U.S. Games Industry Sales Decline in November 2023 Circana Report Despite New Best-Selling Call of Duty

The year is nearly done. Which means the States are getting chillier, Baldur’s Gate 3 won The Game Awards and this will be the last monthly sales report recap that I’ll write before the calendar turns to January.

Before you know it, I’ll be posting my annual Year-in-Review series. There, I’ll talk about how it’s been an amazing year for game releases yet a very difficult one for working in games. Here, I’m sending all my best to the thousands impacted by layoffs this year and my heartfelt thanks for their work and dedication to their craft.

In terms of the U.S. industry itself, tracking firm Circana recently released its November spending report. It turned out to be a down month as sales declined 7% to $5.87 billion, a lower-than-expected result during the coveted Black Friday month partly due to the console category dropping more than 20%.

This is the second month in a row of spending declines, as October showed a similar dynamic.

The two largest segments, Content and Hardware, both saw lower spending than November last year. Only Accessories experienced growth, and a modest amount at that. Not even ample supply, the PlayStation Portal launch or a brand new Call of Duty could propel towards broader gains last month.

The latest installment Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 secured the top spot on the premium software chart during November. This means Activision Blizzard’s military shooter franchise has led its launch month for a staggering 16 years straight. Even so, signs point to a weaker start than its predecessor, and there’s a chance the series will be dethroned in the final 2023 rankings.

“It’s not to say that Modern Warfare 3 is doing poorly (it is already the 2nd best-selling game of 2023 after all),” Circana’s Mat Piscatella told IGN. “But no it is not currently meeting what Modern Warfare 2 did a year ago.”

On the console front, Sony’s PlayStation 5 continued its monthly dominance as it outsold all competitors measured by dollars and units. Similar to its performance in every month this year except for May, when Nintendo Switch led due to a new Zelda, well on its way to securing a win for the full 12 months.

Overall spending across the industry in 2023 still remains ever-so-slightly positive. Earlier monthly gains due to Hogwarts Legacy and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom plus a steady mobile resurgence are carrying weight. It all comes down to December, as this month’s performance will dictate where the year ends up.

Scroll down for a full recap of the figures and my final set of predictions this year.

United States Games Industry Sales (October 29th, 2023 to November 25th, 2023)

Total money spent across all of gaming in November was $5.87 billion, or 7% lower than a year back. The downward movement was attributed to a lack of flagship system launches for both PlayStation and Nintendo, which November 2022 had in God of War Ragnarök, Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, alongside generally weaker demand in the console space.

After accounting for this latest result, sales for 2023 are currently trending upwards by 1% to $49.28 billion.

The primary contributing segment of Content dipped 3% in November to $4.6 billion, thus making up 78% of the whole. Compare that to last year’s 75% slice.

“An 11% decline in Console & Portable Content spending was partially offset by 3% growth across each of the Mobile, Subscription, and PC, Cloud & Non-Console VR Content segments,” Piscatella noted.

Mobile is now showing consistent growth, even if it’s in the single digits, a solid reversal of where it was earlier in the year. MONOPOLY GO! repeated as the top monthly earner, followed by Royal Match, Roblox, Candy Crush Saga and Coin Master.

The release slate in premium software has slowed leading into year-end, though there were still four new titles among the Top 20, with two of them among the Top 7.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 started in that top spot, as it often does. This marks five straight Novembers led by a Call of Duty game, dating back to 2019. After Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Red Dead Redemption 2 launched in October 2018, a month won by the former, the latter went on to take November 2018.

October’s leader Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 came in second during its second month, while Hogwarts Legacy bounced back into the Top 3 due to its Nintendo Switch launch as Warner Bros. title in the Harry Potter universe was the second top-selling title on that platform.

Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Wonder retained a high position at #5, while the publisher’s newest release Super Mario RPG Remake debuted in 7th. Bandai Namco’s Naruto x Boruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections landed at #12, while Star Ocean: The Second Story R from Square Enix launched at #17.

With respect to Monthly Active Users (MAUs), Fortnite moved up to the most played position on both PlayStation and Xbox ecosystems, surpassing the Call of Duty HQ launcher, while Valve’s Counter-Strike 2 secured Steam’s top engagement. Lethal Company from indie team Zeekerss was the big mover on PC, jumping from 115th in October to 2nd in November.

In terms of the annual list approaching the end of 2023, Hogwarts Legacy is still leading, just above the newly-launched Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 at 2nd with less than a month of tracked sales. There are now two Call of Duty titles among the annual ranks, with 2022’s Modern Warfare 2 is #7. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom dropped to 3rd. The biggest mover was Super Mario Bros. Wonder, moving into 15th place after starting October outside the Top 20.

See below for the full list of November top sellers and full-year with only a month to go!

Top-Selling Games of November 2023, U.S., All Platforms (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
  2. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
  3. Hogwarts Legacy
  4. Madden NFL 24
  5. Super Mario Bros. Wonder*
  6. EA Sports FC 24
  7. Super Mario RPG Remake*
  8. Mortal Kombat 1
  9. NBA 2K24*
  10. UFC 5
  11. Assassin’s Creed Mirage
  12. Naruto X Boruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections
  13. Sonic Superstars
  14. Star Wars Jedi Survivor
  15. God of War Ragnarök
  16. NHL 24
  17. Star Ocean: The Second Story R
  18. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  19. Minecraft
  20. Just Dance 2024

Top-Selling Games of 2023 So Far, U.S., All Platforms (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Hogwarts Legacy
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
  3. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom*
  4. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
  5. Madden NFL 24
  6. Diablo IV
  7. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  8. Star Wars Jedi Survivor
  9. Mortal Kombat 1
  10. Starfield
  11. Resident Evil 4 Remake
  12. EA Sports FC 24
  13. MLB The Show 23^
  14. Dead Island 2
  15. Super Mario Bros. Wonder
  16. Final Fantasy XVI
  17. Street Fighter 6
  18. FIFA 23
  19. Elden Ring
  20. Remnant II

Hardware ended up being the most surprising part of the whole report, moving down 24% to $964 million, as opposed to over $1.27 billion in November 2022.

This means the segment has now turned negative for 2023, currently down 1% to $4.99 billion.

Declines certainly weren’t isolated to a single platform. Revenue for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch all dropped double-digits last month, with the Nintendo Switch experiencing the most precipitous drop. On units, while Xbox Series X moved up against last November, Xbox Series S sales were lower, thus dragging down that device family.

This result undoubtedly missed my expectations, which weren’t even that upbeat after October. Rather than supply, this is squarely on the demand side as people have already been purchasing the latest generation of devices and weren’t enticed by slight discounting or bundles. Also, buyers didn’t see a must-have exclusive on any platform last month, something that usually drives interest.

“Instead of seeing huge growth because we were comparing to a supply constrained market (like we saw last year), we’re seeing the reverse now,” Piscatella explained. “Where we are comparing to a period of elevated supply and existing demand getting satiated. This comp issue is going to be a challenge in December as well and will finally start settling out in January.”

Sony’s PlayStation 5 again led November, with the most units sold and dollars generated. Xbox Series X|S was the runner-up, while Nintendo Switch slotted in third.

Then there’s a newcomer in PlayStation Portal, a cloud peripheral oddly classified as hardware rather than an accessory even though it requires a console to even function. Well, it debuted in fourth place. Its output wasn’t helped by PlayStation shipping a low supply as anecdotally it’s been selling out at every retailer when there is stock available.

Across all of 2023, PlayStation 5 remains first for the year by units and dollars. Nintendo Switch is currently trending in second place by both as well.

Speaking of Nintendo Switch, Circana shared a quick tidbit. And we love tidbits! It passed the lifetime unit sales of Xbox 360 during November. It’s now behind only Nintendo DS and PlayStation 2 on the all-time domestic list.

Our final segment of Accessories is up next, and it’s the only one that showed growth. Sales here were up 3% to $303 million. Circana shouted out game pads in particular, which moved up 8%.

Intriguingly, this happened without the inclusion of the aforementioned PlayStation Portal. Which means it’s due to mostly existing peripherals and controllers. I’d imagine that instead of putting cash towards consoles, people in the U.S. were more interested in scooping up various accessories for the devices they or their families and friends already own.

Accessory sales are looking up 1% to $2.05 billion if expanding to the full year at present.

November’s best-selling device was Sony’s PlayStation 5 DualSense in midnight black, repeating its win from October.

I assume the PlayStation 5 DualSense Edge game pad remains the year’s top seller, although the report wasn’t specific in this regard. I’ll update this piece if I receive confirmation of this point.

While November was more lackluster than I expected, especially for console sales, spending declines were partly because of a high comparable last year and a softer Call of Duty start compared to its popular predecessor.

After back-to-back negative reports in October and November, there’s a whole lot of pressure on December to secure a fourth quarter to end 2023 on a high note. Personally, I’m not quite sure it’s going to get there, as I’ll now move into a quick set of predictions.

First, December. The big holiday month is upon us. While there’s plenty of enticing games to purchase in a year of incredible releases, I’m thinking overall monthly spend will be effectively flat, driven by a lack of new releases and continued downward pressure in hardware demand.

I think mobile will keep its solid momentum in Content, while a number of familiar faces will appear on the premium sellers list. Ubisoft’s Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is the only AAA launch this month. I think it will have a Top 7 start, even during the busy holiday blast. Expect Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 to repeat as the top seller.

