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E3 2015: Fallout and Shenmue most talked about games of the show

What was once considered to be nothing more than a hobby for children and teenagers, videogames are now part of a serious industry - as of 2014 it is estimated to be valued at more than $100bn, with a further projection by Gartner suggesting that figure would surpass $110bn during 2015.

The industry has grown so much over the last 10-15 years and games companies around the world take to the stage in several high-profile, annual international gaming conventions. One of the largest is the Electronic Entertainment Expo (aka “E3”) held in America - usually in Los Angeles.

Exhibitions such as E3 are a fantastic way for games companies to build excitement about upcoming products, by previewing them on a dedicated stage and allowing gamers to get their hands on early builds of games – with magazines, newspapers, TV shows and (of course) gaming websites reporting directly from the show on how these games fare.

It is also a fantastic time for developers to overshadow their competitors by surprising audiences with the announcements of brand new titles and product launches.

Time to throw information at our big data analytics engine

Well E3 2015 is done and dusted and now the excitement and anticipation of what the games companies were going to announce has dissipated, it’s a good time to look back over the week and see which games really captured the attention of the public.

Throughout the course of E3, Digital Contact’s big data analytics engine has been working overtime, processing more than 13 million social mentions of all the exhibiting companies and their respective games/products on show at the event.

With more than 300 companies and 1,600 products (including games, hardware and other technologies) on show at the Los Angeles event, there were, unfortunately, far too many for us to put into one chart – so we’ve broken our findings down to the top 10 games mentioned throughout the week on social media.

Games to talk about

E3 2015 Digital Contact social tracker
~Click to see larger image~

We saw some of the most popular franchises see their sequels picking up a lot of chatter on the social sphere; the top 10 in our list account for nearly half the social mentions collected, with a total of just over six million mentions combined (out of the aforementioned 13 million) - with titles such as Metal Gear Solid V, Uncharted 4, Gears of War 4 and Halo 5 making a highly respectable amount of noise.

Sony’s thought-to-be cancelled The Last Guardian made a surprise appearance at the company’s conference, gaining a huge amount of social volume, coming fourth in total volume of mentions on our list.

But, as the chart shows, Fallout 4 produced the most amount of social chatter; with Bethesda’s early conference showcasing gameplay from the anticipated title, it seems the company was able to push the right buttons and deliver a title that gamers just had to talk about – delivering nearly three times as much social chatter as its nearest competitor.

Published by Bethesda Softworks, the previous Fallout titles, Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 3, respectively sold nearly 8m and 10m units globally – with Fallout New Vegas said to have generated $300million for the company within the first week of sales alone.

With a huge following and many gamers craving a sequel, it comes as no real surprise that Fallout 4 garnered so much excitement and talk on social media when the game was revealed with a gameplay trailer at Bethesda’s conference.

It should be noted that Bethesda's conference was held nearly 24 hours before the other conferences and while the extra would have led to more social mentions across the week, Fallout 4's initial reaction was by far the highest - bringing in nearly 500,000 social mentions within its first hour alone. As with every other game, the conversation around Fallout 4 died down somewhat after its initial announcement, but it maintained a respectable amount of social conversation throughout the week; indicating that its announcement was the key point for social conversation and the extra 24 hours throughout the course of the week did not impact on the outcome of the final results.

However, possibly one of the most unexpected and exciting things (for gamers), was the announcement of Shenmue III – which came in second on our ‘talkability tracker’. While it was still a long way off the total noise Fallout 4 made throughout the week, it was a clear second in the total number of mentions.

I’m kind of a big deal around here, don’t you know?

For those who don’t know what Shenmue is, or why its announcement was such a big deal, I’ll explain:

The original Shenmue was developed and published by SEGA back in 1999 for the company’s Dreamcast games console – the game was revolutionary for many reasons and ultimately changed the gaming landscape.

At its time, Shenmue was praised for being one of the most realistic and expensive games to ever be produced. Costing a whopping $70 million to develop, the game featured hundreds of life-like characters, with their own (unique) daily habits and each of them fully voiced by actors.

Attributing to its realism, the first game was set in 1980s Yokosuka (Japan) and its sequel in Kowloon (Hong Kong), with areas of the game replicating real-life locations - plus the developers decided to use realistic weather patterns, taken from official records for the era (you could even call a weather service and find out the forecast for the week, based on the real information).

The game followed the story of Ryo Hazuki, who witnesses his father’s death by the hands of a man named Lan Di and vows to avenge his father. The developers had planned a series of games, each continuing directly from the previous title – allowing gamers to transfer across saved data, which included collectable items and money (an idea later used in the Mass Effect games).

Shenmue has also been attributed to many mechanics and features that have become the norm in videogames since, such as quick time events (QTEs), weather patterns, realistic day and night cycles and has also been credited with being the first “open-world city game” – being published two years before more popular open-world titles, such as Grand Theft Auto III.

Don’t leave me hanging

The story continued with the 2001 release of Shenmue II, however the franchise abruptly ended when SEGA decided to discontinue production of the Dreamcast the same year. Shenmue II was later ported to Microsoft’s Xbox in 2002, but due to the cost of manufacturing the game and its poor sales, the developer decided not to continue the franchise.

