort to UK retailers this week, it’s not as indicative of a bad year for games retail as say 2016’s Infinite Warfare was, though with recent falls in FIFA retail sales to consider as well, RDR 2 and Switch have a lot riding on them at retail this Christmas.

The online focus of the game also delayed the critical response from major gaming outlets, which have taken their time over reviews. The early buzz is hugely positive, though, and should support the title well in the coming weeks, both digitally and physically.


Digital shift are obviously the next words in this discussion, but Black Ops 4 isn’t simply an example of the gradual shift from one channel to the other. While that process continues at around five per cent a year for the market as a whole (according to EA), certain titles are shifting at far greater rates than others, and Black Ops 4 is a great example of that.

Last year’s Call of Duty: WWII had a big single-player campaign, that along with its setting made it the most traditional-looking CoD game in many a year. And physical copy sales seemed to reflect that, picking up hugely on the previous year’s Infinite Warfare.

By comparison, Black Ops 4 doesn’t have a single-player campaign, though there are some very slickly-presented training missions, those weren’t forwarded in the marketing. Those who want to play the core online multiplayer and battle royale modes are more likely to want a digital copy, for the advantage of getting stuck in straight away, and to avoid tedious disc changing over the months of play to come.

Black Ops 4 is more of a service-style game than its immediate franchise predecessor, and sales shifted to digital as a result. Comparing whether it’s up or down on last year is misleading, especially given that Black Ops 4 is likely to earn a lot more revenue over the next couple of years in DLC and microtransactions than its predecessor did.

So congratulations to Activision for selling the title where it matters.


Elsewhere in the UK physical charts, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey fell by a respectable 54 per cent and drops one place to No.3. While newcomer WWE 2K19 debuts at No.4. The only other new entry to break in to the Top 40 is Nintendo and Square’s The World Ends With You: Final Remix for Switch at No.21.

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