Familiar Franchises & New Hardware Lift U.S. Games Industry to a Record January

It’s the first U.S. monthly sales report of the new year, featuring formidable familiar faces topping the charts on the way to a record January for domestic games industry spending.

Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and Marvel’s Spider-Man among others drove a solid double-digit increase in content and software sales, while Nintendo Switch alongside PlayStation 5 combined to push hardware results to more than double the amount of this time last year. Even accessories increased over 70% year-on-year in January, bolstered by Sony’s most recent innovative controller.

It’s clear even with vaccine distribution thankfully happening around the globe, the video games industry is a primary beneficiary of continued shelter in place and quarantine orders. Even devoid of flagship releases charting on the software side, inventory constraints on the hardware front and following a major holiday season, January achieved a record.

This proves the strategy of many publishers in the current era providing ongoing content, seasonal events and cosmetic drops to engage an audience that wants to stick around longer than in prior generations. People love a reason to play the games they own, whether solo or with others, and this modern model certainly fulfills that.

Before I dig into the numbers and document my reactions, I want to again eternally thank the front-line, healthcare and retail workers for all the effort during an impossibly difficult time. I hope you are able to find some downtime and enjoy these games as a much-needed distraction.

United States Games Industry Sales (January 3rd, 2021 – January 30th, 2021):

Straight from NPD Group itself, plain and simple: January 2021 was a record January across its tracking history.

Consumer spend in the U.S. during the month reached over $4.71 billion, an increase of 42% since January 2019. Every single category of Content, Hardware and Accessories saw at least double-digit growth year-on-year.

Starting with the biggest contributor, Video Game Content sales exceeded $4.17 billion, comprising nearly 89% of monthly spend. This figure is up 36% when compared to early last year. Big results from Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the resilience of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla plus a plethora of strong catalog titles from Nintendo highlight this category’s continued momentum.

As anticipated, Video Game Hardware saw the strongest movement: a staggering 144% gain over the same month in 2019, to upwards of $319 million. This time last year marked the last hurrah of the prior console generation, so naturally 2021 will bring about sizeable increases. I argue it’s slightly more impressive considering the public supply constraint issues admitted by both Sony and Microsoft.

As a knock-on effect of console launches plus Sony’s popular DualSense controller revision, Video Game Accessories bumped up 73% year-over-year to a spending amount of $222 million. A rising tide lifts all boats in this case, as displayed by all sub-categories here reaching all-time January highs last month.

Software is the leading category, which means it’s up first.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War once again led the charge on the overall rankings, a spot its held each month since launching in November. It’s also the best-selling title over the past year. Not only that, the military shooter from Activision broke into the Top 20 best-selling games *of all time* in January, right at that #20 spot.

NPD Analyst Mat Piscatella called it “incredible” and said this particular statistic “made his jaw drop.”

2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is even in the Top 10. Activision Blizzard shared recently that both sales and engagement increased in the quarter ending December, namely how net bookings from the Call of Duty franchise rose over 50% in the quarter. Black Ops Cold War itself drove monthly active franchise users to increase around 70%. Lifetime spending across series history reached $27 billion in 2020, plus it entered this year with its largest user base to date.

In a similar success, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla ranked #2 on January 2021’s chart. It’s now the second fastest-selling game in the open world franchise from Ubisoft Entertainment, as measured by first three months U.S. dollar sales, behind only 2012’s Assassin’s Creed III.

As part of a quarterly report this week from Ubisoft where the company achieved record net bookings of over €1 billion ($1.21 billion), the French publisher noted how Valhalla generated record revenue within the long-running series.

Rounding out the Top 3 was PlayStation exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s also the 10th best-selling title of the last 12 months. Insomniac Games’ super hero action game achieved global unit shipments of 4.1 million since launch in November alongside the PlayStation 5, no doubt accelerated by Sony’s willingness to put out games simultaneously across both console generations. Smartly capitalizing on the 115 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the wild.

