Marvel’s Avengers & Nintendo Assemble at the Top of September’s U.S. Game Sales Charts

It’s officially sales season in gaming, and is proving to be busy one at that.

September ushered a great start domestically for a polarizing game from Square Enix, while overall consumer spend achieved yet another double-digit increase even as the console cycle comes to a close. Plus, there were tons of debuts and new-ish games to discuss on the software side while Nintendo secured another dominant win within the hardware category.

Industry tracking firm The NPD Group has, hm.. assembled its latest monthly sales statistics for the U.S. games market. Stand-outs during September included Marvel’s Avenger’s achieving the top spot on the software chart, sports games occupying 3 of the Top 5 spots including a record performance from a familiar franchise, Crusader Kings III debuting within the Top 7 and Nintendo Switch besting hardware as it’s done every month since December 2018.

Total spending across the categories of Video Game Content, Video Game Hardware and Video Game Accessories reached a whopping $4.3 billion in the domestic market during September 2020. An increase of 10% since this time last year. While it’s not as robust as the growth seen in the spring and summer months, it’s still yet another double-digit rate which has been the case each month since March. Of course coinciding with the tragic rise of the pandemic, which has forced people to remain home for months.

“Mobile, hardware and accessories were among the largest growth segments,” said NPD Group Analyst Mat Piscatella. In terms of hardware, “growth in sales of Nintendo Switch offset declines on other console platforms.”

Expanding to the year-to-date figures, broad consumer spend in the games industry reached $33.7 billion through September. This is up 21% since last year. Continued stay-at-home guidelines and quarantine mandates combined with a variety of brand new titles from major publishers, namely licensed releases and sports titles, contributed to impressive growth this late in the console generation.

Let’s get more into the numbers and commentary.

United States Games Industry Sales (August 30th to October 3rd):

As mentioned before, September brought healthy gains overall and across all three major categories in the U.S. tracked by The NPD Group. The above chart shows monthly and year-to-date metrics.

The largest category of Content (i.e. game sales and in-game purchases) reached $3.84 billion in September and $29.8 billion for the year as a whole, increases of 8% and 21% respectively. Mainly driven by titles from some of the most popular companies in the business: Square Enix, Nintendo, Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts.

Diving into the data, Marvel’s Avengers fought its way to the top spot on the total software chart which I’ll list out shortly.

The hero brawler slash live service game made by Crystal Dynamics received mixed critical reception at release in early September, yet brand power goes a long way when it comes to licensed titles. Not only was Square Enix’s latest the top-selling game overall last month, it held the top spot on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One individual charts plus immediately became the 7th best-selling title of the year so far.

Its launch month dollar sales were quite impressive, reaching the second best in history for a super hero game behind only the record-setting 2018 title Marvel’s Spider-Man. While early success doesn’t guarantee momentum over time, which is key for an ongoing game like Marvel’s Avengers with regular characters and content updates, a solid start establishes a baseline audience that may come back during those intervals. We also haven’t heard yet from Square Enix on global sales, which I predicted would be strong in its launch window. Essentially, only the first chapter of its story has been told.

It wouldn’t be a software chart without a major Nintendo launch, and September was no exception. Super Mario 3D All-Stars, the collection of three classic games in the beloved series, jumped to the 2nd spot overall. Spanning 2020 as a whole, it enters the year-to-date chart at the 10th spot.

For context, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is also the 2nd best retail launch for any game in the U.S. during 2020 that isn’t called Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which is more an anomaly at this point with its incredible sales. Widening the time frame, it’s the 6th best start for any game published by Nintendo in tracking history, as measured by retail dollar sales. (Note that Nintendo doesn’t share digital in this context, so this particular statistic only encompasses physical sales.)

Madden NFL 21 rounds out the Top 3, scoring a second consecutive month of solid momentum after leading the chart in August. Publisher Electronic Arts hasn’t shared specifics in terms of units or engagement for the football game, though did say in a press release that this year’s Madden recorded 20% higher unit sell-thru to customers than its predecessor during launch week.

“After the most successful year in franchise history, fans are now playing more Madden than ever before,” said Executive Producer Seann Graddy. Personally, I’d prefer to hear exactly how many people are playing, unfortunately that’s wishful thinking for a major sports title these days other than maybe Take-Two and its 2K franchises.

