PlayStation 5 Breaks Nintendo Switch Streak in Record September for U.S. Games Sales

Although it feels like no one can find one these days, PlayStation 5 is most certainly selling. And, like many years past, sports video games are as popular as ever here in America.

That’s according to the latest monthly report from U.S. games industry tracker The NPD Group, which released its September 2021 consumer spending figures earlier today.

Within, the firm revealed last month hit a September best across the entirety of tracked history. Total spending reached nearly $4.4 billion, an increase of 3% and the single best September month on record.

This impressive result was primary driven by continued moment of hardware growth, mobile spending and ongoing subscription sales on services like Xbox Game Pass. These sub-categories were able to balance out declines elsewhere, including within accessories.

Biggest story told by the numbers is within Video Game Hardware: how PlayStation 5 halted a competitor’s historic streak. Sony’s latest generation box was the best-selling console in the U.S. by both dollar sales AND units sold. The latter is the important point. This ends Nintendo Switch’s consecutive streak of leading by unit sales at a whopping 33 months. The last time a console other than Switch was atop the hardware chart by this metric was PlayStation 4’s win back in November 2018!

Which to me is more indicative of supply conditions as Sony continues to output as many PlayStation 5’s as possible. Nintendo has swapped over to its Switch OLED Model production, which launched after this month’s sales report on October 8th. The tricky part going forward is inventories aren’t expected to increase much anytime soon. In recent weeks, semiconductor sector leaders from AMD and Marvell commented that the chip shortage likely won’t ease until back half of 2022 if not later. As a primary component of gaming consoles, this is concerning for those of us that track industry sales.

Back to the report within Video Game Content i.e. the software, mobile and subscription category. While it was flat on the spending side, sports games dominated to take home the top three spots on the overall chart. Entries in Madden NFL, FIFA and NBA 2K scored top marks. This happened alongside record franchise launches for Tales and Life is Strange, all of which contributed to consistent content trends.

Mobile continues to be a major factor of course, contributing over $2 billion in monthly spending yet again. This has happened in eight of the past nine months this year. That’s roughly 45% of overall spending for the entire month of September. Names like Candy Crush Saga and Genshin Impact were among the best performers.

The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella said the story overall is “unchanged” lately, namely how hardware is performing as well as supply allows it plus mobile and subscriptions are keeping their pace.

Before moving into the actual charts and underlying trends, I want to say I hope everyone is safe and healthy leading into a busy season, namely the colder months here in the Northern hemisphere. Grab a cup of something warm and read on for the hottest details of today’s report.

United States Games Industry Sales (August 29th, 2021 – October 2nd, 2021):

As mentioned before and displayed in the above gallery, it was a record-breaking September for the domestic games industry. Total consumer spend grew 3% to $4.4 billion, the best September month of all time.

This led to the first 9 months of 2021 reaching $42.28 billion, or growth of 12%. Two of the three main meta categories experienced double-digit gains, and the last just a tad below that.

Monthly Content spending was essentially flat in September, stacking up $3.78 billion or around 87% of total spending. Aggregating the year so far, Content is up 10% to $37.11 billion for the first three quarters.

This Content segment result was driven by mobile, hardware and myriad new releases on the software side. Within mobile in particular, average monthly spending in the first 9 months was 28% higher than last year. Genshin Impact in particular celebrated its one year anniversary recently and was the second highest grossing mobile title in September, up a massive 120% compared to August.

There’s a whole lot to cover on the traditional console and PC market side, mainly due to just how many best sellers launched. I’ll try to go rapid fire.

Madden NFL 22 repeats at the top spot on the overall chart, the same as during its release month of August. Electronic Arts’ annual football entry is now the second best-selling game of 2021 to date, up from fourth in August. It was the top earner on PlayStation and Xbox platform lists alike.

Electronic Arts also published the second-ranked game in FIFA 22, which hit that same spot on PlayStation and Xbox ranks. That’s with only 2 days of sales in this period. This was just below last year’s debut when it nabbed the top spot in October 2020 because of more days included and a bigger gap between its release and Madden at the time.

NBA 2K22 was the sports title rounding out the top three. Take-Two Interactive might have jumped even higher with its annual basketball series if the publisher shared digital sales, so this start is that much more notable because it’s retail alone. This was higher than NBA 2K21’s relative start, where it was #5 in September 2020.

Next up was new launch Tales of Arise at #4. It had the single biggest launch month of any game in the Bandai Namco-produced Tales Japanese RPG series, measured by dollar sales. And it’s yet another example of Eastern games gaining in popularity during simultaneous global releases.

Activision Blizzard, a company still under lawsuits for reported workplace toxicity that its executives fostered thus making a difficult time for women and marginalized employees, saw its Diablo II: Resurrected earn the fifth spot last month. Deathloop, the atypical PlayStation 5 exclusive published by Xbox Game Studios post Microsoft’s ZeniMax deal, came in sixth place. I call that successful for a single platform game (for now) just on PlayStation 5, achieving fourth on PlayStation platforms in September behind only the major third-party sports titles. Then Square Enix’s Life is Strange: True Colors sneaked into the Top 10, yet another commercial success that generated record first month dollar sales within its respective franchise.

