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Halo or Cannibal? How Video Game Introductions Affect Product Sales

New research from TCU Neeley Marketing Professor Mark Houston explores how new video game introductions affect sales of existing games and the gaming platform. 

August 03, 2021

By Erin Smutz

Mark HoustonTechnology continues to be an ever-evolving industry. With new products launching at a rapid pace, it can be difficult to determine the definitive factors that impact the overall success of a product.

Mark Houston, professor of marketing and associate dean for faculty and research at the TCU Neeley School of Business, and his co-authors from Brigham Young University, University of Texas at San Antonio and Michigan State University examine how new video game introductions influence sales of existing games and the gaming platform.

Here is an excerpt from the forthcoming study, “Halo or Cannibalization? How New Software Entrants Impact Sales of Incumbent Software in Platform Markets,” from the Journal of Marketing by B.J. Allen, Richard Gretz, Mark Houston and Suman Basuroy.

Many technology markets include both a platform device (e.g., mobile phone, computer, video game console) and corresponding software (e.g., apps, computer software, video games). When a new software entrant launches into such a platform market, its ultimate success might be measured in a variety of ways—sales of the entrant, impacts on sales of incumbent software already on the market, or platform sales. How much of the software entrant’s impact on incumbent software sales is through a direct cannibalization path versus an indirect halo path?

On one hand, new software might cannibalize incumbents as consumers choose to purchase the new entrants instead of incumbents. On the other hand, the entrants might exert an indirect, positive impact on incumbents by stimulating sales of the platform (i.e., new platform adoptions through the halo effect). Consumers who newly adopt the platform likely backfill their collection of platform-compatible software by purchasing incumbent software. For example, the gamer who wanted access to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may have needed to buy a Nintendo Switch device and then likely went on to buy other games for the Switch.

Allen, Gretz, Houston and Basuroy examine platform-based technology markets by studying the relative impact of new software products on incumbent software sales. Using empirical generalizations from video game industry data, they distinguish between the direct and indirect impact and then quantify the total (net) impact of an entrant by aggregating the effects of each path.

The direct impact of a new entrant usually results in cannibalization, but not always, depending on its characteristics. When entrants are superstars (i.e., extremely high-quality software) and/or members of a franchise (i.e., sequels, prequels, such as the Mario Kart franchise) they directly cannibalize incumbents the most. The incumbents’ characteristics offer little protection against such cannibalization.

Allen explained, “However, we find that new superstars significantly increase new platform adoption, opening the door for an indirect halo impact that increases sales of the incumbents. By combining both the indirect and direct impacts, we determine the net overall impact: Standard entrants, meaning software that is not a superstar or part of a franchise, hurt all incumbents, but a new superstar can produce a net positive halo, depending on the context.”

The study shows managers how to measure new product performance holistically. In the past, many practitioners have adopted ad hoc estimates of cannibalization. Without historical data, managers might turn to A/B testing, but that approach is expensive and requires clean test manipulation.

“With our method, leveraging the elasticities from our results, managers can estimate the net revenue of a new entrant by including both halo and cannibalization effects, along with the new entrant’s own revenue,” said Gretz.

For example, a new software introduction that is both a superstar and part of a franchise increased the sales of all incumbents by an average of $1.3M additional revenue in the month of introduction. Compared to the average of $5.9M that new superstar-franchise software earns in its first month from its own sales, the halo effect of a superstar-franchise entrant is 22% of its own revenue. Thus, measuring only the superstar-franchise entrant’s earnings underestimates the total impact. However, a standard new entrant cannibalizes roughly $224K worth of sales from all incumbents. The average revenue earned by a standard entrant in its first month is roughly $525K, suggesting that 43% of the revenue earned is simply from cannibalizing incumbents. A manager of a standard entrant might overestimate profitability if considering only revenue from the entrant’s own sales.

“Using the findings from our study, managers can estimate both the direct and indirect impacts of different types of new software based on the specific makeup of the manager’s software portfolio,” Houston said.

Read the full study here.

Photo: Mark Houston

Mark Houston

Associate Dean for Faculty and Research
Eunice and James L. West Chair in Marketing
Marketing Department

Neeley 4305