Within Hardware, I’m leaning towards a single-digit revenue decline in December. Microsoft announced a substantial price cut for the Xbox Series X yesterday, dropping it by a hundred bucks for a limited time. Even considering that, I believe PlayStation 5 tops December with Xbox Series X|S next up.

Now, what about the year as a whole? Circana and Piscatella are now weary of their original 3% growth prediction for 2023. Personally, I think a flat December will bring the year to effectively even, with slight upside towards 1% growth. Essentially, due to a declining fourth quarter, consumers will spend about the same amount as 2022.

Hardware is an easy call, as PlayStation 5 will undoubtedly sweep 2023.

The big question is for Content: Will it be the first time since 2008 that a Call of Duty or Rockstar Games title like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption doesn’t win?

It’s a distinct possibility, especially with a shaky start for Modern Warfare 3. I’m usually stubborn. This time, similar to my The Game Awards prediction of Baldur’s Gate 3 winning (which happened), I’m updating my expectation. I now think Hogwarts Legacy will be the year’s best premium seller, breaking Activision Blizzard and Rockstar Games streak in a shocking upset.

Thanks for checking out this big recap. I recommend reading through Piscatella’s Twitter thread which has more details on Circana’s latest monthly report.

Check back soon for my annual Year-in-Review series. Happy Holidays to all!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

*Digital Sales Not Included

^Xbox & Nintendo Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Circana, IGN.


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Leads Software in Stable October 2022 NPD Group U.S. Games Sales Report

Time is marching on through the latter parts of 2022, and with it comes the first monthly sales report of the fourth quarter from games industry tracking firm The NPD Group.

Ironically, considering it was the spooky season, October proved to be much less scary than most of the year as it broke a long-running downward streak. It’s the first month in exactly one year during which spending on games didn’t show a year-on-year decline, boosted by a new Call of Duty, improving hardware inventories and easing of inflationary concerns.

Overall consumer spending across the three categories of Video Game Content, Hardware and Accessories was flat year-on-year, as the largest category of Content moved up slightly. The Hardware segment dipped double-digits, primarily due to a decline in non-PlayStation or Xbox platforms, i.e. Nintendo Switch.

Not bad in general, considering this time last year was the best October on record!

It helps to feature what will likely be the year’s biggest-selling game in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which (expectedly) topped the overall software chart. That makes 15 consecutive years where a Call of Duty title won its debut month. Which is a staggering result for the annualized military shooter especially since many so-called experts have consistently, and incorrectly, called for its demise.

Not only that, as happens this later in the year, the premium software chart was sprinkled with a variety of additional new releases. October saw five new games rank within the Top 10, and three more between #11 and #20. In addition to the aforementioned Call of Duty, the likes of Gotham Knights, NHL 23, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope and Bayonetta 3 all generated enough revenue to start in the Top 10, driving Content spend upward despite softness in mobile.

Within Hardware, the PlayStation 5 continued its dominance in October, winning out by both dollar sales and units sold. As it has for three months now. What’s reassuring is how Sony’s family of PlayStation 5 devices along with Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S family both generated double-digit gains. For four months running. Sensing a burgeoning trend now that supply is getting better? It just took a bit for this generation to get going, seeing as it began during a global pandemic and all.

“October growth in digital sales and subscriptions for console and PC video game content, driven in large part by the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, was offset by declines in mobile content and hardware,” wrote The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella on Twitter.

Signals in October and recent months point to a trend towards increased buying on premium software as the calendar became busier, demand meeting or exceeding console supply and spending bumping up because of it. Prices indicators overall are plateauing right now in the States, so spending power is better than it was earlier in the year. Even as folks are spending less on mobile, other areas are boosting the results.

Read more below as I dig into the domestic sales trends and list out the latest software rankings.

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

Looking at the above slides provided by The NPD Group, total monthly sales across the U.S. games industry stayed constant since last year at $4.27 billion. The green trend-line, which shows percentage change against prior year, has been moving mostly upwards since mid-year. I’d say this is the single most important takeaway from recent reports. Essentially, the rate at which spending declined in the back half of the year is improving.

Expanding to the first ten months of 2022 now, spending is still down 7% at $42.7 billion. This is mainly due to headwinds within Content as Hardware is showing a modest decline. There’s worse-than-expected output from mobile and a lighter premium software release slate until just recently in the fourth quarter.

Content as a segment, which includes software sales in addition to subscriptions and mobile, has returned to year-on-year growth, edging up 2% in October to $3.7 billion. Its contribution to overall sales was nearly 87%, compared to 85.5% this time last year. As for annual figures so far, Content has contracted 8% to $37.19 billion. That’s an improvement since last month, when it was trending down 9%, due to the October growth boosted by big budget new launches.

Mobile is traditionally the largest contributor within the Content segment. Unfortunately, last month’s report doesn’t shed much light into this other than to state spending was lower year-over-year. One tidbit from a GamesBeat article highlights how mobile spending could decline in 2022 for the first time in tracked history, an intriguing dynamic given how people are on the go more lately.

Within premium, October’s winner of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is also already the second best-selling game of the year, behind only Elden Ring. One element here is how Activision Blizzard employed a more staggered launch schedule for this year’s title, which seemingly attracted people earlier. Its story campaign dropped on October 21st while the full game hit market on October 28th.

This domestic debut fits the broader narrative of Modern Warfare as the premier sub-brand within the series. This year’s game, which shares a title with the 2009 classic, generated $800 million during its opening weekend and reached $1 billion in sales within ten days on market, becoming the fastest-selling Call of Duty in history and second fastest-selling game ever behind Grand Theft Auto V. (No wonder Microsoft is willing to pay so much for the publisher.)

Moving down the list, Gotham Knights snagged second place in what I’d call the biggest surprise of the month. Despite middling critical reception, the Warner Bros-published game clearly benefited from brand awareness as part of the DC Comics universe. Even without the Bat himself being playable. As a quick comparison point, Batman: Arkham Knight started atop the June 2015 software chart.

Then it’s the sports games, All from American publisher Electronic Arts. Both FIFA 23 and Madden NFL 23 dropped a couple spots respectively to 3rd and 4th. The next highest-ranked new title on October’s list was NHL 23, which scored 5th. This is a notable improvement compared to its predecessor, which dropped at 9th in October 2021.

Coming up next at #6 was Nintendo Switch exclusive Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope. The collaboration between Ubisoft and Nintendo is a sequel to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, a title that launched one spot higher in September 2017. (When, I might add, my beloved Destiny 2 was the month’s top earner.)

The final new game among the Top 10 last month was another Nintendo Switch exclusive in Bayonetta 3. Platinum Games’ latest in the long-running franchise is the first to launch on Switch, landing in 9th. It’s tricky to compare to prior games because they started on the failed Nintendo Wii U, which had quite the limited install base. One caveat is digital is not included for Nintendo-published games such as this one.

In terms of other new releases securing spots among the Top 20, there’s Star Ocean: The Divine Force at #14 and Dragon Ball: The Breakers at #16, while PGA Tour 2K23 teed off one spot lower at #17. And while it’s not a brand new title, Persona 5 experienced a massive jump up to seventh place due to its release on a variety of new platforms, including Xbox and Nintendo Switch.

Expanding to the current annual ranks, Elden Rings has held off Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for the time being. Bandai Namco announced recently that FromSoftware’s latest reached an impressive 17.5 million copies sold globally. I expect this dynamic in the U.S. will swap come next month, when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 will become the year’s best earner. Otherwise, FIFA 23 bounces into the Top 10, settling at #8, while Gotham Knights continues its impressive start being already the 14th top-selling game of 2022.

Here’s the full list of best-sellers for last month and the year through October.

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

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  2. Gotham Knights
  3. FIFA 23
  4. Madden NFL 23
  5. NHL 23
  6. Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope
  7. Persona 5
  8. NBA 2K23*
  9. Bayonetta 3*
  10. Elden Ring
  11. Mario Kart 8*
  12. Splatoon 3*
  13. Minecraft
  14. Star Ocean: The Divine Force
  15. Grounded
  16. Dragon Ball: The Breakers
  17. PGA Tour 2K23*
  18. Nintendo Switch Sports*
  19. NieR: Automata
  20. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*

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

  1. Elden Ring
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  3. LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
  4. Madden NFL 23
  5. Pokémon Legends: Arceus*
  6. Horizon Forbidden West
  7. MLB: The Show 22^
  8. FIFA 23
  9. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  10. Gran Turismo 7
  11. Mario Kart 8*
  12. Kirby and the Forgotten Land*
  13. Minecraft
  14. Gotham Knights
  15. Nintendo Switch Sports*
  16. Saints Row
  17. Madden NFL 22
  18. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
  19. FIFA 22
  20. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales

Console sales, which rose almost 20% in September, returned to a decline last month. Consumer spending on Hardware as a category declined 10% in October to $424 million. This happened despite solid double-digit growth for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, implying that Nintendo Switch made up the difference on the downside.

Intriguingly this didn’t have a substantial impact on the trend for 2022 to date, as Hardware spend is currently $3.78 billion or 2% lower than last year’s $3.87 billion thru the same time frame. That’s only down modestly from a 1% decline as of September. This tells me that availability is still better than it’s been in a long while, even if Nintendo Switch is aging into the back part of its life cycle.

As I predicted would happen last month, I mentioned earlier that PlayStation 5 won October on both dollar sales and units. Sony has been able to shore up its pipeline and suppliers are outputting more boxes to meet demand, and those folks that want a PlayStation 5 are certainly buying when they find one. In my article on Sony’s recent rules, I noted that PlayStation 5 lifetime unit sales reached 25 million. While it’s currently selling at a slower pace than PlayStation 4, the company is way upbeat on the remainder of this fiscal year through March 2023.

