Switch & Software Sales Milestones Produce Nintendo’s Most Profitable Year Ever

It’s no secret that Nintendo’s Switch hybrid platform was a game-changer for the company after its difficult Wii U era. The hybrid console’s success and its corresponding software sales, especially for those that the Japanese gaming giant has published, have lifted it to the best revenue in over a decade plus record profits during its fiscal year ending March 2021.

These are staggering results. Fitting for Nintendo, I’m jumping right into it.

Previously I covered Sony and Microsoft’s gaming business results this quarter, with annual sales for those two competitors at $24 billion and $15 billion respectively. Nintendo’s latest fiscal result falls between them, generating approximately $16 billion overall. That’s an increase of 34% since last year and, most importantly, the highest yearly sales since the roughly $16.7 billion over a decade ago in 2010.

When it comes to profitability, the report is even more impressive. Operating profit boosted a staggering 82%, reaching just above $5.8 billion for the last 12 months. This is the best ever result for a company that’s been around longer than any of us. It’s also the second best growth rate since 2010, behind only 2018 at the start of the Switch generational cycle.

These figures blew past the company’s targets by a substantial margin, even if those estimates were conservative. During its presentation, Nintendo executives attributed it to a strong hardware presence especially in Australia and Asia, a shift in the ratio of digital sales plus three dozen million-sellers on Switch this past year. It’s attracting new customers and encouraging owners to snag an additional console. 20% of Switch purchases are second devices. And that’s only going to grow.

When I break it down more closely myself, the near or at record figures come from a combination of various underlying factors. Main one being a Switch hardware push, since the console represents more than half of the company’s business. Also, the launch of third party exclusive Monster Hunter Rise, continued momentum of nearly all first party software especially Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Animal Crossing: New Horizons plus impact from the end of the company’s 35th anniversary celebration of the Mario franchise. Particularly on Super Mario 3D All-Stars as it went off market simultaneously (and conspicuously) at the same time the fiscal year ended.

Now, the best part. To dig into the nitty gritty!

Profit is off the charts, top-line revenue is the best in years, Switch hardware is selling at a rate that not even the most optimistic predicted and Nintendo’s software figures are keeping pace in the current unpredictable environment.

After shipping 4.72 million Switch consoles in the January to March window, sales to date reached a major milestone in terms of broader industry comparisons. With a lifetime hardware figure of 84.59 million shipped, it’s now passed both Sony’s PlayStation Portable, upwards of 82 million, in addition to the 81.51 million of Nintendo’s own Game Boy Advance family of devices. And depending on which source, it’s close to if not above the beloved Xbox 360 from Microsoft.

(I say that because there are slightly different reports of Xbox 360 sales since launch in 2005. It’s anywhere between 84 million and 85.5 million since Microsoft stopped reporting exact hardware statistics. Suffice to say, Switch may have passed it by now when taking into consideration the month since March end.)

Based on the latest quarterly numbers, Switch units reached 28.83 million for this past fiscal year. Its best to date. This is a increase of 37% year-on-year, plus more than 2 million units above guidance. Which Nintendo had even raised. Twice.

Within the console segment, 20.32 million of those shipments were the standard Switch model. Switch Lite contributed 8.51 million. Both of these are up the same 37%, consistent with the platform’s aggregate growth.

Now at the start of this past fiscal year, Nintendo’s target for Switch hardware was unbelievably low. Even more so that it was issued right during the early part of the global pandemic and Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s meteoric early prosperity. Which is somewhat understandable. Companies tend to be conservative, that way it’s easier to beat guidance. It’s still no less impressive, proving there’s considerable demand still at this middle portion of its cycle. Nintendo doesn’t seem as affected by the global chip shortage that’s plaguing other manufacturers.

This sort of momentum is consistent with domestic results, and The Americas make up nearly 42% of Nintendo’s overall sales so it’s notable to compare. As I wrote in April, Switch has been the leading console by unit sales in the United States for 28 straight months. Over 2 years. Sure, most of this was during the last legs of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Which is why 2017 was the absolute perfect time for Nintendo to launch, supported over the past few years by the quality of its exclusives plus ongoing third party support, notably within the independent development space.

