Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Leads U.S. Game Sales & Nintendo Switch Reaches New Milestone in April 2022 NPD Group Report

It feels like I just posted my March recap, and here’s April! Time flies when you’re having fun, or getting old.

Existential dread aside, this morning The NPD Group was back with its latest monthly games sales report documenting consumer trends in the United States. While folks are spending less on the games industry compared to last year, there’s still plenty of successes to highlight.

Total sales across Video Game Content, Hardware and Accessories categories dipped 8% during April, which means spending has lowered year-on-year for six consecutive months. This is also the second straight April month with lower sales after last year’s 2% decline. Hardware was the only category exhibiting growth, while Content and Accessories both experienced double-digit dips.

Within the largest category of Content, mobile saw worse-than-expected negative momentum mainly due to softness in Google Play activity. On the premium side, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga led the aggregate chart. It’s the first game to dethrone Elden Ring since February, which remained at the second spot just ahead of MLB The Show 22. As opposed to last month’s bevy of new games hitting the charts, April’s overall software list only featured two new entries.

Performance within the Hardware segment was split depending on the metric being used. Nintendo Switch topped April’s console sales when using units, a metric by which it’s also the year’s best-seller so far. Just like back in March. As a result of this consistency, Switch passed PlayStation 4 on the all-time best-selling home console list. It’s now in fourth place behind only PlayStation 2, Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s own Wii.

However when using dollar sales as the measure, PlayStation 5 took home the win in April. Sony was finally able to secure enough inventory to move up the ranks, though Xbox Series X|S is still 2022’s top-selling hardware by dollars right now.

“Despite a nice hardware bump, the market couldn’t get back to growth as content and accessories lagged,” said The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella. “Perhaps we’ll see some benefit from that hardware lift next month. In any case, [the] market remains well above pre-pandemic baseline.”

Long-time readers know I like to maintain perspective when writing about monthly or even quarterly sales. Seeing a decline since prior year isn’t necessarily substantial news or a sky-is-falling scenario. The consecutive months on this negative trajectory are representative of a few things, then of course there’s those pockets of positivity for individual games and consoles.

First, quarantining bolstered sales substantially the past couple years. Easing restrictions and some semblance of normalcy means a certain level of reversion is expected. Then there’s retail supply, still hampered by a semiconductor shortage and manufacturing woes. Finally there’s the distressing and growing impact from inflation, which is painful for most folks and can hamstring discretionary purchasing decisions.

Keeping this context in mind, I’ll move into my complete analysis and a detailed rundown of April’s results.

United States Games Industry Sales (April 3rd, 2022 – April 30th, 2022)

As displayed in the above gallery, total consumer spending during April fell 8% to $4.34 billion. That means annual spend to date is also down 8%, to $18.26 billion.

I think the most telling graphic here is the line chart showing spending over time for each of the past four years. It gives clear context on pandemic impact and how the current level compares to earlier periods. For instance, until last month, each month of 2022 was trending above the corresponding one during these years except 2021. This past April’s spending is the lowest April has been in three years, but not by much.

The largest category of Content includes software, add-on, mobile and subscriptions. Spending here lowered 10% to $3.84 billion. That means it comprised more than 88% of April’s total.

The key driver within this part is mobile, which has been in a downward trajectory for months. Normally the report says when it exceeds $2 billion, and it didn’t this time. So I assume it’s below that threshold. Even so, select titles are showing strength which implies people are still playing, albeit spending at a lower clip. Candy Crush Saga, Roblox, Coin Master, Evony: The King’s Return and Royal Match were the top earners.

Moving into premium titles, the aforementioned Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga led the rankings overall and every single individual platform chart as well. Including Nintendo Switch, as it was the first third-party title to top that chart since Monster Hunter Rise in March of last year. This performance across platforms led to the adventure title from Warner Bros. achieving the single best launch month dollar sales for any Lego game in tracked history. It’s immediately the second best-selling title of 2022 at present, behind only Elden Ring.

