Search trends in a recent Google study appear to forecast sales and identify a shift in behavior of video game players. The findings represent important signals related to the decision-making process and chart similar actions in social networks and mobile phone texting related to sharing, competition, and instant gratification.
Sports categories continue to generate the strongest search query growth. Basketball rose 47% in the past year, followed by football at 43%, soccer at 41%, and fighting at 15%. Games for girls rose 76% year-on-year, along with massively multiplayer online (MMOs) at 26%, and Disney games at 23%.
The genres experiencing declines in generic queries fall into the action category, where titles develop into major franchises and typically require many hours to complete, such as "Call of Duty." Role playing, first-person shooter and strategy games declined 5%, 2% and 18%, respectively, during the past year.
The study looks at how consumer behavior in the gaming space changed since major game publishers were forced to transition themselves from pure packaged-goods companies to integrated entertainment companies. Debora Schwartz, industry analyst for entertainment at Google, points to three key points: the evolution of the consumer purchase path, trends in casual games, and trends in core console games for Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, and Nintendo Wii.
Pre- and post-launch cycles continue to expand and vary widely, from four weeks to four months prior to the game's launch, Schwartz said. The prelaunch stage can begin "many, many weeks" earlier, compared with historic trends, depending on the game title and publisher. Players search for game trailers, information about reviews, purchase location and play.
Searches for game titles, videos, images and Web sites increase. Following the launch, the search shifts to expandable packs and downloadable content. Searches for the generic term "video games" continue to rise 20% year-on-year, and specific game genres have become more popular.
An increase in searches for game titles on Google and YouTube signal an awareness of the titles and the desire to acquire them, providing insight into sales. Google analyzed search activity for title terms of the top 15 games of 2010 and 2009, such as "Call of Duty," "Black Ops," and "COD Black Ops," on Google and YouTube. The average search activity per title in 2010 rose 24% on Google and 28% on YouTube, jumping 25% in overall search activity.
Brands can use search analysis as predictive sales metrics. The study suggests that searches correlate with sales, particularly during launch and weeks one to three weeks prior to the launch of the game. In 2010, for the four-week launch and post-launch period, Google searches represented 68% of total Google and YouTube search activity for the top 15 games. In an analysis of brand searches to unit sales of more than 20 top-selling titles across game genres, Google's economics team found a correlation of 0.80-0.95.
Activity on YouTube also provides insights into game sales and player behavior. Searches per title on YouTube grew 28% in 2010. The site reflects upper-funnel awareness metrics for title launches, for which actual views measure interest and consideration.
For top game trailers and walkthroughs on YouTube, only 52% of views came from YouTube search. The remaining 48% from other YouTube segments including Watch Pages, Channel Pages and related videos and content, Google search, mobile devices, and other Web sites.
Google attributes the rise in searches per unit sold to searches for the lowest tier of top 30 games that convert at a lower rate than top-selling titles, and the growing availability of downloadable content encourages search activity and online engagement of a game title after launch.
"Mobile continues to grow by between 4% and 5% of overall search activity, and I expect to see that increase by the holiday season," Schwartz said. "They are looking for where to buy the content, ability to pre-order and watch trailers and mobile ad-ons to core games."
Top sector queries for the week of August 21 include Games, Addicting Games, GameStop, Club Penguin, Pogo, and Free Online Games. Searches for GameStop grew 25% in September 2011 compared with the prior year, for example.