One additional note from The NPD Group is Xbox Series X|S landed in second place during October, reaffirming my inference that Nintendo Switch is starting to saturate its potential audience.

On the year so far, PlayStation 5 continues its lead on dollar sales followed by Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch, in that order. When measured by units, Nintendo Switch is still in the lead driven by its lower price point. PlayStation 5 is next, while Xbox Series X|S is in third by that metric.

This checks out, as the higher-priced current generation is making more money per unit sold than Nintendo’s older hardware. Not to mention, there’s more demand for the shiny new boxes. Though Nintendo does benefit from families and households buying multiple devices, a situation that will benefit it during this upcoming holiday period. The Switch recently passed 114 million units globally, still the third best-selling home and handheld console of all time.

In what I’d call the most disappointing result, mainly because it missed my more upbeat expectation after a solid September, Accessories experience 8% lower sales in October to $148 million. Apparently, a new game pad from Microsoft in the Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 Core wasn’t as attractive, maybe due to its pricing that’s above the likes of entry level controllers. Perhaps there were declines elsewhere that dragged the segment down.

Annual spending on Accessories for 2022 is currently down 12% from last year’s $1.95 billion, totaling $1.72 billion through the first ten months of this year.

During October, Sony’s PlayStation 5 Dual Sense Midnight Black was the month’s top-selling peripheral, a flip from September when it was the base level black Xbox Wireless Controller. Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Series 2 Wireless Controller is still tops for the year, as I confirmed directly with The NPD Group.

As far as monthly results go for commercial output of the domestic games industry, October was the steadiest in recent history. Prior to last month, we had seen 11 consecutive months of spending declines.

This sort of rebound is especially noteworthy since it’s compared against a record-breaking October last year. The Call of Duty effect is of course a big plus, alongside a great showing from Gotham Knights plus those annualized sports titles signaling a ramp up to the holiday shopping season.

Checking ahead to November, which includes the bellwether Black Friday period, I’m anticipating growth in overall domestic spending. Likely in the mid-to-high single digits. Mainly because of the better console inventories, massive PlayStation and Nintendo software launches and a chance for accessories to benefit from deals.

Even considering Call of Duty: Vanguard launching last November, I’m guessing the Content category will be flat or maybe a slight decline. I expect Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 will repeat as the top-seller, with both Sony’s God of War: Ragnarök and The Pokémon Company’s Pokémon Scarlet & Pokémon Violet close on its heels. Because the former includes digital, and it’s going to have a potential record-setting debut for a PlayStation exclusive, I firmly believe it can secure second place.

For Hardware, PlayStation 5 should take November on revenue as it will still retain its pricing. I’m much less certain on units sold. I think Nintendo Switch can win by this metric, given the incredible popularity of Pokémon as a franchise.

There we have the latest U.S. sales recap, and predictions as the year begins its end. I highly recommend checking out Piscatella’s thread here, a bittersweet one since apparently it will be the second-to-last NPD report on Twitter. The company is changing formats to a more formal press release style. You know I’ll still cover it here and on social media, regardless of how it’s announced!

Thanks everyone for taking the time to visit the site. Here’s wishing everyone a great November, and a Happy Thanksgiving to everyone that celebrates. Take care and be well!

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

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned.

Sources: Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco, GamesBeat, Newsweek (Image Credit), The NPD Group, Sony Corp.


Review: Call of Duty: Vanguard is What It Is and That’s Totally Fine

Note: Activision Blizzard has been in the news a lot for executives, including CEO Bobby Kotick, fostering a toxic workplace with widespread sexual harassment and mistreatment of its employees. It’s currently under multiple lawsuits and calls for his resignation. I acknowledge this project and others were made under these difficult circumstances and believe its management team should be held accountable. I don’t think this should stop people, including myself, from writing critically about the work of its development teams. Therefore, this is my full review.

It’s difficult for individual titles to stand out within an annual franchise. Consistency is really the name of the game, both in gameplay and structure. Call of Duty: Vanguard represents a continuation of great mechanics, rapid-fire intensity and blockbuster aesthetic from predecessors while suffering in areas especially within a bare-bones Zombies offering, slight imbalances in multiplayer weaponry and minimal integration with standalone battle royale mode Warzone.

The game is similar, familiar and doesn’t strive to reinvent the wheel. Which can be satisfying. This also means it’s not anything more than solid when taken as a whole.

As a military first-person shooter, it follows a similar cadence as many before featuring three distinct play options in Campaign, Multiplayer and Zombies. This year’s setting is the backdrop of World War II, showcasing characters, locales plus weapons from the era often sacrificing realism for functionality. It’s a video game after all, so some level of disbelief suspension is always in order.

Because of the historical setting, it’s naturally reminiscent of 2017’s Call of Duty: WWII. Which I found to be pretty good. Yet its mechanics are much more linked to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) which I consider in the highest regard within the mainline series and the genre in general. That means the pure feel, including movement capabilities, are top-notch. It achieves the series staple of smooth, seamless action.

The general approach here for both Campaign and Multiplayer, which were handled by Sledgehammer Games, is bouncing across different engagements during one of the world’s most massive wars. There’s fights everywhere from the Eastern and Western fronts, Northern Africa and Pacific regions. Zombies was instead made by Call of Duty: Black Ops creators Treyarch Studios and focuses on a tiny area in Stalingrad, a boring iteration in what’s the game’s most disappointing part.

Campaign has the highest of Vanguard’s highs, a playable blockbuster war flick following a team of specialized soldiers while learning about their pasts. From dazzling technical prowess to improved character writing and intense sequences, it’s a pretty thrilling five to six hour experience. Even stealth sections are worthy of praise.

There’s plenty of fun to be had in Multiplayer, the meat and potatoes of modern day Call of Duty. Even if progression feels uneven, unlocks take a lot of time and gun balancing is skewed from the start. Map diversity, general customization and play-style building is where it shines. That’s a lot of competitive content at launch, including at least a couple new modes plus rotating playlists that add flavor to the mix.

Other areas either plainly aren’t ready or don’t feel fully baked, notably Zombies and Warzone integration.

Zombies is the weakest bit, even if it’s the best place for mindless experience grinding without having to compete. More of a run-based approach. Which could work, it’s just way too basic and monotonous. Doesn’t feel fully baked at launch. December update.

The most relevant question asked of any virtual shooter is: how does it feel to play? Without that, it’s nothing.

I’m a firm believer that Call of Duty features best-in-class gun feel, movement capability, audio feedback and time-to-kill tweaking. While in a historical setting, Vanguard retains all of these and it just feels natural to play for first-person aficionados. Hit feedback is critical. I lean towards shorter time-to-kill games, where bullets feel stronger and engagements are about reaction and precision. This year’s experience continues modern staples like tactical sprint, sliding and mounting on different parts of the environment, providing a sleek and powerful combination of abilities that translate especially well to Multiplayer matches.

The game is similar, familiar and doesn’t strive to reinvent the wheel. Which can be satisfying. This also means it’s not anything more than solid when taken as a whole.

I always begin my annual Call of Duty passage with Campaign, so I’ll start there. While not the most impactful or innovative story, its intensity is matched only by its big budget feel during firefights across various theatres of the 1940s.

At first it appears a pretty standard setup when it comes to military stories: A group of specialized soldiers called Task Force One bands together during World War II to uncover a secret plot within the Nazi war machine. It ends up being more an interactive Tarantino flick told out of order because, within this framework, it’s actually a character piece delving into the past of its personalities before pushing forward into their present day.

Arthur Kingsley, a Cameroonian Brit well-educated in language and film, commands the unit with a deft touch and glowing charisma. Polina Petrova is a Russian-born sniper with a quick tongue and even faster trigger finger, she has a score to settle with her invaders. Pilot and New York native Wade Jackson joined the team after surviving the Pacific while Lucas Riggs is an Australian explosives expert. And general goofball. British Sergeant Richard Webb rounds out the cast, though is the only individual the player doesn’t control at some point.

In the opening mission, the team executes a high stakes train robbery where it learns of one of The Third Reich’s mysterious internal plans called Project Phoenix. Unfortunately, they are also captured by ambitious Nazi scumbag Hermann Freisinger and thrown into a high-security prison to be interrogated by Jannick Richter, acted incredibly well by Dominic Monaghan. It’s via these sessions that the game tells each character’s tale, leading to most of the game’s missions as flashbacks.

Each character has different abilities within these vignettes that change up the core gameplay. Petrova escapes her hometown of Stalingrad while leveraging her super fast stealth techniques and marksman aim. During The Rats of Tobruk, Riggs escorts a splinter unit to gain intelligence from a desert Nazi base while blowing up as many military vehicles as possible, even one that’s airborne, with an assorted inventory of grenades.

And during Operation Tonga, the player issues directives to a dedicated fire team as Kingsley, pointing out areas for cover fire or opportunities to hit high value targets, fighting during the infamous invasion of Normandy. Because what’s a World War II game without Normandy?

Sure, it’s a bit predictable. It’s still more effective bouncing between controllable characters rather than a single one, reminiscent of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare with its multiple protagonists. And the focus on the most important parts of their history means there can be quieter moments with family and fellow squad members amidst the chaos of war.