Another observation when perusing the list is again the sheer number of games from Nintendo even without digital sales reported, snagging 4 of the Top 9 spots. Animal Crossing: New Horizons returned to the Top 5 for the first time since July 2020, after surpassing the 30 million copies sold worldwide milestone. And Ring Fit Adventure among them at 7th overall, a further example of a clever bet from the Japanese company within the fitness sub-genre. Ubisoft’s Immortals Fenyx Rising, a late year gem, maintained a Top 15 finish after its Top 10 showing last month.

You might be wondering about the precipitous drop for CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk 2077 from second to 18th, barely making the Top 20. Or perhaps the notable absence of Hitman 3 after excellent reviews from IO Interactive’s latest? Well, it’s the same reason why Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2 are no longer staples of the charts: No digital sales. While NPD Group has expanded its coverage of publishers sharing downloaded data, there are still a number that opt out.

Top-Selling Games of January 2021, U.S. (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  2. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  3. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  4. Madden NFL 21
  5. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  6. Mario Kart 8: Deluxe*
  7. Ring Fit Adventure
  8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  9. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  10. NBA 2K21*
  11. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*
  12. FIFA 21
  13. Immortals Fenyx Rising
  14. Mortal Kombat 11
  15. Just Dance 2021
  16. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  17. Minecraft: PlayStation 4 Edition
  18. Cyberpunk 2077*
  19. Super Mario Party*
  20. UFC 4

Top-Selling Games, 12 Months Ending January 2021, U.S. (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  4. Madden NFL 21
  5. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  6. The Last of Us Part II
  7. Ghost of Tsushima
  8. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*
  9. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*
  10. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Flipping over to Hardware, both Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5 lifted category sales to well more than double the amount recorded this time last year.

Switch was the leading platform in terms of unit sales during January. This marks the 26th consecutive month atop the rankings by this measure, a record in the history of tracking dating back to the 90s. Switch unit sales reached the best result for a January month since 2010, back when even grandparents purchased the Nintendo Wii at the height of its popularity.

Last week, Nintendo updated its financials and it’s staggering stuff. Switch is approaching 80 million units on market, 79.87 million to be exact, exceeding the almost 76 million of Nintendo 3DS as of December. This means Nintendo exceeded its initial full year target for Switch shipments with a quarter to spare. Shoot, the Switch Lite model alone is approaching the lifetime sales of its predecessor the Wii U, at 13.53 million compared to 13.56 million respectively.

In terms of dollar sales domestically during January 2021, PlayStation 5 once again led hardware. Same as it did last month, when I wrote about how it achieved the best result for PlayStation consoles thru each platform’s first December. Sony said last week that PlayStation 5 shipped 4.5 million units in its first quarter on sale, a number that’s a bit higher now taking into account January sales.

There’s not much in the report about Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S, so it’s hard to know where it lies in relation to its competitors. On a global scale, friend of the site and Niko Partners Analyst Daniel Ahmad estimated the family at around 3.3 to 3.5 million globally to date. Just hard to know how it did in January here in the States.

Lastly, here’s even more records when moving onto the final segment of Accessories. Not only did the category itself jump over 70% to achieve a January historical high on dollar sales, each of its sub-segments did as well. Game pads, headsets and headphones plus steering wheels. January month records for all!

Among the products themselves, Sony’s PlayStation 5 DualSense Wireless Controller (seen above) topped everything to be the best-selling accessory of the month. Another one of Sony’s offerings, the Pulse 3D Wireless Headset, topped headset/headphones.

Taken as a whole, January echoed the ongoing story of games industry sales, reaching a record January month on the back of catalog titles plus new hardware shipments. Individual software franchises from Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft plus both hardware and accessories from Sony were the winners, though many more boasted great results to start 2021.

Highly recommend checking out Twitter accounts for NPD Group and Piscatella for even more general commentary and data within platform rankings. Definitely worth it if you’ve made it this far!

Thanks to all for reading. Let’s regroup in February for more sales talk. Be safe.

*Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Activision Blizzard, Nintendo, NPD Group, Ubisoft.

-Dom

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