Expanding to a historical context, Switch is on a faster pace than the Nintendo Wii, launched way back in 2006, and 2013’s PlayStation 4 when measured by unit shipments. Both of which are ubiquitous within gaming, the former being Nintendo’s top-selling home console and latter as the second best-selling home platform ever. Switch strength has especially accelerated since this time in 2020, a period of notable growth for obvious seasons. I included a thorough chart from friend of the site Daniel Ahmad, Analyst at Niko Partners, which illustrates launch-aligned growth for many of the major console releases in history.

Lastly on the hardware side, out of its updated 84.59 million lifetime shipment figure reported today, 81 million have been sold through to consumers. Console sell-through during the quarter ending March alone surpassed the record high of the same period last year. When Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched!

Moving over to game performance, Nintendo Switch software unit sales topped off at 230.88 million for the fiscal year alone. This includes first and third party, retail and digital, remakes and ports, any and all individual games sold that works on the platform. That’s a jump of just under 37%, nearly perfectly in tune with hardware growth. This shows folks aren’t only buying up Switches with increased demand, it reveals that they are buying multiple copies of its most popular games. A trend we’ve seen for this platform since it started.

For the fourth quarter alone, Switch recorded 54.78 million software units shipped which is up from 45.59 million. All of this contributed to lifetime Switch software rising a whopping 65% year-on-year, to 587.12 million. It’s hard to even consider that type of figure in context.

Individual title growth stemmed a lot from newer games in the Mario franchise in addition to the most green of evergreen from Nintendo, then a particularly monstrous seller from Capcom.

Compilation Super Mario 3D All-Stars crossed the 9 million unit sold-in threshold since launch last September, no doubt boosted by Nintendo pulling it from stores in what I still consider a questionable decision for the sake of preservation. Subsequently, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury launched this past February during Nintendo’s final fiscal quarter. Since then, it’s shipped 5.59 million and sold 4 million of that thru to buyers. For perspective, the original game on Wii U has only moved 5.87 million copies across its entire time on market.

In one of the more ridiculous numbers when stepping back, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sold 10.62 million units last year alone. We’re talking an increase of 43%! This is for a game whose first version started on Wii U back in 2014. It’s the highest-selling Switch title to date and probably will always be, currently standing at 35.39 million copies worldwide. That’s over 5 million more than The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the latter of which is frequently parodied for being available on nearly every platform in existence.

Just behind Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch top seller list, Animal Crossing: New Horizons shipped a cold 20.85 million in the fiscal year despite a dearth of seasonal updates lately. Even when some people are unhappy with it, plenty of others are still purchasing it. This brings its lifetime total to 32.63 million.

Rounding out the Top 3 Switch platform sellers from Nintendo is fighting game (yes, it’s true) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, moving exactly 5 million units across the last 12 months. A bit more pedestrian in its growth at 27% for the title that hit market in late 2018. 23.84 million is its count to date.

In other updates, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Ring Fit Adventure both crossed the 10 million copies milestone in March. That second one is really incredible, considering it’s a dedicated fitness game at a higher price tag because of its included accessory. Even a title like Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics is selling, hitting 3.14 million this past quarter.

Honestly, I could list even more and they would mostly show the same trend. Sometimes even I have to stop and take stock of these figures. Rattling them off is like binge-watching classic shows like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos or trying to speed-run an Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto in a single sitting. It’s impossible to appreciate the bigger picture without taking a breather and really thinking about how many copies these games are selling right now on the platform, not to mention the impact it has on the popularity of those published by third parties.

Out of the 36 million-sellers this year alone, 22 were published by Nintendo. The remaining 14 were third parties and “grew steadily.” This includes Monster Hunter Rise, a major growth driver towards Nintendo’s record results. Capcom’s brand new Switch exclusive in the long-standing franchise reached 4 million copies shipped within *three days* of its March 26 release. It moved a million more by early April, making it already the 3rd best-selling Monster Hunter title of all time. Notable here is the companies collaborated on a special edition Switch model, no doubt a factor during this time right before the fiscal year finished up.