As a massive publisher project, the Campaign is a technical showpiece that exists on the front-line of modern console capabilities. The developers at Sledgehammer games, which handled this mode plus Multiplayer, are showing off when it comes to movement animations, environmental design and audio prowess. The sound design is incredible, neatly capturing whizzing bullets and crunchy demolition.

There’s a distinct focus on environment, cover and destruction in Vanguard. While of course it’s a set of linear sequences, it offers flexibility in blasting through a wooden barricade or mounting a crumbling cement wall. While far from revolutionary, this sort of destructibility is a welcome touch.

My favorite mission trick later in the narrative is one where the camera switches perspective mid-mission as the playable character shifts within a broader conflict. It’s a superb effect and spreads out mechanics because of those bespoke abilities assigned to each teammate. Jackson’s time-slowing aiming in particular is the most satisfying of all.

Regrettably an earlier set of missions set in the skies above the Pacific Ocean then the Numa Numa Trail in Papua New Guinea mark lows in the action. First the player is tasked with flying a primitive fighter plane then dive-bombing ships. The controls just don’t translate well, and imaginary walls restrict the combat area so flying outside them causes mission failure. Right after there’s a jungle sequence along the trail where Jackson and his copilot meet the 93rd Infantry Division, a segregated unit for African-American soldiers. I appreciate the inclusion, and leader James “Booker” Washington acts as an inspiration, even if the mission itself is a somewhat monotonous trudge.

Back to the highs, Sledgehammer’s voice casting and motion capture techniques are on full display. Famed voice actress Laura Bailey steals the overall show as Petrova, while British actor Chiké Okonkwo’s Kingsley quite literally commands his every scene. The aforementioned Monaghan is incredible as a sniveling, over-matched Nazi investigator when facing off with each personality. Facial features are crisp and animations line up perfectly in another example of technical know-how from the Sledgehammer team.

It’s a mostly enjoyable five or six hours, feeling even longer than it is and boasting more highs than not. I would have liked one additional mission or a more climactic final sequence, yet have minimal complaints about its length as a war epic trying to showcase multiple fronts of the war and more intimate flashback anecdotes.

The main focus of development and ongoing support in the latest Call of Duty games, now operating each year alongside its persistent Warzone battle royale offering introduced back in 2020, is Multiplayer. Clearly.

Competitive play is where the franchise’s smooth, fast-paced mechanics really make their mark. Vanguard is no different, maybe a slight step behind the master class of Modern Warfare. It’s the most tangibly rewarding mode, with the usual setup of the best unlocks requiring a major time investment. It’s the series that revolutionized progression in first-person multiplayer, and still does it as well as any other by dangling that next reward after every round.

That progression, the forward momentum, it’s what Call of Duty perfected all those years ago. The numbers go up almost everywhere, after every match, between general level experience (XP), weapons getting more powerful via unlocks, Operator level and its ongoing battle pass. It’s part of why the franchise has been so successful and long-lasting, and why I keep coming back to it each time. Sure there are specific challenges and cosmetic awards for achieving them. But I love progression that can be earned in-game, and Call of Duty rewards people every step of the way for simply playing.

The core of Vanguard is a sampling of traditional modes like Team Deathmatch and Free-For-All, objective-based Domination, Hardpoint and Search and Destroy and many corresponding Hardcore renditions where radar is turned off plus bullets are more lethal. Team Deathmatch is naturally where most of the player base operates, as usual. It’s the bread-and-butter, the definition of consistency. Or perhaps redundancy, depending how one looks at it. When I’m not grinding out experience in smaller maps, I tend to gravitate towards certain objective types: the zone control of Hardpoint and especially Kill Confirmed where players collect dog tags of fallen foes and comrades.

This year’s title introduces a couple new modes, one that’s really an iteration of an existing template then another that’s unlike most others. Patrol is the former, where a capture area constantly moves around a map and rewards the team that holds it the longest. It’s cool enough, promoting more movement than Hardpoint while requiring the same team coordination.

Champion Hill is the more unique introduction in Vanguard. This is a round-robin style tournament in which eight small teams compete against one another with a limited set of lives in a fight for supremacy. It begins in a hub area with a buying round where teams of two or three can choose between weapons, perks, upgrades and even more lives. It then randomly selects a match-up of two teams and places them in one of four sub-areas on the broader map. Kills generate cash which can be used to add attachments or spent during additional buying rounds. Any team that runs out of lives is eliminated. It’s a snappy set of tactical skirmishes where things can go south quickly, and smart use of cash reserves is key. It’s intense and addictive, especially with friends on comms.

The big push in Multiplayer is creating a build that fits one’s play style. Weapons, attachments, grenades, field upgrades, perks, killstreaks, the cornucopia of completing one’s arsenal.

Weapon variety right now in Vanguard is mostly as expected, with a historical backdrop of course rather than any sort of modern military models. It’s a tricky task for Sledgehammer to operate within the World War II setting and create gameplay scenarios that entice players used to automatic weapons and accoutrements galore. So it ends up being a Frankenstein blend of period guns with unrealistic upgrades and capabilities, a sacrifice of realism for the sake of practicality which I believe is necessary.

There’s 38 weapons at launch across the typical primary categories of assault rifles, submachine or light machine guns and shotguns. Vanguard separates marksman rifles from snipers, the former being long range semi-automatics while the latter are mostly one-hit kills. Then the secondary options of pistols, melee and, my personal favorite, launchers. All of these archetypes aren’t just anticipated, they are purely essential by now.

Early in a multiplayer game’s life cycle, imbalances are unavoidable. That’s the case right now for at least one or two weapons especially within assault rifles and shotguns, while marksman and snipers seem underutilized. The STG44 is the very first assault rifle available to players and probably the best all around pick. There’s also the faster firing Automaton, lethal during closer engagements yet harder to control. The most fun, or broken, of all in Vanguard is the Combat Shotgun with ridiculous range and impeccable impact. Now of course this will change over time, as the meta layer moves according to Sledgehammer’s patches alongside user base feedback. I don’t mind going with the more powerful weapons because it allows me to focus rather than spreading myself too thin. Plus, I can be more competitive as a somewhat slightly above average player.

The defining characteristic of Call of Duty is flexibility, and the weapon attachment system is robust in Vanguard. Guns have ten dedicated spots for mixing and matching. Regulars like silencers, scopes, barrels and grips are all represented, adjusting attributes from accuracy to speed. Then there’s additional spots for ammo type, proficiency and kit. These add further customization like incendiary bullets that set targets ablaze or the Vital proficiency which increases critical hit size. As I alluded to before, the tradeoff is the most powerful are among the last to unlock.

Personally, an expanded arsenal of different launchers excites me the most. There are four of them: M1 Bazooka, Panzerschreck, Panzerfaust and MK11 Launcher. The last two are especially amazing during ground tactics. I’ve probably made a lot of opponents mad on smaller maps. The main risks are reloads that take forever and there’s no automatic lock-on for these, it’s straight shooting for all projectiles. Which means taking down airborne vehicles proves more difficult in Vanguard.

Individual play is even further defined by the familiar systems of custom loadouts and other options. Players assign perks, field upgrades, killstreaks then both tactical throwables and lethal grenades. It’s impossible to cover them all in a review. Suffice to say series regulars are all here, even if they have different names. Everything from attack dogs and Molotov cocktails to flamethrowers and spy planes. Variety is the spice of life, and a defining factor of Call of Duty.

I’ll often opt towards a more stealthy and accurate approach. Suppressors and stabilizers that steady recoil pair well with perks like Ghost and Radar to make me more inconspicuous. There’s always a flipside because firepower output is lower plus I’m more susceptible to explosions. This works well in objective modes and larger spaces. Lately I’ve started experimenting with a louder technique using options that give me more grenades and rockets. Combining Demolition, which allows two lethals at spawn, with Supply Box means I can resupply all explosive types. I pair these with a great perk called Piercing Vision that allows me to briefly see through walls when I hit a target. It’s especially effective on more compact maps, and I love being able to bounce between these two distinct styles.

Speaking of maps, or “boards” as veterans dub them, the sheer number at release is one of the most highly impressive aspects of Multiplayer. There’s 20 at present, 16 of which are traditional while four are the individual areas of Champion Hill. It’s a robust total which I believe is the most ever right at launch.

Maps are on the whole consistent. Certain ones are fantastic while there are a couple weaker outliers. There’s legacy areas sprinkled in like Castle and Dome, both from 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War. Most of Vanguard’s are new designs. Select favorites include Tuscan, a daring rooftop parlay in Italy, then the real-world German building Kehlsteinhaus represented in Eagle’s Nest which excels in interior engagements between two exterior lanes. Decoy is an incredible outdoor training course area with mock buildings and smashable walls.

Then there’s my choice: Das Haus, in what’s proving a most controversial pick within the community. It’s pure close-quarters mayhem in a remote location where Germans train to infiltrate the U.S. White House. I adore the chaos, one of those love it or hate it type of instant classics a la Nuketown. It often has its own dedicated playlist, or combined lately with a snazzy iteration of Shipment, which works wonders for grinding out levels.

Another introduction in Vanguard is the Combat Pacing system. It offers three distinct options for player population in each match, from the most chill to crazy hectic, and I really dig this particular move. Tactical has the least amount of players, feeling the most like a normal Call of Duty count of 6 versus 6. Assault ramps up the intensity to moderate. Blitz boasts the highest player count and most frenzied of all, leading to constant action and high body counts. The system changes even how a single map can feel, and it’s mostly for the better. Blitz makes even the most open locales feel frenetic. There’s the downside of Tactical hitting on that same sort of big board, which makes it empty. This sort of mini-innovation within the series is a welcome change, especially since there’s flexibility in matchmaking to focus on a single pacing or include them all.

