Last month it was reported that UFC 2010 Undisputed was selling below expectations. Even considering that no one could have imagined just how severely sales had dropped off from the series debut of UFC 2009. Now the official sales numbers from NPD have come through to make it apparent that not only did it sell below expectations but relatively speaking it bombed.
In May UFC 2010 sold 222,100 copies on the 360 and 192,300 on the PS3 for a total of 414,400 coming in 4th and 5th place respectively. Not terrible numbers at first glance but they are shockingly low when compared with the previous iteration. UFC 2009 sold 679,600 on the 360 and 334,400 on the PS3 for a total of 1,014,000 in its first month.
THQ saw a year-over-year drop of 59% for the first month of UFC. Granted 2009 did have a few extra days of reporting but that would not account for anything near the difference between the two. Being generous 50% might be a better drop-off number to use considering that. No sports game, not even the MLB 2K series, has seen anything even close to such a significant drop off from one iteration to the next. UFC 2010’s combined sales of the 360 and PS3 were only 61% of what UFC 2009 opened with on the 360 alone. This is truly an unprecedented drop and does not bode well for the future of the franchise at least in the way it is currently being developed.
This is a stunning turn of events for a franchise that broke out with such a big hit. One has to examine the circumstances involved as there doesn’t appear to be one central reason this happened. It certainly wasn’t a problem with quality of the previous iteration, for the most part it got great reviews and consumer response. Generally when sales for a yearly franchise start to slip it is due to backlash from the previous version. UFC 2010 came out of the gate with sterling reviews but gamers didn’t seem to buy into them for whatever reason and there was never near the same level of excitement that surrounded the release the year before. The demo didn’t seem to blow anyone away either with many people feeling as though the improvements were only subtle and that it largely felt like much of the same.
UFC 2010 was plagued with problems around release, some of which have been fixed and others not, but even so any game issues post-release typically don’t affect early sales to a significant extent. Did the online pass setup, which was introduced late and admitted to only after being reported here, turn some gamers away? That could be considered as a factor however the thought would be that the way the situation was handled and its very poor implementation would have damaged consumer relations going forward and not so much this year. There has also been talk about the competition for dollars being heavier this year facing high profile releases such as Red Dead Redemption and Alan Wake.
My personal take is that the annual roster update has been overlooked and is actually the biggest driving factor behind yearly sports game releases. While UFC 2010 did add a few fighters for the most part it wasn’t much of a change. There is no large roster turnover such as would be had in other sports games. A fan of a particular team will always be looking forward to playing with a new roster. However that anticipation just does not reside in a game which ends up carrying over largely the same roster of individuals from one year to the next.
It could very well be that a game of this nature is best served releasing every other year. That is the current strategy with EA Sports MMA and Fight Night. EA MMA is without the UFC license which means they grabbed most of the name guys that weren’t under that umbrella. Again outside of a few changes they wouldn’t be able to present a fresh experience every single year because of that. So EA MMA may be better positioned because they are bi-yearly and have less reliance on the roster as a selling point than UFC. They won’t however have that built-in group of consumers who will buy the game just for the license, which apparently that number of fans was overestimated following last year’s sales.
The dramatic drop in sales will surely put THQ on notice which will hopefully pay off with a stronger effort in 2011. Whether the fall in sales can be attributed to a general feeling that the game hadn’t advanced enough from the previous version or mistreatment due to big issues, exclusive content for the PS3, or the online pass, it is clear that something went terribly wrong. Don’t expect THQ to go to the bi-yearly release schedule though. They have faced similar complaints with their WWE franchise and have continued to churn them out on a yearly basis.
UFC 2010 fell to $40 at some outlets such as Amazon within days after release. It’ll be interesting to see how sales were in June but indications are that it did most of its sales on preorders. June’s numbers should be reported in two weeks.