Switch & Monster Hunter Give Rise to Record March for U.S. Games Industry

While vaccinations in the United States thankfully continue to increase, so too does the rate at which people around the country spend money on video games.

Industry tracking firm The NPD Group released its March 2021 monthly report on consumer spending across the games industry today. And it’s a significant one for a number of reasons.

First, it marks a full year of tracking since the pandemic began. Comparisons to last year will now be reflective of the spending burst that began during the initial stay-at-home restrictions around March 2020.

On the software side, Activision’s Call of Duty regains top honors while new releases from Japanese publishers Capcom and Square Enix complete the Top 3. Then, one Mario spin-off franchise hits a major milestone within its genre. While Nintendo Switch’s continues its ongoing dominance atop the hardware rankings, PlayStation 5 maintains its quick start since launching back in November. Sony also retains leadership in the accessory space with its latest controller iteration.

While technically this March report does include a handful of days from February and April, continued quarantine efforts drove record levels and a substantial first quarter, with consumers spending nearly $15 billion on games, consoles and accessories during the first three months of the year.

Before diving into the report, I want to express my thanks to everyone working or volunteering during this still very difficult time. Please be safe and well. And hopefully find some downtime during which you can enjoy games!

Now. The numbers, please.

United States Games Industry Sales (February 28th, 2021 – April 3rd, 2021):

The above chart courtesy of NPD Group tracks total spending in the U.S. games industry over time since the beginning of 2020. As you’ll see, March 2021 topped $5.6 billion which is an increase of 18% since the same month last year. Which is a huge figure, considering Nintendo launched its record-breaking Animal Crossing: New Horizons at that time and nearly everyone was home for the entire time.

What this means is that March 2021 set a new record for a March month across the history of tracking, dating back to the 1990s.

When expanding to the first three months of 2021, sales saw an increase of 30% to $14.9 billion. While solid, this first quarter growth actually sounds more impressive than it is considering the first two months last year were early coronavirus days for the country.

Video Game Content i.e. software and related revenue from subscriptions category is the largest contributor, as it rose 12% to $4.6 billion in March. For Q1 as a whole, these sales jumped 25% to $12.8 billion.

After a month in second place, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War retakes the top position on the overall software list. It was the best-selling title for both the first quarter and the prior 12 month time frame.

Meanwhile, Capcom’s Monster Hunter Rise captured the second spot after it launched exclusively on Nintendo Switch in late March. The latest launch in the company’s second largest franchise immediately became #4 on the year’s top sellers list. Not to mention it’s already achieved a startling statistic. As measured by dollar sales, with just over a week of tracking, it’s the second best-selling Monster Hunter game in series history behind only 2018’s Monster Hunter World, which is Capcom’s number one seller of all time.

Rounding out the Top 3 on the overall chart is Outriders, for which I’ll shamelessly plug my recent review. The brand new shlooter IP published by Square Enix also debuted at the 3rd spot on both PlayStation and Xbox platform charts, causing it to land as the 10th best-selling title overall during 2021 to date. That’s after only three days on sale plus without the consideration of downloads via Xbox Game Pass, which is only counted in the spending categories rather than allocated to individual releases. This successful start, especially for something that isn’t a sequel or part of a known series, partly proves that games sell just as well when launching into subscription services. If not better, due to word-of-mouth and peer recommendations.

As expected, Nintendo-published projects littered the overall ranks due to the continued pace of Switch sales and amazing attach rates. The most notable being Mario Kart 8, the greenest of evergreen titles. During March 2021, Mario Kart 8 became the best-selling racing game in tracked history. That includes the Deluxe edition, though not any digital portion of that or the base version! The prior record holder was Mario Kart Wii, released back in 2008.

NPD Group Analyst Mat Piscatella commented on the software category in particular. “In content, Nintendo evergreens continue to impress,” he said. “Subscriptions are here to stay, will continue to grow and gain importance. No significant downsides evident, plenty of upside suggested.”

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

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  2. Monster Hunter Rise
  3. Outriders
  4. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
  5. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  6. Mario Kart 8*
  7. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  8. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  9. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*
  10. Minecraft
  11. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019
  12. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  13. Pokémon Sword & Pokemon Shield*
  14. Mortal Kombat 11
  15. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
  16. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  17. Madden NFL 21
  18. NBA 2K21*
  19. Super Mario Party*
  20. FIFA 21

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. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  4. Monster Hunter Rise
  5. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  6. Mario Kart 8*
  7. Minecraft
  8. Madden NFL 21
  9. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  10. Outriders

When it comes to the Hardware category in the U.S., Japan rules once again. Accelerated by popular Nintendo and Sony platforms, domestic spending on consoles boosted 47% to $680 million in March 2021. That’s yet another March record, beating out the $552 million from the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3 era of March 2008.

For the first quarter this year, sales in this category reached $1.4 billion. Naturally, this is a significant jump since the late generation cycle months of 2020, an increase of 81% year-on-year.

Nintendo Switch earned the top spot as measured by both units sold and dollars generated. This marks the 28th consecutive month that the hybrid platform has led by unit sales, all the more impressive given Nintendo’s anti-discount strategy. Switch also led the first quarter by number of units sold.

Out of its main competitors, PlayStation 5 is faring the best during its early days despite inventory constraints due to chip shortages plus a notable lack of exclusives during its launch window. Sony’s platform is officially the fastest-selling console in the history of NPD Group tracking, as measured by both unit and dollar sales during the first 5 months after launch. While the report wasn’t specific, I believe its predecessor held the spot previously.

There’s no word specifically on Xbox Series X|S performance other than mentioning that new generation boxes are moving off retail shelves as fast as manufacturers can ship them. It sounds like Microsoft’s production has been hit the hardest by the global chip situation, since supply dictates commercial fulfillment at this stage.

Gaming Accessories are the final category here tracked in this monthly report. NPD Group shared that it also boasted a historic month, hitting a March record spending amount of $300 million. That’s up 26% since March 2020.

Across the first three months of the year, accessory revenue climbed 42% to $717 million in total.

During both the month and quarter, the standard PlayStation 5 DualSense Wireless Controller variant led all other accessories in parallel to the success of its corresponding hardware.

For those keeping score, that’s a set of March month records for total, hardware and accessory spending during March 2021. It’s a combination of mobile gains, new hardware sell outs, subscription revenues and flagship software launches from major publishers bolstering last month to record levels across these areas.

“[The] market might be more smoothly transitioning to cyclical growth than I’d expected,” Piscatella added. “What happens next depends on the chip situation and content development; supply as or more important than demand.”

I’m anticipating very good if not great momentum in the coming months, as the release schedule picks up especially on the third party and PlayStation side. Even knowing a lot of game delays pushed to later this year or into 2022. April releases include MLB The Show 2021, now multi-platform and always a steady seller, in addition to the revived Pokémon Snap. Combine this with the bulk of Outriders sales plus Monster Hunter Rise momentum and I wouldn’t be surprised to see April generate certain records of its own.

Until then, please wear a mask, wash your hands and be safe everyone. I’m out for now!

*Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Capcom, Microsoft, Nintendo, NPD Group, Square Enix, Zachary Hsieh.

-Dom

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