Elden Ring’s Huge February 2022 Debut Isn’t Enough to Offset Fourth Straight Month of Declines for U.S. Game Sales

Everyone truly is playing Elden Ring, it seems. At least that’s what the data says!

Still, despite FromSoftware’s latest masterpiece plus a variety of major releases, consumer spending on the U.S. games market declined during February 2022 according to the latest report from The NPD Group. That’s the fourth straight month of lower sales, attributed to supply pressure on the hardware front and slowing mobile momentum in the content segment.

Total consumer spending dipped 6% to $4.4 billion during February. Which checks out and really isn’t as bad as it sounds, considering this same period last year achieved a record result for a February month. A single-digit decline from all-time highs is quite a solid showing in the current environment of uncertainty.

The Video Game Content segment fell 4% since last year. This includes lower mobile spending, the first time mobile device spend has declined in a February since the pandemic started in 2020. There were a slew of newer premium titles charting like the aforementioned Elden Ring alongside Horizon Forbidden West, Dying Light 2 Stay Human and Total War: Warhammer III which all shared the Top 5 with January’s major launch in Pokémon Legends Arceus.

Nintendo Switch returned to its place as top earner within Video Game Hardware, the category with the most pronounced decline in February of nearly 30% year-on-year. Clearly semiconductor shortages and elevated input costs were a factor, which they will be this year and likely even further in to the future.

Content often goes as mobile and premium titles do, so seeing a dip means spending on recent launches couldn’t outpace mobile’s contribution. When it comes to hardware, and to an extent Video Game Accessories as the third major segment, inventory and availability is dictating results and who leads from report to report.

Not only were monthly sales lower than last February, the number for year-to-date is presently trending downward after January followed a similar decline. For the first couple months of the year, consumer spend reached $9.1 billion or 4% lower than the same time frame in 2021.

“Definitely seeing signs of a move away from the pandemic-fueled gaming surge that had been a part of the market since April 2020,” wrote The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella on Twitter. “[The] question is where things settle in, and how many of the players added over the past 2 years stick around, and how engagement hours/spend change.”

Before I dive deep into the numbers, I want to say I stand with the people of Ukraine in their fight against Russia’s attempted takeover of their country and freedom. Everyone who has been displaced is in my thoughts. If you are interested in donating to relief efforts, here is a pretty robust list of charities.

Also, I hope everyone is safe and well as you start to return to workplaces, conferences and more in-person events. Even if it’s a small semblance of normalcy, it’s a welcome change. You’ll always have these recaps to keep you occupied whether at home or out and about!

It’s time to talk shop. Bring on the charts and figures.

United States Games Industry Sales (January 30th, 2022 – February 26th, 2022)

As I alluded earlier, The NPD Group reported February gaming sales in the States totaled $4.384 billion which is down 6% since last year’s (record) $4.671 billion. This was dragged down the most by hardware, though the other categories also saw notable declines.

Expanding to 2022 so far, total spending reached nearly $9.1 billion. That’s 4% lower than the first two months of last year. It’s a situation many of us expected, given the surge of domestic spending on games we’ve seen over recent history.

Video Game Content contributed 89% of all games industry spending in February, or $3.9 billion in dollar value which represents a 4% decline. Looking at this same category over the year to date, it’s at $8 billion and that’s also 4% off its 2021 highs. Leading all mobile titles by revenue were Candy Crush Saga, Roblox, Coin Master, Genshin Impact and Pokémon GO.

I mentioned briefly how mobile momentum is slowing. This sub-segment dipped almost 3% during February, the first February decline in a couple years. I’d say this is natural given where we are with things slowly opening back up, though I expect it to continue leading the Content category as people have access to mobile devices wherever they go.

When it comes to premium titles, Elden Ring earned the crown for both February and 2022 to date. Bandai Namco and FromSoftware’s latest open world action role-playing game is having the biggest launch in the developer’s storied history. For this domestic report, it had the best start of any game in the past year besides the behemoth that was Call of Duty: Vanguard. It’s already the 5th best-selling title of the last 12 months. And with just two days on sale during this period! Incredible.