Speaking of, September welcomed the resurgence of Tony Hawk with the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, a rebuilding of the first two games in Activision’s long-running skateboarding series. The remake carved its way to the 4th spot overall in the most impressive of ways: it set a series record for launch month dollar sales, outpacing the prior leader in 2004’s Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. Talk about grinding out the win.

Quickly reporting on the remainder of notable new games, Take-Two’s annual basketball release NBA 2K21 scored the 5th spot. This is noticeably lower than last year’s title, which led September 2019’s rankings. I’d say that’s mainly due to the publisher no longer sharing digital share for any of its products, which is even more obvious with how both Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2 are no longer mainstays each month.

Since NPD Group doesn’t publicly state units or dollars, it’s difficult to determine an early performance comparison across NBA 2K history. Take-Two Interactive reports second quarter results on November 5th, and executives should share global unit sales at that time.

In what’s likely the surprise of the monthly chart, Crusader Kings III landed at #7. The strategy game from Paradox Interactive achieved the best launch month start in series history from both a ranking and dollar sales standpoint. Two October games that technically released right before the cut-off landed on the chart: Star Wars: Squadrons at #9 then Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time at #11. More to come next month on these when they have more days on market.

Lastly, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare maintains its position as the year’s top-seller as it enters into its sixth and likely final season of content before Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War hits stores on November 13th. I expect the latter of these to lead holiday charts. Yes, even with all the major games around the new console launches especially the hotly-anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 from CD Projekt Red, which will serve as stiff competition.

Check out the software charts below for September 2020 and the year so far, then I’ll switch over to hardware and accessories.

Top-Selling Games of September 2020, U.S. (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Marvel’s Avengers
  2. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*
  3. Madden NFL 21
  4. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
  5. NBA 2K21*
  6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  7. Crusader Kings III
  8. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  9. Star Wars: Squadrons
  10. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*
  11. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
  12. Ghost of Tsushima
  13. Ring Fit Adventure
  14. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  15. UFC 4
  16. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  17. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  18. Super Mario Odyssey*
  19. Mortal Kombat 11
  20. Super Mario Party*

Top-Selling Games of 2020 So Far, U.S. (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  3. The Last of Us: Part 2
  4. Madden NFL 21
  5. Ghost of Tsushima
  6. Final Fantasy 7: Remake
  7. Marvel’s Avengers
  8. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  9. MLB: The Show 20
  10. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*

Moving to the Video Game Hardware category, spending in September amounted to $277 million which is up 15% year-on-year. Nintendo Switch was the only console experiencing gains. Over 2020 so far, hardware spend rose 22% to $2.3 billion in total. In the least surprising stat this past month, Switch was again the best-selling console by both number sold and dollars generated. It nearly broke a September record as per comments from Piscatella, and retains its position atop the hardware list for the year as well.

This is a spot Nintendo’s hybrid has held since holiday season nearly two years ago. And I’m on record saying that even with the release of both Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 upcoming in November, Nintendo will once again attain the top spot for each month during the 4th quarter. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is still the game to get, plus upcoming releases like Pikmin 3 Deluxe (October 30th) and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (November 20th) mean there’s still room for growth in the domestic market for Switch if you can believe it. Guaranteed to be a staple of holiday product lists.

The final category of Video Accessories is actually among the most significant of results last month. Accessory spend reached a record September amount, hitting $191 million or a 30% gain since this time last year. Over 2020 to date, this category has accumulated an all-time high result of $1.6 billion, an increase of 26% year-over-year. Within, Gamepad and Headset/Headphones sub-categories also hit historical highs for both a September monthly result and year-to-date through this same month driven by the Xbox Elite Series 2 Wireless Controller.

And that’s all for September’s numbers and positions. The late summer to early fall here in the States sees continued lock-downs in many areas as coronavirus tragically isn’t going away any time soon. The games industry continues to be a benefactor of people abiding by the rules, making the most of home entertainment and spending time interacting via online games as opposed to in-person gatherings.

For way more detail on The NPD Group release itself, head over to their Twitter page or the in-depth thread from Piscatella as well.

Until next time, stay safe and thanks for stopping by!

*Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Electronic Arts, Nintendo, NPD Group, Square Enix, Take-Two Interactive.

-Dom

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