While it’s not as prominent a segment as other companies in the industry, Nintendo experienced a marked rise in digital sales recently. In terms of revenue, digital generated $3.1 billion or around 20% of the overall business. That’s up from under $1.9 billion. Note this measure is a combination of full game downloads, online services and add-on content. Within dedicated video game platform sales by dollar amount, 43% is digital which is up from 34% previously. When talking unit sales, digital is now 47% compared to 41% and 42% for the two years prior, respectively. When charting quarterly trends, it’s clearly pushed up by ample demand last summer during the height of quarantine times.

Whew! Got all that?

The hybrid console’s success and its corresponding software sales, especially for those that the Japanese gaming giant has published, have lifted it to the best revenue in over a decade plus record profits during its fiscal year ending March 2021.

Certain smaller items that didn’t take up much in the fiscal report were its online service, mobile, IP licensing and playing cards businesses.

The company didn’t share an updated figure on Nintendo Switch Online paid subscribers. The last we heard was 26 million during its Corporate Management Briefing over six months ago in September 2020. All executives said this time was that “in addition to the growth in sales of indie titles and other download-only software without corresponding physical versions, Nintendo Switch Online sales were also steady” and that the team was investing in this part of the business, though didn’t specify exactly how much or to what extent.

Mobile and IP related sales grew 11% year-on-year, though still represent a small portion of the total business. $519 million to be clear. Within this, sales from smart devices were constant so it was actually bolstered by royalty income gains. This is not an encouraging sign when it comes to mobile expansion. Still, Nintendo said the Pikmin mobile collaboration with Niantic, the same team behind Pokémon Go, is scheduled for a global launch in back half of 2021. So I expect smart phone contribution will raise at least slightly in the near future.

On its conference call in Japan, executives expanded on various areas within the financial report. Based on notes from those listening, the most curious comment to me is how the company saw record research and development spending recently. For the year, this reached roughly $850 million and it will increase a bit into next year. The reason is partly because of investment in the successor to Switch. To my knowledge, this is the first mention of such a follow-up platform.

Intriguing..

Anyways, looking ahead, Nintendo also provided initial estimates for various parts for fiscal year ending March 2022.

In terms of overall revenue, it expects a decline of 9% to around $14.6 billion. Operating profit target is 22% lower, starting at $4.55 billion. When it comes to Switch, Nintendo estimates shipping 25.5 million consoles and 190 million software units in the upcoming 12 month span. Both of these would be declines as well.

So, why the pessimism?

“The consolidated earnings forecast is based on the premise that we will be able to secure the parts needed for the manufacture of products in line with our sales plans,” executives said. “But this could be impacted by obstacles to the procurement of parts, including the increase in global demand for semiconductor components. There also remains the risk associated with COVID-19, which is difficult to predict.”

To me, this is prudent given the circumstances. Uncertainty around component availability and the dubious nature of selling products in a pandemic once they are manufactured. However, I think it’s too conservative and will be raised at least once. Probably during the mid-way point of the year. Especially given the rumor as recently as last week from Nikkei that annual Switch production could be upwards of 30 million based on sources from part suppliers.

My estimate for Switch hardware is much closer to that figure than Nintendo’s. I’m assuming right now 28 to 29 million plus well over 210 million software copies. I think there’s a good chance it could be the best year to date for the hybrid console, even five years later.

I was way upbeat at the start of the generation. Though not as much to predict this sort of trajectory. And we still don’t know if the rumors around a New Nintendo Super Switch Pro XL model in the near future are true! Either way, Switch will certainly pass Wii lifetime sales sometime in the next 12 months in what will be a momentous occasion.

