NBA 2K20 & Borderlands 3 Heat Up the U.S. Video Game Charts in September

Shoot. It’s October already!

Which can mean only one thing. Obviously.

No, not that Halloween is around the corner. It’s that sports and shooters once again score big in the commercial video game landscape here in the States, as proven by the stellar sales performance of new titles in the NBA 2K and Borderlands franchises last month!

This is all according to a recent report from The NPD Group, the main tracking firm for U.S. game market sales. (September’s tracking period ran from September 1st to October 5th, which means it included five weeks.)

NBA 2K20 released back on September 6th, and since then it’s been an unprecedented success. Similar to recent entries in the long-running franchise, which is on a real hot streak. This time though it’s at its most impressive.

2K Games’ latest basketball entry scored the number one spot during September’s monthly tracking period. Not only that, it’s instantly the top-selling game of the entire year so far, already outpacing the prior leader Mortal Kombat 11 which held the spot since back in May.

Going further, NBA 2K20 achieved the highest launch month dollar sales of any sports game. Ever. Like, as in the history of NPD tracking the U.S. market. The series overall, published by Take-Two Interactive, moves past RedOctane & Activision’s Guitar Hero to become the 6th best-selling franchise of all time domestically as measured by dollar sales.

Essentially, it’s another a slam dunk for Take-Two.

Speaking of Take-Two, not only did the company have the top seller of September, it also produced the 2nd best-selling title in Borderlands 3.

Gearbox Software’s first-person shlooter (yes that’s a shooter and a looter combined into one word because it’s easier to write, however now that I’ve explained it, I’ve taken up way more of your time than writing it out) shot up the chart to land in the same #2 spot as its predecessor did back in September 2012.

This time, Borderlands 3 set a launch month record for its series. Plus it’s already the 3rd best-seller of the full year, which means it’s collected more dollar sales than any 2019 release except for the aforementioned NBA 2K20 and Mortal Kombat 11.

Congratulations to the studio, though I admittedly say this with one slight caveat. Borderlands 2 had less time in its respective September month than did this year’s installment, so it’s natural Borderlands 3 should overtake it. It doesn’t diminish the accomplishment at all. The game sold 5 million units in less than a week’s time. It’s just the type of thing we have to acknowledge when talking records and the like.

NBA 2K20 achieved the highest launch month dollar sales of any sports game. Ever. Like, as in the history of NPD tracking the U.S. market.

Rounding out the Top 5 best sellers last month are two new releases then one August title: The September releases being Electronic Arts’ FIFA 20 at #3 and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening from Nintendo at #4. Then Madden NFL 20 at the #5 spot, another Electronic Arts joint that was August’s leading game.

I’d argue the remainder of the Top 10 is just as intriguing as everything prior, even with all the record-setting happening. As you’ll see above, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint quietly achieved the sixth spot with only two days of tracking. I remain bullish on Ubisoft’s latest Tom Clancy project even if on brand alone, and can see it becoming a mainstay of the chart for the next couple months despite major competition. These games have a knack for being persistent, especially as Ubisoft’s focus on ongoing support.

Then there’s Gears 5 from Xbox Game Studios. The only flagship Xbox One console exclusive of 2019, and the first truly major game that hit both traditional retail and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription service simultaneously (I know Forza Horizon 4 was similar, though it’s part of the more niche racing genre).

It’s difficult to make a true comparison without underlying sales vs subscription figures, though Gears 5 debuts a few spots lower than the 3rd place launch of Gears of War 4 back in October 2016. However when talking overall engagement, Microsoft said Gears 5 was the biggest launch this generation for Xbox Game Studios attracting 3 million players during its opening weekend. Which is twice the amount of the prior installment.

To me, this indicates that players are getting into Gears 5 using Xbox Game Pass just as much as they are purchasing at stores or digitally, plus competition this September was more challenging than the same month in 2016. Which means that the 7th spot isn’t a poor result for Gears. It’s more indicative that Microsoft is enticing consumers with a subscription rather than relying on traditional sales avenues.

Now that we’ve talked on a select group of individual titles, here’s the full list of September sellers and 2019 year-to-date rankings.

Top-Selling Games of September 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. NBA 2K20
  2. Borderlands 3
  3. FIFA 20
  4. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening*
  5. Madden NFL 20
  6. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint
  7. Gears 5^
  8. Code Vein
  9. NHL 20
  10. Mario Kart 8*
  11. Minecraft#
  12. Grand Theft Auto V
  13. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  14. Spyro Reignited Trilogy
  15. Red Dead Redemption 2
  16. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege
  17. Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville
  18. Marvel’s Spider-Man
  19. Catherine
  20. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. NBA 2K20
  2. Mortal Kombat 11
  3. Borderlands 3
  4. Madden NFL 20
  5. Kingdom Hearts 3
  6. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
  7. Anthem
  8. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
  9. Resident Evil 2 Remake
  10. Grand Theft Auto V

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

I remain bullish on Ubisoft’s latest Tom Clancy project even if on brand alone, and can see it becoming a mainstay of the chart for the next couple months despite major competition. These games have a knack for being persistent, especially as Ubisoft’s focus on ongoing support.

Bouncing over to the industry at large, overall consumer spending hit $1.278 billion in September. Off 8% compared to the same month in 2018. All three major categories saw year-over-year dips, with hardware experiencing the most precipitous decline (22%) as the console cycle matures.

When taking the year as a whole, total spending is down 6% to $8.3 billion on lower console sales.

Nintendo Switch was again the best-selling piece of gaming hardware in the States, which it’s been each of the past 10 months, plus it’s still the top dog for 2019 as a whole. Which makes sense. It’s the only hardware showing momentum when it comes to the domestic market, as Nintendo of America revealed it’s sold 15 million Switch units in North America alone since launch in March 2017. Not only that, Switch sales year-to-date are up an impressive 20% compared to the same time frame last year.

Though even the launch of Switch Lite couldn’t offset declines in competitor consoles, as September hardware spend in the U.S. totaled $306 million compared to last year’s $328 million. This is more of a decline than I anticipated, with Lite providing less of a boost. Or perhaps its counterparts dipped more than I thought. Either way, these things combined to show that hardware needs more than a dedicated handheld Switch iteration to grow again.

For 2019 to date, hardware is off 21% to $1.9 billion. Expect this trend to continue and even worsen with next generation slated for holiday 2020.

On the software side, domestic spend was down 4% in September to $732 million. Driven by the launches of Gears 5 and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening respectively, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch software sales actually rose during September. Though not enough to counteract weakness in PlayStation 4 game purchasing.

A bit of a bright spot is that for the year so far, dollar spending on software is actually flat at $3.9 billion. Nintendo Switch is showing enough strength to completely offset declines elsewhere.

Finally, accessories and game pad dollar spend dipped 7% compared to this time in 2018, to $306 million. Spending in this last category for 2018 through September is $2.6 billion, which is down a slight 2%.

That said, it’s time for the buzzer. All the super intriguing monthly stats are courtesy of The NPD Group, namely friend of the site Mat Piscatella. Check out his detailed post on Twitter or EEDAR and be sure to give a like on his YouTube video, which has even more information.

Tomorrow we’ll be getting back into earnings season with my latest calendar post, so the fun never stops! Talk again then.

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

-Dom

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