PlayStation 5 & Pokémon Legends Arceus Headline Third Straight Month of Declines for U.S. Games Industry Sales

In the first monthly sales report for the U.S. games industry in 2022, Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Nintendo’s Pokémon Legends Arceus headlined a month slightly down from the record result of early last year. It was the third straight month of year-on-year declines, after 1% in December and 10% during November before that.

Industry tracking firm The NPD Group shared its January 2022 U.S. games industry spending report, announcing how total consumer spend dipped a modest 2% to $4.68 billion. Compare that to last year’s all-time high of $4.8 billion. While hardware as a category saw double-digit growth even amidst a challenging supply situation, it wasn’t enough to outpace slower content and peripheral spending.

It seems there was a post-holiday hangover within two of those three major categories.

For Video Game Content, weaker mobile spending and fewer new games led to a single-digit monthly decline. Even a major Pokémon launch and PC re-releases of popular franchises like Monster Hunter and God of War couldn’t push the software category over the edge. This also signaled potentially lower ongoing spending on microtransactions (MTX) and additional content.

Video Game Hardware repeated as big gainer from a growth standpoint, boosting more than 20% versus January 2021’s amount. Sony’s PlayStation 5 took center stage, as it often must strictly based on its size, leading January’s console market by both units sold and dollars generated. This is the first time since September 2021 where Nintendo Switch didn’t lead on units sold. In fact, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S beat out Switch for second place.

Now, the key is this early in a generation, especially this one because of chip shortages, this is nearly all dictated by supply in the market. Like an animal going into hibernation, Nintendo stocked up during the holidays. It’s clear PlayStation, and to a lesser extend Xbox, recovered in the early part of the new year.

Last month, Hardware actually boasted the single best dollar spending during a January month in over a decade. And there’s a chance it could have been even higher, if only there was enough inventory!

“Hardware availability is still constrained, so we don’t know how high ‘high’ actually is when it comes to the console market,” NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella told GameDaily. “Several factors continue to impact the market that are difficult to predict. Things are still a bit chaotic. But when new titles are released, and when new hardware is available the market is responding positively.”

Note that year-to-date figures currently match the monthly, so January’s report features a smaller data set than usual. Everyone knows I like putting numbers in perspective. There won’t be any annual or trailing 12-month figures until maybe next month.

That said, let’s look into the numbers we do have.

United States Games Industry Sales (January 2nd, 2022 – January 29th, 2022)

In total, consumers spent close to $4.7 billion during the first month of 2022 which is 2% lower than last year. It’s still a quite good result, it just shows a reversion towards more normalized spending after long periods of stay-at-home restrictions. People are certainly still stimulating the games industry economy, mostly by buying new consoles, just not as much as they were during a record time in early 2021.

Within the broadest segment of Video Game Content, which accounts for mobile, software and related sources, sales hit $4.2 billion or 88% of the total. That dollar figure is 4% lower than last year, when it was $4.26 billion. (I’m not sure if that was a record at the time, it’s a possibility.)

The bellwether sub-segment here is mobile, which saw a decline of almost 7% during January. No dollar amount was given. This is expected weakening after the incredible growth of the last two years. It’s showing somewhat of a return to the “before times,” which seem so very far away. Main sales contributors during the month include Candy Crush Saga, Roblox, Coin Master, Genshin Impact plus Garena Free Fire.

Before diving into traditional software, I wanted to point out a relevant statistic. This is via The NPD Group’s Q4 2021 Games Market Dynamics report.

“Downloadable content (DLC), microtransactions and subscriptions accounted for just shy of 60% of non-mobile video game content spending in the U.S. in 2021. In 2016 this figure was well under half.” Piscatella shared on Twitter. What this implies is that 6 out of every 10 dollars spent in the U.S. within the Content category is ongoing purchasing rather than new premium releases. So often we focus on the latest and greatest, it’s actually the old that’s defining Content movement!

It’s still fun to call out new titles, of course. This was a quieter January than usual, bucking the recent trend of publishers kicking off the season with a leading release.

The early year’s flagship game launch was Pokémon Legends Arceus on Nintendo Switch. Even without digital sales, because Nintendo doesn’t report them. Other than its launch month spending not being a record, there’s not much historical context available in the report. So I looked back to see where each Pokémon Switch game ranked during their respective first months. Warning: It’s confusing.

During 2018, Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee released during a much more hectic schedule in November and took 5th and 6th place, respectively. At the time, Let’s Go Pickachu recorded the second best launch month in series history for a single release behind only 2000’s Pokémon Stadium.

Sword & Shield debuted a year later in November 2019, with the former hitting #3 and latter at #5. Not only that, its double-pack was smack in the middle at fourth place. Combined together, Sword & Shield had the best U.S. launch ever for Pokémon, above 2016’s Sun & Moon.

Then there was Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl which launched only two months ago in November 2021 when it started at third place. It also landed just outside the Top 10 in this January, at #11. All this to say that it’s difficult to compare historically, and sounds like Sword & Shield still maintain the crown on Switch.

Back to last month, Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Vanguard fell to number two ahead of its second season. Monster Hunter Rise from Capcom bounced way back to third place after a very lucrative PC launch.