Shenmue II famously (among gamers) left players at a crucial cliff hanger in the game’s plot. Since then fans of the series have been constantly craving for a sequel or finality to the game’s story – with organised ‘tweetathons’ regularly executed every month, several online petitions and the #SaveShenmue hashtag trending on Twitter.

But, most likely due to financial reasons, SEGA refused to comment on the continuation of the franchise, leaving gamers in limbo and since 2003/2004, there have been rumours surrounding virtually every gaming event each year as to whether SEGA would finally announce the existence of a third Shenmue title.

Ironically E3 2015 was the year that had the fewest rumours around the game, as SEGA announced that it would not have a booth at the game’s show and only a handful of titles linked to the company would be exhibited via different developers’ booths.

And this is possibly why the social reaction to Shenmue III was so large, because the game was so unexpected.

Breaking records, without breaking a sweat

For those that didn’t follow E3: on Monday 15th June at approximately 6:50pm (PST)/ 2:50am (GMT), Yu Suzuki, Shenmue’s creator and game director, took to the stage during Sony’s press conference and announced that Shenmue III would finally be developed, but only if a Kickstarter goal of $2,000,000 could be met.

Shenmue E3 chart - Digital Contact
~Click to see larger image~

As our second chart shows, the social chatter around Shenmue exploded at the game’s announcement and continued to be spoken about throughout the week. So passionate was the response that fans posted up hundreds of 'reaction' videos to the announcement and Eurogamer reported that journalists in the audience at the event were even crying at the news.

And it wasn’t just on social media that Shenmue III made an impact; gamers put their hands in their pockets and within 9 hours, the game reached its first goal on the crowd funding website and achieved the official Guinness World Record for fastest Kickstarter to reach $1,000,000.

A massive coup

Part of the reason why this announcement was so important, is because it was seen a massive coup for Sony. Gamers had been waiting and asking for a follow up in the series for nearly 14 years, with many asking Sony and Microsoft to pay SEGA for exclusive rights to publish Shenmue III (after all, if SEGA says it can’t afford to make a new game in the series, then another company funding the project would solve that problem).

And it should be noted that, by all accounts, that is almost (read: almost) what has happened. SEGA, the game’s IP owner and original developer/publisher, is said to have no direct involvement in the development of the Shenmue III.

The rights to make the game have been temporarily granted (by SEGA) to Yu Suzuki’s team at YS NET, but it has been reported that, aside from the crowd-funding monies, Sony will also be fronting additional funds to ensure the game is made. How much money or involvement Sony has in the game is still an uncertainty and, while the game is coming to PS4 and PC, it has not been ruled out of development for other consoles (such as Microsoft’s Xbox One).

But Sony being able to announce the game on its stage and reveal it will be in development for the PS4 and not the Xbox One.

And, from a business perspective, there’s a chance this coup paid off for Sony. On the day of Sony’s press conference its stock points jumped up.

Now, it’s hard to attribute Sony’s share price rise solely to Shenmue’s announcement, but there’s a strong chance that the company’s E3 press conference overall helped to strengthen its share prices; with the announcement of several exclusives, revealing that The Last Guardian was not cancelled, Shenmue III was finally being made and that one of the most popular RPGs of all time, Final Fantasy VII, was being remade first for PS4.

In contrast, one of Sony’s major rivals in the video game industry, Nintendo did not fair quite so well. Arguably Nintendo has had a rough few years, having failed to recapture the high sales figures the original Wii console brought in, the company has been struggling with the Wii U and, as many journalists commented, Nintendo delivered one of its weakest E3 conferences to date.

And we can see this effect within its stock prices. On the day Sony and Microsoft both held their E3 conferences, shares in Nintendo dipped. The next day Nintendo held its conference, and while shares rose up again to a similar price they were two days previously, they did not rise any higher – like Sony’s did after its conference.

Can social volume lead to better sales?

It’s clear from the highest mentioned games that both Microsoft and Sony hold the majority in terms of social chatter; with only Mario Maker flying the flag for Nintendo, while all the other games are either exclusive to Sony/Microsoft or being released on both the PS4 and Xbox One (but not Nintendo’s Wii U).

Another reason I wanted to look at Shenmue III earlier on was because, out of all the top ten games mentioned, it is a more niche title – being developed by a small studio, with the backing of both the public, via Kickstarter, and Sony (to a certain extent).

Almost all the other titles are sequels to ‘AAA titles’ (games of high-quality and popularity that often sell in the millions). It is expected, almost guaranteed, that these AAA games will see high sales figures when they launch.

But Shenmue III is an enigma in that regard. It is a sequel to a franchise that gamers have been asking for, but the fact is the original games were considered to be a commercial failure – never selling enough to recoup the cost of development.

So this brings us back to the question – can social volume lead to better sales figures? Word of mouth has always been a very good selling tool for any company in any industry. People rarely trust or listen to adverts when it comes to making purchasing decisions – adverts make us aware of the product/service, but more often than not, we rely on the advice and comments of friends or family who recommend the product.

And this is where we’ll see if the volume of social mentions will translate to high sales figures for these smaller titles. So far, Shenmue III seems to have captured the hearts of gamers, but the game is not out yet – will the excitement around the game die down and lead to smaller sales figures? Or will Shenmue fever hit closer to the game’s launch date and see a surge in sales?

That is something we at Digital Contact will continue to monitor and report back down the line.

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