Further down the list were new releases Sonic Colors: Ultimate at #13 then Nintendo’s WarioWare: Get it Together! at #15. One major observation is there were no Nintendo-published game within the Top 10, the highest ranked was Mario Kart 8 at eleventh. Definitely impacted by Nintendo only reporting physical sales plus the dearth of new multi-platform titles available across competitors.

It’s time for all them rankings.

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

  1. Madden NFL 2022
  2. FIFA 22
  3. NBA 2K22*
  4. Tales of Arise
  5. Diablo II: Resurrected
  6. Deathloop
  7. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  8. Ghost of Tsushima
  9. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
  10. Life is Strange: True Colors
  11. Mario Kart 8*
  12. Diablo Prime Evil Collection
  13. Sonic Colors: Ultimate
  14. Minecraft
  15. WarioWare: Get it Together!*
  16. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  17. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  18. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  19. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  20. Mortal Kombat 11

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

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  2. Madden NFL 22
  3. MLB The Show 21^
  4. Resident Evil Village
  5. Super Mario 3D World*
  6. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
  7. Mario Kart 8*
  8. Minecraft
  9. Monster Hunter Rise
  10. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Diving into Hardware numbers for the month, this segment experienced a 49% increase in consumer spending to $412 million. It’s the most significant growth story across the full report, which makes sense this early in the cycle. And I believe it could be even more if the inventory situation was less constrained, as I’m confident there’s ample demand.

Hardware was also up the same 49% during the first three quarters of the year through September, moving almost $3.41 billion in spend.

And well, it happened again. One of my predictions from last month’s piece was wrong. As I mentioned during the intro, PlayStation 5 topped September by both dollar revenue and monthly unit sales. I previously guessed that Nintendo Switch could outpace competitors until the crucial November and December time frames, when anything can happen. Sony was successfully able to produce enough PlayStation 5 boxes to outpace Nintendo, which had an incredible run over the past almost three years. The best predictors are able to admit when they miss, and it won’t be the last time.

While The NPD Group didn’t formally report second place on the console side, I assume it was Nintendo Switch based on current momentum and consistency of output. There’s also no word on Microsoft’s Xbox performance. I know anecdotally it’s extremely difficult to find Xbox Series X, so those higher priced units are selling. I’m unsure on Xbox Series S because I’ve seen more inventories pop up on online retailers in particular, not going out of stock as quickly as other new consoles. I’d love to see the numbers behind it.

Which leads me to a similar story for dedicated readers and social media friends: Supply, market forces and shortages! Until there’s more, it just depends on which manufacturer has more in the market. September was Sony’s time to shine. Let’s see where it goes in the coveted fourth quarter.

Final category to cover is Video Game Accessories, really the only blemish on an otherwise solid report. Spending here declined 12% last month to $171 million. It was $193 million back in September 2020.

Accessories is still growing over the first nine months of 2021, reaching $1.76 billion over that time which is 9% higher than the same period in 2020. Its pace is still positive, even if slowing.

Microsoft again boasted the top accessory with its Xbox Elite Series 2 controller generating the highest dollar sales. Sony’s PlayStation 5 Wireless Controller white iteration maintained its position as the year’s best seller so far.

Not much else to say for this segment other than it’s relatively quiet right now. Upside is there are gains for the year in total.

When taking September’s U.S. games industry report from The NPD Group as a whole, there’s a lot of bright spots within both content and hardware results. PlayStation 5 pushes through the chip shortage to steal Nintendo’s spotlight, even if I believe that will be temporary.

Not only do I expect Nintendo Switch to regain its leading hardware position during October on units, I believe it can win on dollar sales too due to the higher-priced OLED offering.

We’re currently in the midst a busy season of releases, especially for AAA sports franchises, and I expect those to continue on the charts for foreseeable future. FIFA 22 will now have a full month of sales then Madden and NBA 2K will continue momentum during their respective league seasons.

In terms of other recent or upcoming titles, Ubisoft will have a favorable month as Far Cry 6 will chart well then Riders Republic is a wildcard. Nintendo publishes two games in Metroid Dread and Mario Party Superstars. I firmly believe the former will undoubtedly set a series launch record. Just unsure where it will rank within the broader market against multi-platforms, I’d say Top 6 or 7 is realistic.

Back 4 Blood is a question mark. I expect Xbox Game Pass, pent up demand for a Left 4 Dead-like and word-of-mouth can drive a solid start for the title published by Warner Bros Games. Electronic Arts had NHL 2022 launch a few days ago, a sports title more niche than its counterparts. Guardians of the Galaxy from Square Enix will be a curious debut in late October, where I expect brand recognition alone to can land a Top 7 rank even with three days on market.

All in all, it’s a fun time to be following the industry and checking which records will be made or broken each time.

Thanks all for reading. I should have at least an article or two between now and October’s report. Earnings season is starting up after all, so stay tuned for my world famous calendar! I hope you and yours are doing well until next time around.

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: CNBC, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, The NPD Group, Sony.

-Dom

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