A video game by Lunenburg-based developer HB Studios has claimed the top spot in the United States sales rankings.
Launched August 21, PGA Tour 2K21 is the first PGA Tour release since 2015. For the week that ended Friday, it beat out EA Sports’ UFC 4 to claim the number one U.S. sales ranking.
The new game is published by California’s 2K Sports. HB has produced a battery of titles, including several FIFA soccer games for EA Sports and a 2009 PGA release.
“We’re thrilled with the reception for PGA TOUR 2K21,” said a 2K spokesperson. “The team at HB Studios did an incredible job.”
Most of HB’s roughly 80 employees work out of a 20,000 square foot studio on Hall Street in Lunenberg, which has a population of just under 2,300.
Yung Kim, a senior analyst who studies the video game industry at Minneapolis-based investment bank Piper Sandler, said in an interview that the time gap since the last PGA Tour game and the new publisher suggest that 2K21 is meant to relaunch the franchise.
“My thought is that PGA could be an annual title,” said Kim, who has no relationship with HB Studios. “But that’s not certain and it would depend greatly on how this game sells. Sports franchises in the video game industry are considered strong titles, largely because the publisher can release a new version every year and they have brand recognition.”
The PGA Tour games are based on the Professional Golfers Association. The EA games were once annual releases, with their content focused heavily on a digital version of Tiger Woods.
But as Woods’ star dimmed, EA pivoted to focus on other golf pros and ultimately stopped releasing new titles.
A trio of PGA-branded Golf Club games from publisher Maximum Games - also developed by HB studios - temporarily filled the market gap but lacked the large amounts of licensed content that Kim said is important for sports games.
“It’s very significant,” said Kim, referring to digital versions of real players and golf courses. “Just having the licensing of the players themselves, having an actual cover athlete that they can centre their marketing campaign around is very important.”
PGA Tour 2K21 has been released on all major platforms, including Sony’s Playstation 4, and Microsoft’s XBOX One and Windows.
Kim said that the number of copies the game will need to sell to be considered a financial success depends on how much HB spent to develop it - a number that varies widely between releases.
A representative from HB Studios directed inquiries about the game to 2K, who declined to comment on the project’s financial status. Kim estimated that 2K21 might need to sell a few million copies in order to please its backers: “It’s not necessarily a straight shot. It really depends on the development prowess of the studio.”
But he added that HB’s track record of releasing well-known sports games, including other golf games, suggests that the development team was probably well-equipped to release a product that gamers will enjoy.
Early reviews have been mostly positive, with review aggregator website Metacritic listing an average rating of 76 out of 100 for the Playstation version and 77 out of 100 for the Xbox version.
If 2K21 stays popular enough to merit a sequel, Kim said it’s possible HB could once again be the developer. But a more common scenario in the industry would be for 2K to either move development in-house or attempt to buy HB.
HB Studios was founded in 2000 by British immigrant Jeremy Wellard, who served as CEO until 2015, when he was replaced by James Seaboyer. Its dealings with EA Sports date back to its first game, Cricket 2002.
The studio says on its website that it has developed 50 games and sold 28 million copies.