Star Wars & Pokémon Shine in the States During November Pre-Holiday Sales Rush

Here we are, almost at the end of 2019!

November is a gloriously busy season for new game releases, which naturally means heightened competition on the monthly sales charts. While the top spot is again the latest Call of Duty title, two new releases in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Pokémon Sword & Shield form two of the major storylines ahead of the holiday sales rush. The latter of which even set a new franchise record for launch month performance. Time to catch you up on the stats.

Industry tracking firm The NPD Group shared its November monthly sales report last night, revealing an obvious winner in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare yet again topping the software list for a second month in a row. The first-person military shooter from publisher Activision Blizzard is a perennial performer, here maintaining its status as the top-selling video game of 2019 to date. It’s also now the best performing game in the trailing 12 month period, measured by dollar sales as a whole through last November.

The real stories begin when looking further down the software chart.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order accomplished the second spot on the monthly chart after its release in mid-November. The latest from publisher Electronic Arts is quite notable for a number of reasons. First, it’s the second best launch ever for a Star Wars game as measured by dollar sales behind only Star Wars Battlefront in 2015. It enters the 2019 year-to-date rankings immediately, at the #9 spot.

It’s also the best debut ever for development studio Respawn Entertainment, which industry veterans Vince Zampella and Jason West started as an independent studio in 2010. EA purchased the team most known for the Titanfall franchise of mech action shooters outright in 2017. As an in-house studio, Respawn has now produced two of 2019’s best titles: Battle royale game Apex Legends and the aforementioned Star Wars iteration. Which is a fantastic third person action game where the player controls a Jedi. Congratulations to the entire team now on the commercial success.

Moving to Nintendo, you’ll notice later a little franchise called Pokémon dominates the chart in last month’s rankings as it holds the remaining three spots within the Top 5. Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are Nintendo’s flagship 2019 titles, and their performance in November backs this up. If aggregated with the Double Pack version, these Pokémon games would actually eclipse Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order to be the second best seller of the month.

When considered all together, Sword and Shield represent the best launch month ever in the franchise. Beating out the original record holders in handheld games Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon back in 2016. Knowing how successful the franchise has been over the years really puts this in perspective. Recently, the Pokémon brand was named the highest-grossing entertainment property ever with nearly $95 billion in revenue since inception in 1996. To say Sword and Shield saw the best start ever domestically is a serious statistic.

The final new release within the Top 10 is PlayStation 4 timed exclusive Death Stranding. The divisive game from Hideo Kojima’s new Kojima Productions studio.. hm, delivered a good enough start to reach #7 in November. Mat Piscatella of The NPD Group provided additional context, noting that the game “did well in November” and falls within the ten best launches in history for a Sony-published title. I thought the high production value third-person action game had more potential on the upside based on Kojima’s pedigree alone. Its competition provided too much for it to reach a Top 5 rank.

In terms of older games last month, Nintendo’s character fighter Super Smash Bros. Ultimate hit a major milestone. It’s now the very best seller of all time domestically within the fighting game genre, surpassing one of its predecessors in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008) on Wii. That’s right. The latest Smash Bros. iteration became the best-selling fighting game here across tracking history within a year on market. A truly staggering result, plus a testament to the director Masahiro Sakurai and team’s unending work ethic to support it with exciting updates.

Now that we’ve covered some impressive numbers for individual games, let’s look at the full list of best sellers of November and 2019 so far.

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

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order^
  3. Pokémon Sword*
  4. Pokémon Sword & Shield Double Pack*
  5. Pokémon Shield*
  6. Madden NFL 20
  7. Death Stranding
  8. NBA 2K20
  9. Need for Speed: Heat
  10. Luigi’s Mansion 3*
  11. FIFA 20
  12. Borderlands 3
  13. The Outer Worlds
  14. Just Dance 2020
  15. Mario Kart 8*
  16. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  17. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  18. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint
  19. Grand Theft Auto V
  20. Mortal Kombat 11

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

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. NBA 2K20
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. Borderlands 3
  5. Mortal Kombat 11
  6. Kingdom Hearts 3
  7. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
  8. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  9. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order^
  10. Anthem

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

That’s right. The latest Smash Bros. iteration became the best-selling fighting game here across tracking history within a year on market. A truly staggering result, plus a testament to the director Masahiro Sakurai and team’s unending work ethic to support it with exciting updates.

Strong software launches for major titles is certainly the highlight of an otherwise mixed month when talking overall industry sales, namely driven by hardware softening for everything but Nintendo Switch.

As displayed in the above chart, total consumer spending in November hit $2.3 billion. This figure is down 19% compared to this same month last year. Driven mostly by lackluster hardware results, as we’ll see in a bit. When taking the year in aggregate, total industry spend across all major categories is $11.6 billion. 12% lower than where it was in November 2018.

Monthly software dollar sales dipped 14% in November, down to $926 million. Game sales for 2019 as a whole are 8% lower than this time in 2018, coming in at $5.4 billion. Nintendo Switch software is really the only segment here that showed growth, while game sales on competing consoles slowed. I’d imagine partially due to volume plus discounted pricing.

Flipping to hardware, this is where the declines accelerate. Spending on consoles fell 26% in November to $891 million, while year-to-date it’s down 24% to $2.9 billion. For the latter figure, Nintendo Switch is the only platform that’s up since the same time frame in 2018.

Speaking of, let’s.. Switch to some more positive news. Nintendo’s latest console was again the top-selling hardware of the month in November, which means it’s now officially won every single month since the holiday season last year. Obviously it retains its spot as the best-selling hardware platform of 2019.

Last week, Nintendo issued a press release detailing its late November performance in the Americas. Its Switch hybrid console achieved the best week ever in the U.S. since release in March 2017, moving 830K units the week of Thanksgiving (November 24th to 30th). Its Cyber Monday was also “record-breaking,” however the team didn’t provide any more details there. I’ll note there’s one caveat of course, this now includes sales of its more compact Switch Lite variant.

Within the Americas, Nintendo Switch console sales now total 17.5 million units. Nearly 42% of its overall global sales. The aforementioned Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield surpassed 3 million copies sold in the region, while other notable hits passed their own significant unit sales milestones there: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (8.5 million), Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (8 million), Super Mario Odyssey (6.5 million) plus New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (1.5 million).

Going back to The NPD Group’s report, the final category of accessories and game cards is now also experiencing slowing momentum. Sales here equaled $433 million in November, 14% lower than last year. $3.2 billion of accessories sold in 2019 to date, a 5% decline compared to the same months in 2018. The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller 2, which launched in early November, achieved the highest result in its launch month of any other accessory though the standard PlayStation DualShock 4 in black is still the top seller this year.

We’ve come to the end of another month, marking the beginning of the highly-coveted holiday sales season and the penultimate of the year (and decade!). On the upside, select software titles are seeing record or near record results. Nintendo is taking full advantage of a lull in competition. Still, it’s clear that we’re in for a slower holiday season on the whole when compared to recent ones. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun!

As always, check out The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella’s detailed thread on Twitter for more insights on this tracking period and check back here for the final monthly report of 2019 next month! Thanks for hanging out.

Sources: NPD Group, Electronic Arts, Nintendo.

-Dom