MLB Shows Well in April During Slight Decline in U.S. Games Industry Sales

While not quite another month full of record highs, April 2021 still boasted numerous commercial highlights for the U.S. games industry in the scheme of things.

Yesterday, The NPD Group shared its monthly sales report for consumer spending on various parts of the games industry within the domestic market.

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re starting into the time period where the impact from stay-at-home restrictions caused some of the biggest months in tracked history. Which means tough comparisons when looking at this year versus the same time in 2020.

Overall, total consumer spending was down a bit in April 2021 driven mainly by lower hardware output, offset by new launches, mobile, subscription and downloadable content within the software category. Still, consumers have spent nearly $20 billion on Content, Hardware and Accessories during the year so far. Which is over 20% higher than the same time period in 2020.

While Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5 continue impressive runs, it wasn’t enough to stave off a double-digit decline in Hardware and Accessories for the month. No doubt affected by global semiconductor shortages and manufacturing slowdowns. Both of these categories are still showing notable spend increases when aggregating 2021 to date.

New annual sports release MLB The Show 21 stepped into the spotlight during its release month, snatching the top spot on the overall and PlayStation software charts. The ever-present Call of Duty series plus a brand new Pokémon side entry in New Pokémon Snap rounded out the Top 3, while strong debuts from both NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139 and Returnal led the Content category to an increase.

“Hardware shortage impact [is] being felt, will continue to be felt throughout 2021,” said NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella. “Accessories [are] now being impacted by supply chain/logistics as well.”

That said, there’s still plenty of growth to cover, so it’s time to dig into all the numbers.

United States Games Industry Sales (April 4th, 2021 – May 1st, 2021):

Consumer spending in general declined 2% to $4.6 billion in April 2021. This marked the first time monthly overall sales have dipped since back in February 2020 i.e. right before the start of country-wide quarantines plus the massive success of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

It feels like forever ago, I know.

Now, this isn’t actually a bad sign. In fact, it’s a perfectly healthy month historically. It’s just slightly lower because last April set the record for setting records when it comes to domestic industry spending as I documented at the time. (Note that since that time, NPD Group has reclassified its categories and added to its coverage, so the public numbers themselves aren’t necessarily comparable.)

When expanding the timeline and looking at the first four months of 2021, total spending is up 21% since this time last year to $19.6 billion. Mainly because of momentum during the first couple months of this year driven by demand for next generation consoles and games to play on those systems, especially mobile, services plus add-on content for existing titles.

Speaking of software, the largest category of Content generated $4.2 billion in sales during April. This is up from $4.1 billion in April 2020. Year-to-date is even more impressive, hitting upwards of $17 billion when compared to $14.3 billion.

Expansion in Content is due to the release schedule picking up, ongoing appeal of subscription services plus legacy title support as the biggest older games still continue to chart.

Taking the lead on the overall software rankings in April 2021 was MLB The Show 21, which is dual published by Sony Interactive Entertainment on PlayStation devices then MLB Advanced Media on the Xbox family. This is a huge year for the annual franchise, marking the first time it’s been available on Microsoft’s consoles. Not only that, it launched directly into the Xbox Game Pass subscription service. Judging by its placement, the impact on sales seems to have been additive rather than cannibalizing.

A combination of PlayStation’s usual player base plus a new audience of Xbox fans led the baseball game developed by Sony’s San Diego Studio to set a series record for launch month dollar sales. Because of this, it’s immediately the 3rd best-selling title of 2021. And this isn’t even considering digital revenue from Xbox. Is this an appropriate time to say that the team knocked it out of the park?

Another impressive start was Nintendo’s New Pokémon Snap, landing at the third spot overall. Similar to above, this also doesn’t even consider digital sales since Nintendo notoriously doesn’t participate in that part of reporting. Predictably, it was the biggest title on Nintendo platforms during April. First month retail sales more than doubled that of July 1999’s Pokémon Snap debut, marking a picture-perfect return for the previously dormant spin-off from one of the world’s most successful brands.

Elsewhere on the software ranks, Outriders now has a full month on record and dropped one spot to fourth place. Square Enix’s third person action game was another with a simultaneous release on Xbox Game Pass, a rare occurrence for third party titles. The shlooter attracted 3.5 million unique players during its first month, a result that saw its publisher hinting at future content by saying it’s on track to being its next hit franchise. Unfortunately, it’s still unstable for many folks, resulting in continuous patches from development team People Can Fly.

In what I’d call more than a pleasant surprise, another Square Enix title landed at #5 this time in NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139 (yes, I always have to Google the full title like most of us). The “version update” of the first NieR game that released a couple generations ago was handled by Toylogic. Replicant charted well above 2017’s NieR: Automata which started at ninth in its March 2017 debut month, popularity no doubt bolstered by Automata engaging more mind-share towards the cult classic franchise.