A most frivolous and honestly questionable new feature is the Team MVP concept, which now exists alongside the typical end-of-match Play of the Game or Final Kill replays. Vanguard’s algorithm picks three contestants to highlight when a fight is over, normally those with the most headshots or multi-kills and occasionally showcasing people who led objective tasks. Each player can vote on who was the most valuable, gaining a slight bit of experience points each time. Because there aren’t many win animations and certain rewards are for trivial things like being around teammates for the most time, it’s not the most polished of match finales like say Overwatch.

Nowadays every Call of Duty game introduces their own Operators, or the characters one picks before a given match. Within Vanguard these are mostly visual as there’s no classes or roles like earlier titles. It’s a small roster, each has quips and finishing moves plus those Play of the Game and MVP animations. There is a slight XP boost for playing with a character and their “favorite weapon.” Oh, and of course there’s an Operator Level. It’s mostly another way to see the numbers go up, and increase cosmetic possibilities.

Multiplayer overall here is a sound foundation with excellent map consistency and clever pacing features that increase both the enjoyment and reward frequency. Sure there’s balancing challenges for weapons mostly, which is mostly forgivable early on and can even level the playing field for non-professionals. How it evolves over time will be key. I believe it’s quite enjoyable in its current state, notably on fast-paced maps and close clashes, even for the more casual competitors like yours truly.

It doesn’t have to change much because it relies on fundamentals that work. Whether or not that’s a knock against it comes down to taste and perspective, and I’m in the camp that recognizes how minor differences can enhance that base experience.

Now, to talk about the biggest swing-and-miss: Zombies.

Straight up, this co-op mode wasn’t ready. Because developer Treyarch themselves said the first story beats begin in early December. Right now, it’s a shell of what it should be and the most disappointing aspect of Vanguard’s packaging. Zombies lacks intrigue, replayability, narrative hooks and a reason to stay longer term other than maybe messing around leveling up with friends or seeing how difficult it can get.

Set within a very small area of Stalingrad, the Zombies mode is supposed to be a continuation of the Dark Aether narrative which began last year. For background, Projekt Endstation opened up inter-dimensional portals to a demonic parallel universe and a Nazi commander now wants to control them for a last ditch effort against Allied forces. Basically, players control Special Forces soldiers to see how many otherworldly foes they can take down.

The glaring problem is right now, Zombies has.. turned into a run-based mode that starts in a small hub world then moves into other tiny areas for a single task then teleports players back to that main area to purchase upgrades and the like. The main map features a crafting bench, the “Altar of Covenants,” weapon upgrades and a Pack-a-Punch machine that generates a random gun.

There’s an obvious roguelike influence here, except without the variety or meaningful progression and certainly no mysterious, engaging elements like years past. Which is what I cherished most about Zombies, its ability to be weird and curious with random artifacts and puzzles to solve. Sad to report this is the exact opposite.

Portal objectives rarely require any brainpower. I believe there are only three of them, two of which are variations on staying alive long enough for a timer to run out. The most taxing is Harvest, which asks players to collect runes then deposit them. No variants. Zero coordination needed. The utter definition of monotony.

In typical Zombies fashion, difficulty bumps up a bit after the group of up to four players clears a portal. Which really means they mostly become more bullet spongy and more of them spawn. One would think Zombies offers developers a golden chance to flex muscles on enemy variety and design tactics to push players to their limits.

Nope. There’s three zombie types. Standard shamblers, exploders called Boom Schreiers and Sturmkrieger also known as “Big Annoying Zombie With Machine Gun And Too Much Health.” At least they have cool names, I suppose. Because Vanguard’s idea of challenge is throwing more and more of the same exact fodder, not getting creative with tactics or mutations. Oh wait, I forgot. Some of the base versions do have armor. Which is just a way to disguise giving them a bigger health pool.

Are you asleep yet?

Sure, there are select loadout choices and customization powers. All the guns and attachments from Multiplayer are used, then the player selects one of four “entities” that each have a single power. These are basic abilities dressed up with fancy names like Dragon of Saraxis, an area of effect blast, or Mask of Bellekar that’s just a short-term cloak. Perks can be found around the map, giving more health or speed. Chests drop grenades or different guns, usually throwaway versions. Again, wholly lackluster.

The aforementioned Altar of Covenants is the most impactful of customization tactics and at least provides meaningful benefits. After each round when returning from a portal, a player earns a Sacrificial Heart. These can be exchanged for Covenants, or abilities that spice things up a tad. Bloodlust allows self-healing for melee damage, Death Blow returns ammo for critical kills and Cryofreeze is pretty self-explanatory. The best of these are Brain Rot, which randomly turns a damaged zombie friendly, then Ammo Gremlin which refills ammo in stowed weapons. It eliminates the need to reload constantly, which is a staple of zombie fights.

It’s so bare-bones and boring that I don’t have much more to say about Zombies other than it feels half-baked in its current form. And I’m not sure updates will vastly change that. Its nowhere near as mysterious or intriguing as past iterations, though at least it will have more substance in a couple weeks. Because it drastically needs that.

I guess there’s one reason to play Zombies as a quick, more chill way to gain experience and player level without having to run competitive matches. It’s just flat out bad after the first hour or two when the allure of jumping into portals wears off, the seams start showing and its rampant imperfections take hold of any semblance of fun. There’s not much reason to play Zombies until it’s fixed. If that even happens in the future.

As expected from a project of this magnitude and a team of this size, Vanguard runs smooth as butter on the Xbox Series X and I assume most other platforms because of its pedigree. Performance stability is a staple of first-person shooters, and Call of Duty excels in this department offering up to a 120hz refresh rate on console. There’s also a welcome field of view slider, plus a variety of motion blur and video options. Sadly, there’s no ray tracing implementation though it’s still a gorgeous game where I noticed zero frame rate hitches and no issues running in any mode.

Diving more into settings, Vanguard’s feature suite is extensive. Flexible control mapping alternatives, gameplay changes, movement options, color customization and heads-up display switches are all tweaks available to players. Accessibility is covered with font size, subtitles, crosshair bobbing, the aforementioned color changes plus a variety of text chat features. There’s even the ability to disable graphic content and engage profanity filters. I commend the teams for just how many different configurations they offer.

One glaring omission is a formal photo mode, which is more popular than ever in modern games. Even those with multiplayer elements. Campaign in particular can be stunning and would lead to some epic shots.

In terms of social features, it’s the usual party system where one can team up with platform or Activision friends. There’s also full cross-play and cross-progression in Call of Duty now, the former can be flipped off and the latter is done via Activision account. A neat touch now is Clans, where a group of up to one hundred folks can team up in a group and earn bonuses for doing so.

Luckily I’ve seen limited disruptions in matchmaking and connection. This year’s title also introduced a dedicated anti-cheat team called Ricochet, which was desperately needed. Technologically, Vanguard is an achievement for all folks involved. Just remember to mute all in the lobby when running outside of a party!

Because it’s a modern multiplayer game, there’s all sorts of cosmetic systems from emblems to name plates and weapon skins to those Operator animations I mentioned earlier. It’s ripe for monetization over time, though the usual cosmetic packs aren’t present yet. They certainly will be, I’d imagine when integration with Warzone kicks off in early December.

And that part will be key for the ongoing support and meta game for Vanguard, as it’s another annual launch operating in parallel with Warzone. Right now, the two operate independently. There’s going to be a new map set in the Pacific called Caldera, available on December 9th, which will mark a new season in the Call of Duty universe. The battle royale mode and its current maps have grown a bit stale to me, so I’m excited to try out the changes and see how integration with historical weapons works. It can’t be a clean break because of how much investment players have put into prior seasons to date, even as much as I’d love to see what would happen in that case.

After spending a considerable amount of time with all that Call of Duty: Vanguard has to offer, I’ve come away satisfied with Campaign, impressed with elements of Multiplayer and wholly distraught by an aggressively poor Zombies offering. Sledgehammer’s contributions to story and online play lead the charge while Treyarch’s lackluster fighting against the undead is the weakest link.

Vanguard, like individual instances of many ongoing franchises, is mostly predictable. It does show off a handful of surprises, like select flashback missions in the narrative and the Multiplayer’s new battle pacing system that ramps up the reward feedback loop. Which is essential in the competitive space, even when played casually.

It’s a technical showpiece, plain and simple. There’s clear attention to detail in animation quality and environmental design. One moment, gunsmoke exiting a weapon’s barrel looks real enough to smell the residue. The next, a character jams that new round in the chamber before aiming down their scope to snap off a clean critical hit. The frenzied pacing often hides these qualities that really define a military shooter, and Call of Duty does it as well as any. Even if it does happen every year, there are noticeable improvements for those paying attention.

This sort of iterative effort is akin to a sports game that nails the core experience. It doesn’t have to change much because it relies on fundamentals that work. Whether or not that’s a knock against it comes down to taste and perspective, and I’m in the camp that recognizes how minor differences can enhance that base experience.

Call of Duty is no longer isolated to the once a year event then content packs in the coming months. It’s all the time, ongoing and ever-present. Vanguard as its latest iteration is mostly good, even if not regularly great. It’s still one of the best at those jaw-dropping, blockbuster moments and trailblazing technology.