Expanding globally, the companies announced just last night how the soulslike sold a staggering 12 million units worldwide since late February. I was way bullish on Elden Ring as one of the most anticipated titles ever across the industry. But I don’t know if anyone expected this, as it’s officially turned into much more of a mainstream success. And has done anything but Tarnish the developer’s rep. (Those playing will know!)

Second place in the month went to another open world title in Horizon Forbidden West, the sequel to 2017’s robo-dinosaur hunt Horizon Zero Dawn. The PlayStation 5 version of this exclusive made by Guerilla Games set a brand new first month record for titles on PlayStation 5 when measured by dollar sales, I believe outpacing Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s also the 3rd best-seller of 2022 right now. The original game hit upwards of 20 million copies lifetime, and I’m way optimistic on the prospects here over time. Even if it continues the trend of launching around an all-time great: Elden Ring now and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild previously.

January’s best-selling game Pokémon Legends Arceus captured the third spot in February, now with a number of weeks on market. Those there pocket monsters selling well, what else is new? Then, Techland’s Dying Light 2 Stay Human fought to #4, which is down compared to the original game that led the January 2015 monthly ranks. Still, it was enough for the zombie parkour experience to reach 6th for year-to-date. It’s worth noting both Pokémon and Dying Light 2 Stay Human do not include digital downloads. I don’t expect that would have made a difference for the latter. Maybe for the former.

Finishing up the Top 5 is Total War: Warhammer III mainly due to its strong PC push and Xbox Game Pass word-of-mouth boost. The strategy tactics game is also currently #8 on 2022’s list. I couldn’t find its predecessor anywhere on the chart during its September 2017 start, though I’m not sure if this is a record for the sub-franchise within the broader Total War saga.

All other games within February’s Top 20 were releases from prior months or even years. One that stood out to me was Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, taking the 16th spot overall. That’s up from 57th in January. The now infamous remastered version of three Grand Theft Auto games seemed to have a boost in February at retail, since Take-Two Interactive is another publisher that excludes digital.

See below for premium software rankings for both February 2022 and the year so far.

Top-Selling Games of February 2022, U.S., All Platforms (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Elden Ring
  2. Horizon Forbidden West
  3. Pokémon Legends Arceus*
  4. Dying Light 2: Stay Human*
  5. Total War: Warhammer III
  6. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  7. Madden NFL 22
  8. Mario Kart 8*
  9. FIFA 22
  10. Minecraft
  11. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  12. Mario Party Superstars*
  13. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  14. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  15. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  16. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition*
  17. NBA 2K22*
  18. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl*
  19. Far Cry 6
  20. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Top-Selling Games of 2022 To Date, U.S., All Platforms (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Elden Ring
  2. Pokémon Legends Arceus*
  3. Horizon Forbidden West
  4. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  5. Madden NFL 22
  6. Dying Light 2: Stay Human*
  7. Monster Hunter Rise
  8. Total War: Warhammer III
  9. God of War (2018)
  10. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  11. Mario Kart 8*
  12. FIFA 22
  13. Minecraft
  14. Mario Party Superstars*
  15. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  16. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl*
  17. Far Cry 6
  18. NBA 2K22*
  19. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  20. Battlefield 2042

Last month, Video Game Hardware saw the most precipitous dip of the three primary categories as it declined 27% to $295 million. For perspective, console spend was above $400 million back in February 2021. The decline for 2022 so far is less severe, down 5% in the first two months to $685 million in aggregate. It certainly reiterates how difficult it is to find hardware, especially the top-end PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

After PlayStation 5 took home January, Nintendo Switch was back as the leading platform by both dollars and units during February 2022. Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S family of consoles secured the second spot, benefiting from the dual SKU approach since the entry level Xbox Series S is easier to find lately.

This flip-flopping of monthly winners on the console side is going to continue, because it’s all about who can come up with the most stock for a given time frame. Nintendo had a blow out holiday and inventories for Switch seem to be bouncing back after a slow January. Xbox Series S could push Microsoft to a win here and there. I’m still mostly impressed with Nintendo Switch entering its sixth year and still consistently putting up the best stats.