Speaking of Elden Ring, it was number two on the overall chart in April. Into its third month on market and it’s already achieved an astonishing accomplishment: The open-world soulslike has now outsold November 2021’s Call of Duty: Vanguard in the U.S., making Elden Ring the top-selling premium game of the last 12 months. This is virtually unheard of in the States, where Activision Blizzard’s military shooter perennially dominates sales charts. It’s a combination of relative weakness in Call of Duty lately and the stunning quality of FromSoftware’s latest masterpiece, which reached 13.4 million units globally in March according to publisher Bandai Namco. It’s even more by now, the true definition of a sales giant.

After an early access period led MLB The Show 22 to #4 in March, it advanced up to the third spot in April and moved up to 5th on the year’s best-sellers list after debuting outside the Top 10. While this performance isn’t as high as last year’s entry, which led its initial month, it’s still a quality showing. Intriguingly, it didn’t appear in the Top 10 on Xbox yet from an engagement standpoint, Xbox is its leading platform by player count. It’s a clear display of the Xbox Game Pass effect, as this year’s title was again available on the service at launch. It’s also worth noting this report doesn’t include digital sales from Xbox for this particular title, which of course impacts platform ranks.

The last new release on the overall chart was Nintendo Switch Sports, which really had only two days on sale during this time period. It still scored an impressive fifth place on the overall chart. Within the Nintendo list individually, it ranked third behind Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga and Kirby and the Forgotten Land. It’s another title, like all of those published by Nintendo, that doesn’t account for digital downloads. May’s result will give a better indication, as I expect it to be quite successful.

That covers the new releases, and most other movement on the charts featured familiar names from the prior month. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is holding strong, as is Horizon Forbidden West. Then there’s Mario Kart 8 which will never, ever stop selling. Most of the year’s Top 10 is the same save for the entry of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. Check below for a full look at April’s ranks plus 2022 so far.

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

  1. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
  2. Elden Ring
  3. MLB The Show 22^
  4. Kirby and the Forgotten Land*
  5. Nintendo Switch Sports*
  6. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  7. Horizon Forbidden West
  8. Mario Kart 8*
  9. Gran Turismo 7
  10. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  11. Minecraft
  12. FIFA 22
  13. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  14. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  15. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  16. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  17. WWE 2K22*
  18. Mario Party Superstars*
  19. Madden NFL 22
  20. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands*

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

  1. Elden Ring
  2. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
  3. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  4. Horizon Forbidden West
  5. MLB The Show 22^
  6. Gran Turismo 7
  7. Call of Duty: Vanguard*
  8. Kirby and the Forgotten Land
  9. Madden NFL 22
  10. Mario Kart 8*
  11. FIFA 22
  12. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  13. Minecraft
  14. Dying Light 2: Stay Human*
  15. Monster Hunter Rise
  16. Mario Party Superstars*
  17. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  18. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  19. WWE 2K22*
  20. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Hardware was the main bright spot of April from a growth standpoint, boosting up 16% since last year to $343 million. Even so, it’s still down for the first four months of the year in aggregate. Sales of consoles year-to-date reached $1.54 billion, or 9% lower than the same period in 2021.

This April figure is somewhat reassuring, considering spending on this segment declined 30% this time last year. It indicates better availability, at least for certain platforms as The NPD Group called out PlayStation and Xbox increasing supply. This year has been a wild one for hardware; a different console has led each of the first three months. Demand is thriving, so consumers are buying whenever inventories pop up. Something like the Xbox Series S in particular is proving attractive because of its price point.

Still, it was actually the PlayStation 5 that showed up in April. Sony’s massive new console led last month on dollars generated as more stock hit shelves, a similar story as other regions including Europe based on data from local providers. Other than January, which was the last time PlayStation 5 topped the list, it’s been a somewhat dry year for Sony and its supply chain. As I wrote just this week, the company announced the platform passed 19.3 million units shipped globally and is now lagging its predecessor considerably.

Not to be overlooked, Nintendo Switch was April’s best seller by units. It’s the same for 2022 to date as Nintendo’s hybrid console continues to attract interest going into its sixth year on sale. In the States, lifetime Switch sales have now outpaced PlayStation 4 to become the fourth best-selling home console of all time. PlayStation 2, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, in that order, are the only home platforms with more units sold domestically.