Similarly, God of War (2018) received the PC boost as well with its fifth place finish, up from 146th in December. Yes, it does in fact pay to release games on multiple platforms! Elsewhere in the Sony camp, Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales was up next in sixth place. With this latest finish, it’s now third in lifetime spending within Sony-published titles behind only 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man and the aforementioned God of War (2018).

The only new game to chart besides Pokémon Legends Arceus was Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Extraction, sneaking into the Top 10 at number nine. As a reminder, this first-person tactical co-op shooter also launched into Xbox Game Pass. The NPD Group didn’t provide any historical context for Rainbow Six titles. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege started at #7 back in December 2015, competing against the year’s biggest hitters during a holiday season. So it sounds like Extraction didn’t fare as well.

In terms of other storylines, I’d say the absence of Grand Theft Auto The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition is worth noting though not without good reason. Its physical release was mid-December, except for Nintendo Switch which is actually out today. Just like how NBA 2K could be higher plus Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption no longer appear much on the charts, I attribute this to Take-Two Interactive not sharing any digital data. It’s difficult to infer anything in this context.

Here’s a look at the Top 20 premium software sellers for January 2022.

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

  1. Pokémon Legends Arceus*
  2. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  3. Monster Hunter Rise
  4. Madden NFL 22
  5. God of War (2018)
  6. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
  7. FIFA 22
  8. Mario Kart 8*
  9. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Extraction
  10. Battlefield 2042
  11. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl*
  12. Far Cry 6
  13. Minecraft
  14. NBA 2K22*
  15. Mario Party Superstars*
  16. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  17. Forza Horizon 5
  18. Halo Infinite
  19. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  20. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Turning to Video Game Hardware, this segment experienced the only increase during January 2022. And it was a solid increase. Monthly consumer spend on consoles rose 22% to $390 million, compared to under $320 million last year. That’s the best January hardware dollar sales since $447 million earned in January 2009.

Naturally on the growth trajectory, because of where the industry is at from a generational standpoint. Nintendo Switch is still going strong five years later, plus PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S are only in their 15th month on market.

Though I was genuinely surprised by the rankings last month.

Namely how PlayStation 5 took home the top spot by both units and dollar sales. A definite upset! The last time it led was before the holidays, in September. It’s not that I don’t believe in Sony’s latest console, it’s just I underestimated how many they could produce. (I wasn’t the only one.)

In fairness, it’s difficult to gauge where supply shifts from month to month right now. I expected Nintendo Switch to keep inventories going post holiday, and Sony’s recent report of slowing PlayStation 5 global shipments had me nervous.

Another unexpected outcome was Xbox Series X|S being runner-up. Which means Switch is third place. Maybe Nintendo shipped too many in the holiday quarter so Switch could pass Wii lifetime numbers, huh?

It seems there’s a sign of life within next generation console supply. Or perhaps it’s temporary? That’s the big question! Whichever company has its suppliers making more consoles, that’s the one winning here in the domestic report. Demand is certainly here, and consistently.

Our final segment is Video Game Accessories, which saw the most substantial decline during last month’s announcement.

Buyer spending declined 15% on Accessories to $185 million. It was $218 million in January 2021, which was a record January at the time. Not only that, all of its sub-segments established all-time January month highs this time last year. It’s the true definition of a difficult comparable. A decline like this is exacerbated by a strong prior period.

Leading the pack within accessories was Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Series 2 Wireless Controller as the best-seller. No doubt bolstered by that second place hardware finish for the Xbox Series X|S, plus I’d wager demand on the PC side. A hefty price tag doesn’t hurt, since these are based on dollars generated.

That’s the end of a quickie U.S. games industry sales article, focused strictly on the single month of January rather than expanding to 12-month figures. My apologies!

There’s still plenty to learn from an early year report like this. Content spending is ever so slightly down, which I see more as a movement impacted by mobile weakness than anything alarming on the premium side. If anything, a major Nintendo release like Pokémon props it up. Combine that with the large ongoing sales portion with DLC, add-on content and the like, the software category is holding pace.

February 2022 is a much busier time for releases, two months before many fiscal year ends. Dying Light 2 Stay Human already has 3 million players according to Techland. PlayStation exclusive Horizon Forbidden West and FromSoftware’s Elden Ring are launching as two of the most-anticipated games of the year.

I expect significant carry-on sales during the second month of Pokémon Legends Arceus. There’s also a good chance Destiny 2 pops back onto the list after launching its big Witch Queen expansion. I’m leaning towards Pokémon retaining the top spot, yet both Dying Light 2 Stay Human and Horizon Forbidden West have a legitimate chance. These three should make up the Top 3.

Hardware will be supply and supply will be Hardware, a segment at the mercy of chip manufacturers and parts suppliers in this inflationary situation. Piscatella seems to agree.

“We continue to be in a supply constrained environment,” Piscatella said to GameDaily. “The question is when that might change, and predictions are all over the place on that one. Is it later this year? Will it be 2023? Who knows? We’ve got a ways to go before anyone should expect to walk into a store and pick up a console of their choice off the shelf.”

Well, I will try to predict as best I can. I’m leaning towards PlayStation 5 repeating, then Nintendo Switch in second and Xbox Series X|S in third by a slim margin. It’s anyone’s guess!

Please check out Piscatella’s detailed thread here on Twitter and give it a like. See you next time in February, it’s sure to be a wild one.

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: GameDaily.biz, The NPD Group, Tom’s Guide (Image Credit).

-Dom

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