When taking the first two months of 2022 into account, it’s PlayStation 5 that leads all hardware by revenue however Nintendo Switch tops on unit sales. PlayStation 5’s strong post-holiday month was enough to hold off its competitors for the time being on dollar sales, benefiting from that premium price tag.

Really it’s just a matter of how long the supply situation lasts, and which company can secure its pipeline enough to keep consistent product on shelves. Nintendo held that title for February in a down month for domestic hardware spend overall, signaling we still have a long way to go in the everlasting semiconductor shortage.

Similar to its counterparts, the final segment of Video Game Accessories cooled during the month of February. Spending here was 7% lower than February 2021, reaching $180 million. It’s also the only category with a double-digit decline for 2022 to date, off 11% to $365 million.

This again isn’t as bad as it sounds because of where it was last year. At that time, various sub-categories within accessories saw their best February on record. That included Game Pads, Headset/Headphone and Steering Wheels. It’s tough to keep up to the best ever, especially when console sales aren’t picking up.

Out of all accessories sold, Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Series 2 controller topped the month. It’s also the best-selling accessory of 2022 at present.

One thing to keep an eye on here is the pace at which accessory spend is declining is currently worse than hardware. Another bystander of supply, and that’s even more pronounced when people aren’t purchasing many new consoles.

In certain recent reports, The NPD Group has shared some insights into virtual reality which is included in the accessories portion. I didn’t see any this time, likely because that’s more of a story during the holiday season or major product launches.

After a slower than usual start to the year, February welcomed a number of new premium games to market. It was a busy time for gamers looking to spend wisely because of just how many hit within weeks of one another. The biggest of those in Elden Ring is having a historic start, while others are certainly doing well in their own rights especially the Horizon and Total War series.

The unfortunate part is many of those same people also want to buy a fancy new console, yet probably can’t at legitimate retail. Nintendo was able to restock well in February, plus Microsoft’s Xbox Series S is propping up that particular family even if it doesn’t generate as many dollars because of its more affordable pricing. There’s certainly demand that’s going unfulfilled.

Even so, seeing single-digit declines from a record high February 2021 isn’t that concerning. In the context of recent years and even going back further, spending on the games industry is healthy.

“The last two years of significant growth have introduced gaming to new and returning audiences, have expanded the ways people engage with gaming, and have solidified gaming as a social gathering place for family & friends,” Piscatella said.

Shifting focus towards March, the last month of first quarter, and we see an equally busy calendar though I would argue less upside on the triple-A segment and spending as a whole. Square Enix boasts a number of titles: Babylon’s Fall, Triangle Strategy and Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin and I’m hesitant on all of them.

PlayStation’s flagship racing sim Gran Turismo 7 launched a couple weeks back, and has a legitimate chance at a Top 3 finish. Take-Two Interactive sports a heavy load: WWE 2K22, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands plus yet another version of Grand Theft Auto V, this time for the current console generation.

Nintendo’s big game of the mouth, I mean month, is Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Plus the publisher has downloadable content for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, both of which will perform well. I expect Kirby in particular to set records within the franchise, benefiting greatly from that Switch Effect.

For my quick set of predictions, I’m actually leaning towards Elden Ring repeating in March based on the number of weeks on sale plus its momentum isn’t going anywhere. I’m thinking Kirby secures Top 4 position, while Mario Kart 8 should move back into the Top 5 somewhere.

What console will lead March? Your guess is as good as mine. I like Nintendo Switch always, so I’ll say it wins March by both dollar and unit metrics. I’ve learned to not bet against Nintendo, even when I’m wholly unsure.

Did anything else stand out to you with February’s report? What do you foresee in March? Do you have any questions or comments? Feel free to reach out on social media. I also highly recommend checking out Piscatella’s thread on Twitter. Be safe and take care!

*Digital Sales Not Included, ^Xbox Digital Sales Not Included

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: Bandai Namco, The NPD Group, Xbox Twitter (Image Credit).

-Dom

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