Xbox Series X|S rounds out this category as it secured second place during April by both dollar and unit sales. Similar to March, Microsoft’s family of devices is currently the year’s best seller by dollar sales. Microsoft has been most consistent on the production side, plus of course benefits from higher average revenue per unit for the premium Xbox Series X model.

I know that’s a lot to digest for hardware, since the report includes multiple metrics. Suffice to say there are at least minor indications of greater supply popping up, however it’s not yet a trend until it keeps happening. We still need to closely monitor the semiconductor shortage and input costs to see if it becomes an upward trend in overall supply movement, rather than one-off monthly spikes.

The third and final category of Accessories unfortunately didn’t track alongside hardware in April, instead showing some weakness compared to a year back. Monthly spending here fell 10% to $151 million. It’s currently the only segment in a double-digit decline for the year as a whole, moving down 15% to $743 million.

In a shocking upset, the PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 Wireless controller in black was April’s best-selling accessory. You read that correctly. That’s last generation’s PlayStation game pad leading a month in the second year of this current console cycle. Perhaps there were discounts leading to this upside? Though this report is mostly based on dollar sales, so there has to be some sort of advantageous average selling price for Sony in order for it to win.

I can’t remember the last time a PlayStation 4 game pad led the category.

Expanding a bit, the Xbox Elite Series 2 wireless controller, which has led all months except this past one, is still the best-selling accessory for the year right now. As it has all year, bolstered by its extravagant price tag.

Lately, it’s proving difficult for spending on games to keep pace with the highs of recent years. Especially early last year, which saw months of historic highs. Six months of monthly declines and we’re seeing this movement away from the ballooning amounts of spending during the pandemic due to restrictions of going out plus stimulus money at the time.

Softening is expected right now, even if it’s challenging to report on a downward trend. It’s just a matter of magnitude as spending normalizes, plus buyers face inflation pressure for essential goods which limits additional cash flow. There’s also the allure of spending on different types of entertainment as more people get out of the house in which they’ve been cooped for a while.

“We’ve also seen an extended run of months showing year-on-year declines,” Piscatella wrote. “[The] video game market is facing a return to experiential spending as well as higher prices in other areas of consumer spend. Tough combo. Will require the bigger games to really pull the market.”

On those AAA projects, the latest news cycle revealed how 2022 is shaping up to be another year of delays. Starfield. Redfall. Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. The next The Legend of Zelda mainline entry. Stalker 2: Heart of Chernobyl is on hold due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And I’m not sold on God of War: Ragnarok hitting this calendar year, as I’ve said many a time on social media.

Focusing strictly on the potential for May’s monthly report, it’s a very light month for new software that isn’t a remake, re-release or indie launch. I’m expecting another month of spending declines, except perhaps for consoles. Evil Dead: The Game and Sniper Elite 5 are probably the highest profile releases on the calendar. I’m not sure the Top 10 will have any new entries, let alone the Top 5.

Which means it’s a major opportunity for carryover titles to promote new content or have events that keep players buying. This ties in with the subscription play, a staple in Microsoft’s suite of course and Sony’s strategy with its PlayStation Plus reworking starting in June. Games like MLB The Show 22 and Nintendo Switch Sports will have a lot more days on sale than last month. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga has a good chance at leading again, as does Elden Ring. I’m not the most upbeat on Call of Duty: Vanguard right now, but it will certainly secure a solid position.

My best guess is Elden Ring returns to number one. With the caveat that if Nintendo included digital, I’d probably bet on Nintendo Switch Sports.

As for Hardware, throw a dart at the wall and take a guess. Xbox Series X|S on dollars. Nintendo Switch again on units. Those are my dartboard guesses, at least.

Now that I’ve come to the end of this month’s coverage, I highly recommend perusing Piscatella’s Twitter thread for more details on platform rankings and additional commentary.

It’s been a supremely busy week for the games industry and business nerds. I’m both exhilarated and exhausted. I hope you enjoyed the articles, I plan to have more in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading. Until next time, be well!

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: Bandai Namco, The NPD Group, Warner Bros Interactive.

-Dom

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