Gaming’s Lesson on Statistics

January 22, 2013

in Statistics2013 Blog

As 2013 dawns, the International Year of Statistics begins. The New Year also marks the latest Console War, which promises to be an exciting time for gamers, gaming-industry nerds, game designers, game-design fanboys, and other concerned parties.

Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are vying to lead the lucrative video game market. Further, the so-called “Triple A” development studios responsible for big-budget games are aggressively marketing their projects to make a return on their investment in a highly competitive marketplace. All this occurs when many gamers own more games than they have time, where a vibrant secondhand games market exists, and the prominence of small-budget independent game developers offering popular and cheaper titles also exists. What has this got to do with statistics? Everything!

Some stats (Figure 1)

The big players in gaming have marketing departments that want you to believe their version of reality: that their console is more popular, their games are more immersive, and you will have more fun on their console or game. To further complicate matters, we have fans who are zealots, preaching that their console has more to offer than others.

I’m a self-confessed Nintendo child. I have a bias toward and an unjustifiable sense of paternal protectiveness for Nintendo. Figure 1 tells me that I have nothing to fear, Nintendo appears to dominate the console and handheld markets. This is bliss for me because I can go to my preferred online forum to tell Warmasterxx_88 (who loves PS3 and actually hates Nintendo) that despite the fact that I enjoy what he calls ‘children’s games for babies’ that a good proportion of the world agrees with me.

2012 data (Figure 2)

Last year’s data (Figure 2) shows that Nintendo lost console sales to PS3. No one can deny that the big red PS3 bar is bigger than the light blue Wii one, which could lead Warmasterxx_88 to declare (falsely) that “Nintendo is losing it!” But why believe me? Isn’t this another example of lies, damn lies and statistics? No!

If the data is collected accurately, it’s the lies and liars that are the problem—not the stats. The previous two figures are simply different measures of sales. However, one should be loath to draw conclusions on complex, sometimes subjective and often normative questions from two simple figures.

One can dig deeper to discover more truths using statistics. The source I used was vgchartz.com. Looking at unit software and hardware sales, I have come to the conclusion that ‘Nintendo is doing just fine’. Please do not blindly accept my conclusion. Go to the gaming site yourself and explore other data and challenge my conclusion!

That should also be a horrifying observation applicable elsewhere. In the current big debates (i.e., gun control and gay marriage), you’ll see that media coverage is lacking hard data. The occasional statistic might be supplied (of which you should be suspicious) and this should worry you. If we cannot decide whether Mario is better than Sonic, how can we evaluate and choose between competing policies and ideologies concerning something as relevant and as dangerous as the fiscal cliff? Think about that next time you’re playing The Binding of Isaac!

Jak Marshall