I’m way content with the time I’ve had in the game so far, and I plan to keep it up over time especially with friends in the online component. And I hope to dip into a better Zombies mode down the line. Foundational mechanics and gratifying progression, plus those “wow” moments when chaining shots together or parachuting across the Pacific during a Campaign mission, are plenty good enough to carry Vanguard even when other aspects weigh it down.

Title: Call of Duty: Vanguard

Release Date: November 5th, 2021

Developer: Sledgehammer Games, Treyarch Studios

Publisher: Activision Blizzard

Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Recommendation: While there’s entertainment to be had in the Campaign and it features the most memorable moments, I’m not sure it’s worth the price of admission alone. Multiplayer is the more consistent highlight right now due to great game feel, awesome maps and a steady progression system. Zombies is a total whiff, at least for now. I say it’s worth a try for the first two modes alone, just don’t expect a mind-blowing experience.

Sources: Activision Press Center, Screenshots from Xbox Series X.


Call of Duty & Nintendo Top a Record Year for U.S. Game Sales in 2020

Alright, I might have lied. Can’t get rid of 2020 just yet.

That’s because industry tracking firm The NPD Group released its final batch of statistics for the U.S. market last year, and it’s a monumental one. Between the continued dominance of Nintendo, steadfastness of Activision’s multi-tiered Call of Duty franchise and the start of a new console generation, it turned out to be a record one for the domestic video games industry.

This past week’s release covered the highly-coveted holiday month of December, plus a report on full year figures. We’ll start with December then move into the broader 2020 as a whole, pulling back for context on a mostly forgettable year except for when it comes to gaming. I’ll add commentary and context in various spots.

A couple things to note. All of these statistics are solely for the U.S. market, and include those publishers that participate in NPD’s tracking. In particular, certain publishers exclude digital sales when it comes to software charts (Why? Well, that’s for another day.) There are three sub-categories, each of which has its own reporting: Content (Software, Add-On etc), Hardware and Accessories. We’ll go through them all, with links and sources at the end.

Bring on the numbers.

United States Games Industry Sales (November 29th, 2020 to January 2nd, 2021):

Overall, industry spending in December within the States reached a record high for a December month. Upwards of $7.7 billion, which is an increase of 25% since this time last year.

Driven by Nintendo Switch demand plus the first full month on market for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, spending on Hardware rose 38% to $1.35 billion. This is the best December for the sub-category since 2013, the start of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One generation, which totaled $1.37 billion.

This slight decline in early generation hardware contribution stems from supply constraints rather than lack of demand, naturally. When talking about Xbox Series X|S in particular, though I imagine it also applies to PlayStation 5, NPD Analyst Mat Piscatella said they “quickly sold every unit made. Just not enough stock to keep up with demand.”

Switch was the top-seller as measured by both units and dollars. This marks the 25th consecutive month where it’s led on unit sales, a staggering record for Nintendo. As I’ll write in a bit, this holiday push led its annual sales to a near record level. The manufacturer hasn’t shared anything publicly on specifics, I’d love to know unit sales to gauge how it compares historically.

In terms of the new generation, NPD didn’t share much in the way of specifics on December numbers alone. Rather, I’ll comment on annual hardware results a bit later, which really covers both November and December in aggregate.

Industry sales of software and add-ons within the Content segment reached $5.8 billion, up from $4.7 billion in December 2019. This impressive growth was driven by top-selling franchises likes Call of Duty, Animal Crossing, Madden and Assassin’s Creed plus a plethora of Nintendo-published titles, which accounted for half of the Top 20 list!

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War continued the lead from its debut month of November, driving another year of commercial success as well. In an incredible run, Activision’s first-person military shooter has led every single December during the past decade except for one: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in 2018.

Even during a shaky launch, Cyberpunk 2077 sold well as pent-up anticipation drove significant demand. The futuristic, open world RPG landed at #2 on the overall chart. And CD Projekt Red doesn’t even provide the digital share. I’m not sure digital would cause it to overtake the staggering levels of Call of Duty, though I’d surely love to know.

Ubisoft produced two games in the overall Top 10 during December. At third place is the consistent Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which the publisher previously said was the best launch ever in the franchise. Then, open world action-adventure game Immortals Fenyx Rising kicked off at #9. As a debut for new IP during the busiest of months, this is a notable start (for a game I really enjoyed).

Lastly on the software side, just look at how many Nintendo Switch games are on the Top 20. Beyond Animal Crossing, like darn every Mario game on the platform is there plus Smash Bros., Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and even Ring Fit Adventure sneaking in at #19. And that’s without even considering digital sales for any of them, a significant portion of the market by now. Clearly reveals just how high Nintendo’s attach rate is when people snag a new device. Which they didn’t plenty of this holiday season.

Before moving to the software chart itself, it’s briefly worth noting the final category of Accessories. This segment rose 15% year-on-year in December to $546 million. Driven by Gamepad spending, as Sony’s brand new DualSense Wireless Controller topped the monthly list.

Top-Selling Games of December 2020, U.S. (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  2. Cyberpunk 2077*
  3. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  4. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  5. Madden NFL 21
  6. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  7. Mario Kart 8: Deluxe*
  8. NBA 2K21*
  9. Immortals Fenyx Rising
  10. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*
  11. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  12. Just Dance 2021
  13. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity*
  14. FIFA 21
  15. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  16. Super Mario Odyssey*
  17. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  18. Super Mario Party*
  19. Ring Fit Adventure
  20. Mortal Kombat 11

United States Games Industry Sales (2020):

Shifting into annual figures for the U.S., market, we’ll see similar trends within all three sales sub-categories especially at the top-end. Consumer spending across the games industry eclipsed a new yearly high during 2020, rising 27% to a whopping $56.9 billion. Driven mostly by the Content category, which accounted for 86% of the total.

Hardware achieved its best result since 2011, back when it was $5.6 billion. During 2020, this category jumped 35% year-over-year to $5.3 billion. Major contributors being Switch and transitioning generations, of course. Even if production limits cause the new boxes to under-perform a bit.

Nintendo Switch topped each monthly chart during 2020, and thus it was the best-selling piece of hardware on the year. Not only that, the hybrid console’s annual dollar result was the second best ever behind only Wii in 2008.

Flipping over to the fancy new generation, PlayStation 5 came in second during 2020 on dollar sales. Sony’s latest big (hah, literally) platform even achieved a dollar amount record for PlayStation hardware through each console’s first December. Separately, PlayStation 4 led the year on units sold. PlayStation 5’s dollar lead is attributed to a higher average selling price while its predecessor relied on discounts and higher inventory to clear boxes from retailers.

Call of Duty once again dominated the Software category, marking the 12th year in a row that a game in the franchise led the annual overall rankings. And not only that, the series occupied the top two spots! This year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops at numero uno then last year’s stellar Call of Duty: Modern Warfare at #2.

I’d have to look back over the entirety of tracked history since the start of Activision’s best-selling series in 2003. But I believe this is the first time since then that two titles in the same franchise led the combined chart. It’s a testament to the quality of Modern Warfare, its Warzone battle royale mode, continued free content updates and efforts toward cross-platform/cross-progression functionality that all keep players attracted to the ecosystem.

In a year full of notable milestones, Animal Crossing: New Horizons recorded yet another. It ranked #3 on the overall list. Its retail dollar sales, sans digital, were the highest for any game published by Nintendo since Wii Fit Plus in 2010. And we all remember how everyone and their grandmother bought the fitness board back then. (Likely even still collecting dust at a relative’s place, like ours.) I can’t wait to hear from Nintendo early next month on its global unit sales through year-end.

On a related note, the sheer number of exclusives on the 2020 sales list is wild. Both Nintendo and PlayStation platforms each boasted three games in the Top 10. Sony’s The Last of Us Part II ended at #6. Within Sony-published titles, it’s now behind only Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War from 2018 measured by lifetime dollar sales. Ghost of Tsushima and Final Fantasy 7: Remake also landed in the Top 10. All of these prove the continued relevance of console exclusives, enticing players to spend on that platform.

There’s also certain titles noticeably missing to keen observers. No more Grand Theft Auto V. Farewell Red Dead Redemption 2. As I’ve discussed before, this is less a byproduct of slowing sales and more the way that publisher Take-Two now participates in NPD’s data gathering. “Take-Two remains a data sharing member of the Digital Leader Panel,” said Piscatella in a tweet reply. “However its digital sales are excluded from the published best-selling title charts.”

While not as major a contributor to overall results, Accessories generated $2.6 billion in spending during 2020. This is up 21% since 2019. On the year, Gamepad spend achieved a new spend record. Similar to December, the DualSense Wireless Controller for PlayStation 5 was the best-selling piece on units and dollar amount. Headset/Headphone actually surpassed its all-time spending high in 2020, with Turtle Beach’s Ear Force Recon 70 leading the charge. I hear ya!

Top-Selling Games of 2020, U.S. (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  4. Madden NFL 21
  5. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  6. The Last of Us: Part II
  7. Ghost of Tsushima
  8. Mario Kart 8: Deluxe*
  9. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*
  10. Final Fantasy 7: Remake
  11. Marvel’s Avengers
  12. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  13. NBA 2K21*
  14. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  15. FIFA 21
  16. Mortal Kombat 11
  17. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  18. MLB: The Show 20
  19. Cyberpunk 2077*
  20. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2

Whew. That’s a whole lot to digest. Typical 2020, am I right.

It’s an easy conclusion to draw, yet I’ll do it anyway: It was an incredible year for gaming, with broad critical success echoed by commercial performance.

