Helldivers 2 sales curve is ‘rare and amazing,’ says gobsmacked industry analyst: ‘I feel like Steve Irwin sighting a rare bird’

We all know by now that Helldivers 2 is really good and really popular, but Circana industry analyst Mat Piscatella says the game’s sales success in its first few weeks of launch is almost unprecedented—and he’s pretty excited about it. 

“Feel like Steve Irwin sighting a rare bird or something,” Piscatella said in a recent tweet thread. “Rare and amazing, in an Australian accent even.”

(Image credit: Mat Piscatella)

The thrill is driven by what Piscatella said is “an honest-to-goodness inverse decay curve,” which he explained is a phenomenon that occurs when a game flips the usual course of sales, which go hardest at release and then tail off at varying rates.

“It’s rare, particularly for bigger games. Just saying ‘growth’ doesn’t explain the nature—as ‘growth’ could be temporary, ie from discounting,” Piscatella tweeted. “Using the term ‘inverse decay curve’ denotes that baseline sales are improving, unrelated to short-term things that can impact incremental demand.”

Piscatella told PC Gamer that Circana (formerly known as the NPD Group) bases its analysis on data collected from all major retailers, as well as digital sales provided by participants in the Digital Leader Panel, which includes a range of companies including Helldivers 2 publisher Sony. Circana normally only comments publicly on monthly data, he said, but “I found what was happening in the weekly data to be particularly fun and wanted to share this nugget.”

“What I’m really referring to here is how, over the first 12 weeks or so of a new release, particularly games that launch outside of Q4, there’s a demand curve for most games that starts very high with sales peaking in week 1, and then decaying each week over time, until demand flattens out,” Piscatella explained. “I posted an example of this in that Twitter thread. Helldivers 2 has bucked that trend, and I can’t recall offhand the last time a game has shown this behavior at this scale.”

(Image credit: Mat Piscatella (Twitter))

The success of Helldivers 2 is particularly noteworthy given the server woes that plagued the game during its first couple weeks of launch. Unexpected demand absolutely crushed the infrastructure, to the point that Arrowhead had to impose a cap on the player count and draft Sony into the war effort to get it working properly. I can say from firsthand experience that it was incredibly frustrating, and Piscatella said that such problems can do real damage to many games facing similar problems, but in the case of Helldivers 2 it didn’t happen.

“My read on it (and I have not yet played the game personally) is that [Helldivers 2] allows players to create their own stories and have fun even as things go sideways in game,” Piscatella said. “Although it’s not technically the correct term, its form of emergent gameplay and more cooperative nature (even with friendly fire on) has been hugely attractive, as is seen by how sales have continued to grow since launch (which, as I pointed out, is very rare for a new release).”

The inverse decay curve “won’t last forever” and sales will start to decline, possibly quite soon, “as demand normalizes and word of mouth stops reaching new interested ears,” Piscatella said. “But for the moment at least, particularly in the 2024 market, it’s an incredibly encouraging and refreshing thing to see.”

As for how Helldivers 2 managed to pull off this rare-bird feat, he cited a number of potential reasons, including the focus on co-op, the $40 price tag, launching simultaneously on PC and PlayStation 5, and “the high potential for in-game shenanigans.”

“I’m sure those really into the game would have even more reasons,” he said. “Ultimately, however, sometimes the right game hits at just the right time. If developers or publishers could figure out exactly why this happens they’d have bottled it by now.”

Whatever the reason, Helldivers 2 remains a monster: It’s currently the top-selling game on Steam and holds the third spot on Steam’s most-played games list, behind Counter-Strike 2 and Dota 2, and well ahead of fourth-place holder PUBG: Battlegrounds. And there’s more to come: Earlier today, following numerous leaks, Arrowhead finally confirmed that playable mechs are coming soon.

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