Two other notable titles within the Top 10 were PlayStation 5 exclusive Returnal, with only two days of tracking, then It Takes Two published by Electronic Arts as part of its EA Originals indie program. Returnal at the 8th spot is a strong debut for new IP from Housemarque Games, long-time Sony collaborator and arcade game specialist. It Takes Two continues its quietly consistent success, climbing a dozen spots to #9. The co-op adventure game from Josef Fares’ Hazelight Studios recently sold a million units globally in under a month.

Full charts incoming.

Top-Selling Games of April 2021, U.S., All Platforms (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. MLB The Show 21^
  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  3. New Pokémon Snap*
  4. Outriders
  5. NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139
  6. Mortal Kombat 11
  7. Monster Hunter Rise
  8. Returnal
  9. It Takes Two
  10. Mario Kart 8*
  11. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  12. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
  13. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
  14. Minecraft
  15. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  16. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*
  17. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  18. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  19. Pokémon Sword & Shield*
  20. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Top-Selling Games, 2021 Year-to-Date, U.S., All Platforms (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  2. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
  3. MLB The Show 21^
  4. Monster Hunter Rise
  5. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
  6. Outriders
  7. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  8. Mario Kart 8*
  9. Minecraft
  10. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Hardware and Accessories tell a marginally different story, declining from last year’s staggering highs.

For Hardware, overall console dollar sales came in at $296 million which is 30% lower than April 2020. Console manufacturers are facing supply-side constraints as inventories can’t keep up with rabid demand. This is going to continue even throughout the full year, as explained by executives from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft alike during recent earnings presentations.

Even so, year-to-date figures aren’t as gloomy. These are up 42% compared to the same time frame during 2020, hitting $1.7 billion compared to $1.2 billion.

Nintendo Switch continues to be the bellwether, leading both units and dollar sales for the month of April. By my calculation, that’s 29 consecutive months of Switch leading the U.S. by unit sales. An incredible streak, I’d have to imagine it’s the best in domestic tracking history for a single console. It remains the top seller for 2021 so far, and that’s ahead of rumors swirling around a potential new model. (Which, in fairness, have been happening for a while. It’s only recently they have solidified into more tangible information.)

I wrote recently about how Nintendo reported its most profitable year ever, driven by global annual Switch unit sales of nearly 29 million for last fiscal alone ending in March. The introduction of a more powerful iteration, estimated around September or October based on the rumor mill, would continue its consistent pace into the holiday season and beyond even at a higher price point.

That’s not to say competitors aren’t doing big things either. Now in its six month on sale, Sony’s PlayStation 5 remains the fastest-selling console ever domestically. No doubt driven by the appetite of early adopters purchasing new and old games alike then many PlayStation 4 versions carrying over to the current generation, making for a smoother transition.

Not much in the way of information on Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S performance on the hardware side. At present, it’s about production rather than customer appetite. It seems like Sony is outpacing Xbox in its supply chain, thus leading in the early goings.

In a theme that parallels Hardware, dollar sales for Accessories were down in April though are still exhibiting strength when taking the year as a whole.

The Accessories category dipped 23% in April, generating $168 million in domestic consumer spending. However, its total is $885 million for 2021 to date which is growth of 22%.

Sony’s PlayStation 5 accessories continue their category dominance. The DualSense White Controller led dollar sales for April and retained its spot as the year’s top seller. The Pulse 3D Wireless headset was the month’s runner-up. These often go as hardware goes, and PlayStation 5’s record pace is driving its accessories to be the most popular right now.

Note: The new DualSense colors with fancy names from the image aren’t out until June. Midnight Black (dope!) and Cosmic Red (not for me) are currently up for pre-order.

April 2021 saw various industry trends continuing. These include content growth supplemented by services, mobile and additional content, Nintendo’s evergreen titles constantly on the charts plus PlayStation 5’s record early momentum. Though it couldn’t contend with last year’s record April month itself when combining the various sales vectors. I won’t hold that against it, the year so far has been extremely impressive even with manufacturing limitations for hardware platforms.

“Given where we are with both supply and the pandemic-driven year ago comparable period, the market is holding remarkably well,” Piscatella added in additional commentary on the monthly report.

Looking ahead, next month’s report will be available in just a few short weeks covering May 2nd to May 29th. I expect a phenomenal start for Resident Evil Village, high demand for Mass Effect Legendary Edition plus ongoing strength for major third parties and Nintendo exclusives. Switch will probably lead again, though PlayStation 5’s record start should continue as well.

Until then, enjoy some fun games, stay healthy, and especially my American friends, please continue to be safe things as things open up here with vaccinations on the rise. See you again.

*Digital Sales Not Included

^Xbox Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Electronic Arts, Enrique Vidal Flores (Image Credit), MLB Advance Media, NPD Group, PlayStation Blog, Square Enix.

-Dom

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