Switch is starting to trend like no one could have predicted, both in terms of hardware sales and the ridiculous number of software products charting month-in, month-out. Call of Duty is going nowhere, the hard work of the development teams behind the annual series rewarded for their consistent output. Animal Crossing became the year’s biggest surprise, launching in March during a time of much-needed distraction. Sony exclusives proved that quality results in mass adoption. Microsoft sold out of stock during the holiday months, even if supply can’t possibly keep up with demand.

I’ll have a piece soon on my 2021 predictions, yet I find it hard to determine right now if it will be a repeat. Depends on a lot of factors, some unknown. But what I do know is that 2020 set a high standard, despite the most tragic of scenarios.

Hat tip to NPD Games and Piscatella for the various stats plus the chart visual. Totally worth giving both a follow to read more there on individual platform details and other tidbits.

Thanks for checking out the last NPD thread for 2020. Be safe!

*Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Nintendo, NPD Group, Ubisoft.


New U.S. Video Game Sales Report Reveals the Best Sellers of 2019 & the Decade

It’s the last sales report of the decade!

Last night, industry tracking firm NPD Group shared a number of figures on the U.S. games market for December, 2019 as a whole plus the entire decade beginning way back in 2010. Get ready for lots of juicy stats!

Not wasting anytime, let’s start with December and expand to broader time frames after that.

During a period that includes the usual holiday push, domestic consumer spending in December totaled $3 billion which is down around 15% since last year’s figure. Softness occurred in all major categories, as gains for Nintendo Switch couldn’t offset other declines.

Software spending in December landed at $1.1 billion, 13% lower than last year’s corresponding month. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was again the month’s top selling title. Separately, the Hardware segment dipped 17% to $973 million as Nintendo Switch continues its streak as the month’s best-selling platform. The final category of Accessories & Game Cards saw consumers spend $869 million during the month, which is down 14% year-over-year. The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 marked its second straight month leading this category.

We can attribute continued weakness here to tough comparables in late 2018 which featured the popularity of games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Marvel’s Spider-Man, plus the sustained strength of Fortnite which really bolstered accessory sales last year in particular. We know this later console cycle decline is expected, though December 2019 is more pronounced than it would be due to record-setting software releases last year.

The chart below courtesy of NPD Group shows monthly comparisons within each segment during Decembers of the past five years.

Here’s the list of the top selling games for the month of December.

Top-Selling Games of December 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. NBA 2K20
  5. Luigi’s Mansion 3*
  6. Pokémon Sword*
  7. Mario Kart 8*
  8. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  9. Pokémon Shield*
  10. Minecraft#
  11. Grand Theft Auto V
  12. Red Dead Redemption 2
  13. FIFA 20
  14. Just Dance 2020
  15. Need for Speed: Heat
  16. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  17. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening*
  18. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  19. Super Mario Party*
  20. Ring Fit Adventure

Before moving into 2019, I’d like to shout out a couple individual team accomplishments.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was released in November and held the second spot in the chart for a second month in a row during December, plus jumped up the annual ranks to 6th overall as we’ll see in a bit. With only a couple months of tracking, the third-person action game is now officially the best-selling of all time from developer Respawn Entertainment, known mostly for creating the Titanfall series. The team had a heck of a year between this and free-to-play hit Apex Legends.

Switching to sports, PlayStation 4 exclusive MLB The Show 19 is now the top-selling baseball game ever in the States since tracking began in the mid-90s. Based on dollar sales since its release in March 2019, it passed up MVP Baseball 2004 to take the top spot within this specific segment. Considering all the titles released over the years plus it being a platform exclusive really shows how much of a home run Sony’s San Diego Studio scored in 2019.

Speaking of 2019, let’s expand our discussion to chat on full year figures. Graphic above maps out the last few years as a reference.

Overall games industry spending in 2019 reached $14.6 billion, which is off 13% compared to 2018. Within this total, annual spending on Software declined 9% to $6.6 billion. Nintendo Switch console games experienced growth, the only platform to do so. Hardware sales in 2019 dropped 22% to $3.9 billion, while Accessories & Game Cards category dipped 7% to $4.1 billion. On the year, the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller led all accessory sales.

Switch itself was of course the major story of the year on the console side, as it led each monthly chart during the year and was the top-selling platform of 2019. Its new Lite model bolstered demand after its release in September such that the family as a whole saw annual gains compared to 2018. At last count, Nintendo announced Switch sales in the Americas passed 15 million units, which is just over a third of the latest global figure. Titles like mainline Pokémon and the surprising Luigi’s Mansion 3 plus ongoing support for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate contribute to its continued popularity as Nintendo takes advantage of a brief lull in the life cycle of other platform manufacturers.

In terms of individual software, it’s no surprise that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was the year’s leading seller after dominating the monthly chart since its release back in October when it shot to the top of the year-to-date list. This marks the 11th straight year that a game in the franchise has led the annual chart, as seen below by the full rankings.

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. NBA 2K20
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. Borderlands 3
  5. Mortal Kombat 11
  6. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  7. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  8. Kingdom Hearts 3
  9. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
  10. Mario Kart 8*
  11. Grand Theft Auto V
  12. Red Dead Redemption 2
  13. Minecraft#
  14. FIFA 20
  15. Anthem
  16. Pokémon Sword*
  17. Resident Evil 2 Remake
  18. Luigi’s Mansion 3*
  19. Days Gone
  20. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*

Finally, we’re going even bigger. Despite what naysayers would have you believe, 2019 is in fact the end of the decade that began back in 2010. Which means it’s time to recap industry sales and the games with the broadest success.

Adding together each year in aggregate, total consumer spending on the games industry in the U.S. for the decade ending 2019 totaled over $150 billion.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 ended as the top-selling gaming console of the decade domestically, one in which it saw competition from its own PlayStation 3 platform, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Xbox One launches plus Nintendo’s Wii U and Switch. While we don’t have exact unit sales figures locally, its milestone of 106 million sales worldwide cements it as the second best selling home console ever.

Flipping to the software side, Take-Two Interactive’s Grand Theft Auto V ended as the single best selling game of the decade in the States. The latest in the crime drama franchise from Rockstar Games released in 2013 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, topping the annual chart during its release year.

After its Xbox One and PlayStation 4 release in 2014, the open world game went on to Top 3 results the next two years and Top 11 finishes in every single year since. Boosted now by its ongoing online mode, it’s truly the biggest console game of the generation. It became one of only a handful of titles to pass 100 million unit sales globally back in 2018 as shared on an earnings call. As it stands currently, Grand Theft Auto V boasts an impressive 115 million copies shipped and I wouldn’t be surprised if that figure increases by millions when we hear another update from Take-Two early next month.

Unsurprisingly, Call of Duty earned the top spot as the best-selling gaming franchise of last decade. Like, to the point where there’s just as many games within the series on the full decade list as those outside of the series as we’ll see in a moment. The appetite of the American casual audience for multiplayer, competitive shooters is persisting. There’s no.. fatigue with military shooters just yet.

Below are the full rankings for the span from 2010 to present day along with each game’s release year for reference. Fair warning that it might be a bit redundant.

Top-Selling Games of the Decade, 2010 – 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
  3. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (2012)
  4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)
  5. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (2015)
  6. Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013)
  7. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
  8. Call of Duty: World War 2 (2017)
  9. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018)
  10. Minecraft (2011)
  11. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014)
  12. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
  13. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
  14. Mario Kart 8 (2014)
  15. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2016)
  16. Battlefield 1 (2016)
  17. Battlefield 4 (2013)
  18. Destiny (2014)
  19. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
  20. Star Wars Battlefront (2015)

Whew. Enough stats for ya?

2019 wasn’t necessarily a banner year for blockbuster game releases or massive sales overall, though it had plenty of quality releases that won’t ever top the charts. Expanding to the decade, it’s somewhat repetitive and predictable to see so many military shooters and almost disheartening to see a lack of new properties other than the likes of Minecraft and Destiny.

Moving into 2020 and beyond, my hope is that we see more diversity at the upper end when we regroup in ten years (whoa!) though I’m not overly confident this will be the case as publishers move towards the model of even more sequels, ongoing games and projects within established brands.

Only time will tell!

For now, check out my buddy Mat Piscatella’s post on Twitter which has deets on individual platform results and more. Or the NPD Games page for additional insights. Next month will bring the first rankings of the new decade, and while it will be quiet on the new release front, we should still have a lot of fun! Thanks for visiting.

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

Sources: Activision Blizzard, Nintendo, NPD Group, Sony Corp, Take-Two Interactive.


Call of Duty Leads October U.S. Video Game Sales Chart to a Near Record Month

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the latest commercial juggernaut in the long-gunning franchise, as it fought to the top of the domestic software chart last month in what was the second best October this decade on overall consumer spending across the U.S. games industry.

This year’s installment in Activision Blizzard’s first-person shooter series became the 12th consecutive title in the series to achieve top-seller status during its launch month, according to a recent report from industry tracking firm The NPD Group. The last time a Call of Duty game didn’t lead at launch was October 2007, when another Activision property rocked the industry to the top of the chart: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

As a result of its domination in October, Modern Warfare is immediately the best-selling game of the entire year. Even with only a single month of tracking. This feat displays how truly massive it is, especially this year after generally positive critical reception plus the always present casual audience it attracts.

Activision’s internal development team Infinity Ward returned to its Modern Warfare sub-series for the first time since last generation’s Modern Warfare 3 back in 2011. This year’s title is essentially a re-imagining of its classic formula, this time on a rebuilt game engine with a more gritty campaign alongside its traditional multi-player offerings.

It’s paid off. Quite literally. Call of Duty retained its distinction as the highest selling series of all time across the history of tracking, which dates back to 1995.

The success of Modern Warfare, among other strong software debuts I’ll mention in a bit, drove overall games industry spending to $1.034 billion in October. This the second best October month this decade, trailing only last year when both Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Red Dead Redemption 2 released. Which means the 34% decline since last year is up against a most impossible comparable.

When looking at 2019 to date, total consumer spending on all segments is at $9.3 billion. 10% lower than the same time frame in 2018.

I’ll point this out right away. This October’s growth figures appear to be much worse than they are. In fact, they are really freaking good for where we are in the console cycle. Namely considering this time last year we saw the best October of the entire decade, when total spending reached upwards of a whopping $1.57 billion. That was a monumental month, and an outlier.

On the software spend side, this figure dipped 37% in October to $620 million as displayed in the earlier chart. “Despite this decline, October 2019 tracked software sales represent the third highest total ever achieved for an October month, trailing only October 2008 and October 2018,” said NPD Group Analyst Mat Piscatella on Twitter, proving additional historical context on why last month is still a standout.

Year-to-date software sales hit $4.5 billion, a decline of 7% since prior year. Nintendo Switch game sales are in fact growing, though competitors are not. Hence the notable dip on the aggregate.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the latest commercial juggernaut in the long-gunning franchise, as it fought to the top of the domestic software chart last month in what was the second best October this decade..”

Let’s now drill down into individual title performance, starting with the full rankings for both October 2019 and the year through last month.

Top-Selling Games of October 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. The Outer Worlds
  3. Luigi’s Mansion 3*
  4. Madden NFL 20
  5. NBA 2K20
  6. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint
  7. WWE 2K20
  8. FIFA 20
  9. Borderlands 3
  10. Ring Fit Adventure
  11. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening*
  12. Mario Kart 8*
  13. Minecraft#
  14. Grand Theft Auto V
  15. Mortal Kombat 11
  16. Overwatch
  17. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  18. Code Vein
  19. Red Dead Redemption 2
  20. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. NBA 2K20
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. Borderlands 3
  5. Mortal Kombat 11
  6. Kingdom Hearts 3
  7. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
  8. Anthem
  9. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  10. Grand Theft Auto V

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

In the most surprising result of the month, Take-Two’s Private Division label and Obsidian Entertainment’s space role-playing game The Outer Worlds lands at the second spot on the overall software chart. It starts at number two on PlayStation 4, and number five on Xbox One. Keep in mind that this is even more impressive considering the game is also available as part of Microsoft’s monthly subscription service Xbox Game Pass, which isn’t factored into these metrics.

This is one of the best five launch month debuts for a game made by Obsidian Entertainment, a studio now owned by Microsoft which has titles under its belt such as Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Fallout: New Vegas. As a comparison, Fallout: New Vegas also hit number two during its launch in October 2010. One caveat being that back then, the ranks were based on copies as opposed to dollar sales.

It’s a.. stellar commercial result for a game that’s also receiving widespread critical praise.

Rounding out the Top 3 in a busy month is, ironically, Luigi’s Mansion 3 from Nintendo. The company’s latest major Switch exclusive is the third installment in the spooky, 2D ghost-catching saga featuring Mario’s taller and more timid brother. The month’s best-selling Switch title also sets a new series record for the series, previously held by 2001’s original Luigi’s Mansion on GameCube.

It was finally time for Luigi to get some shine. Good for him!

A couple chart regulars in Madden NFL 20 and NBA 2K20 secured spots in the Top 5, as they often do. Ubisoft’s under-performing Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint retains the sixth spot in October, the same as the prior month during which it launched. While not an overall poor performance, it’s certainly not living up to its potential within the Tom Clancy brand.

Quick notable move is NBA 2K20 charting below Madden NFL 20 last month, while still occupying a higher position on the year-to-date list. Which implies that NBA 2K’s launch month was better, and is carrying it to more success when taken as a whole. I’d imagine the gap in dollar sales during October between the two sports games was small, even if we won’t ever know for sure publicly.

I must say that Nintendo’s experimental Ring Fit Adventure squeezing into the Top 10 is an impressive feat for the exercise game, and reveals a couple things. First, Nintendo Switch software is doing well by virtue of its hardware popularity. Then, the casual market often responds positively to its innovative projects (see: Wii Sports, Pokémon Go). While not every single experimental Nintendo product does well in the market, I always love and appreciate when its teams get creative like they did with Ring Fit Adventure. Especially a health-conscious product.

Final observation on software, when looking at a longer time frame for 2019 overall, the only Switch title on the best-sellers list is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate which released nearly a year ago. It’s natural for multi-platform games to outsell exclusives. However given Switch’s hardware success this year, it really doesn’t have that blockbuster software seller. Yet. I’d wager a major sum that this will change in November after today’s release of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, which appeal to a massive audience of children leading into the holidays.

While not every single experimental Nintendo product does well in the market, I always love and appreciate when its teams get creative like they did with Ring Fit Adventure.

Hm, Switching to the hardware side, unfortunately it’s not nearly as interesting as software. Spending on consoles in the U.S. was down 41% compared to last year, to only $182 million. This contributes to the current year-to-date figure of $2.1 billion on hardware, which is off 23% compared to the months leading up to October 2018.

Unsurprisingly, Nintendo Switch was top-selling for the month, it’s the top-selling for the year and the only platform showing growth at this stage due to its competitors treading water ahead of next year’s announcements. A similar theme as I’ve discussed in the recent past, not much to see here.

To talk about a positive for something other than Nintendo, I’ll point out a great observation from NPD Group in the following quote from Piscatella: “With six years in the market, the PlayStation 4 ranks as the third fastest unit-selling home console in history, trailing only the six-year sales totals of the Wii and the PlayStation 2.” Just last month, I wrote about how Sony’s PlayStation 4 became the second best-selling console of all time as measured by global units shipped.

Final set of data is on accessories and game pads. This segment totaled $231 million last month, which is down 16% compared to October 2018. For the year as a whole through last month, accessories and game pad spending is $2.7 billion. 3% lower than this same time last year.

That (finally) wraps up an eventful month on the software side, given that the year’s biggest launch hit plus we saw a handful of noteworthy surprises. November will be a good one too, with the release of two major brands with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and the aforementioned Pokémon games, all of which are out today.

Note that The NPD Group ranks software based on dollar sales. For an even more complete data rundown, including individual platform charts and commentary on the fighting game genre in particular, go check out Piscatella’s informative thread.

It’s been real fun. Thanks for stopping by. November will also be a spicy one. Until then!

Sources: The NPD Group, Activision Blizzard, Nintendo, Take-Two Interactive, Venture Beat.


Quick Thoughts: How Much Did The Division Actually Sell Day One?

The Division Concept Art


Quick Thoughts: Ubisoft Entertainment SA (UBI) announced via its UbiBlog that Tom Clancy’s The Division has broken sales records internally as being the best-selling game in the firm’s history. Based on this, how much in dollars did the game actually sell to consumers? My estimate is below. Would you agree?

After Tom Clancy’s The Division’s release this week on Tues, 3/8, publisher UBI has coyly proclaimed that the third-person online RPG had sold more on its first day than any other game in the publisher’s 30-year history. We saw a similar type of announcement with its last fast-selling title, the open-world hacking game Watch Dogs, in 2014.

Frustratingly, in both cases UBI didn’t initially reveal any sort of sales figures in copies or dollars. I will note it ended up that Watch Dogs sold 4 million copies in its first week, but no dollar amount was ever publicized. First I’ll try to put some perspective around this situation and then I’ll make my best estimate (which, full disclaimer, is completely a personal guess).

As for day-one sales, below are closest estimates in dollars of notable launches based on publisher announcements and industry data.


Video Game Day-One Sales Chart


Couple important items to note: Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013) sold $1 billion to retailers (sold-in) as opposed to consumers (sold-through). Also, Call of Duty: Black Ops III (2015) figures are for the first 72-hour period. Like everything in life, there’s caveats and exceptions and it’s difficult to get a perfect comparison. Ultimately I’ve charted these both for illustration purposes rather than trying to prove that Call of Duty: Ghosts was the best-selling game ever upon launch.

In addition to the titles above, I mentioned Watch Dogs before. If we try to wrap a dollar amount on its first-week sales, let’s take its 4 million worldwide copies multiplied by the standard $60 price tag which would come to $240 million. Note that this is across the span of a full week, so assuming it was front-loaded on launch day, around $150 million or 2.5 million copies that one day. Again, for comparison purposes.


Watch Dogs Art


So if The Division has sold more than Watch Dogs on launch day, how much did it actually sell? I don’t think that it has eclipsed any of the other names on the chart above, otherwise UBI would have come out and projected that accordingly. Which means to me, it falls somewhere between $150 million and $310 million of both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) and Grand Theft Auto IV (2008). I’ll bet it ends up being somewhere near the lower band of that range, so my estimate is that The Division may have sold $210 million upon its launch implying around 3.5 million copies, give or take.

Am I overestimating the success of this new franchise? Are my assumptions above completely crazy or perfectly genius? Do you think that The Division sold more than some of the titles in the chart above? Feel free to let me know either way, but until we hear concrete figures from UBI itself, we get to have fun and make bold predictions on our own!

Sources: Ubisoft Entertainment SA, Activision Blizzard, Inc., Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., Bethesda Softworks, NPD