Nintendo’s software pipeline definitely looks lighter right now. But isn’t that always the case? It’s probably because the biggest releases either aren’t dated yet or haven’t even been revealed. New Pokémon Snap came out in late April. Miitopia, Game Builder Garage and Mario Golf Super Rush are slated for the early summer months. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is July, then there’s the trifecta of Pokémon games between “late 2021” and “early 2022” listed in its report.

There’s also Splatoon 3 and Square Enix’s Project Triangle Strategy (Temporary Title) currently slated for a broad date of 2022. The heavier hitters that could push sales above that guidance are Bayonetta 3, Metroid Prime 4 and of course the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Even if the last one is the only one of the three out this fiscal year, which I believe it will be, it’s going to be a special one for the company, its shareholders and audience alike.

Indie support will naturally continue, with Switch being a most appealing platform due to its flexibility and on-the-go use case. Nintendo has shown more of a willingness for partnerships as well even with its most coveted brands, so could this be the year where we hear another collaboration with say Ubisoft? The most significant partnership would be anything with Microsoft when it comes to Xbox Game Pass or a Cloud offering. Talk about an industry-shaking event.

Overall, I can’t say much more about its financial year than I already have. It was record-breaking and wholly impressive 12 months, especially how hardware is penetrating to the point where 1 in 5 households currently buying a Switch already have one. Profit is off the charts, top-line revenue is the best in years, Switch hardware is selling at a rate that not even the most optimistic predicted and Nintendo’s software figures are keeping pace in the current unpredictable environment. Nintendo remains a company true to itself in quality, output and setting trends rather than chasing them. It’s the type of strategy that continues to, quite literally, pay off.

Thanks for reading!

Note: Exchange rate used for Japanese Yen to U.S. Dollar is as of today. 0.0091 JPY to 1 USD.

Sources: Capcom, Cláudio Luiz Castro (Photo Credit), Daniel Ahmad (Niko Partners), Guinness World Records, Manny Moreno (Photo Credit), Nikkei, Nintendo Investor Relations, NPD Group.

-Dom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now. The numbers, please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Digital Sales Not Included

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

-Dom

Super February 2021 U.S. Game Sales Boosted by Mario & Switch

Can you believe it’s already been a year since lock-downs began due to the pandemic? I could have sworn it was still March 2020.

Up front, I’m forever thankful for everyone who has been working the entire time to keep the broader economy and healthcare system going. You are real-life versions of the heroes in games like these.

As it relates to U.S. game sales, the industry continues to set records almost on a monthly basis as shared by tracking firm The NPD Group in its latest report.

Add February 2021 to that list, as overall consumer spending in the States reached a record high for a February month. Nintendo Switch hardware, a new old Mario game, the evergreen nature of Call of Duty plus the next generation of consoles led to yet another significant, double-digit increase in aggregate monthly sales.

Granted, February 2020 was wholly lackluster. So the comparison is favorable to a month this year when people are still at home a lot. With their families. Desperate for anything to do. Enter video games, a welcome respite even if hardware inventories are currently limited.

It’s a lot of usual suspects this time though with genuine surprise debuts on the software side with Persona 5: Strikers and Little Nightmares II, then a handful of major milestones for Nintendo’s hybrid platform in terms of lifetime results. It was a super month indeed, and not just because of a certain Mario launch.

United States Games Industry Sales (January 31st, 2021 – February 27, 2021):

Per the numbers in the image above, total consumer spending in February 2021 reached $4.6 billion which is an increase of 35% year-on-year. For 2021 to date, spending is up 39% to $9.3 billion. Driving factors being double-digit gains across each category of Content (Software), Hardware and Accessories, with Hardware in particular seeing explosive growth towards its best February in a decade.

Content is naturally the dominant category, rising 29% to contribute $4 billion on its own. Bolstered by the release of Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, ongoing updates for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and an impressive debut from Sega’s Persona 5: Strikers, year-to-date spending in this segment is $8.2 billion as compared to $6.1 billion this same time last year.

Atop the software list is yet another Nintendo title in Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, a re-release of a mostly beloved 2013 Wii U game. This time featuring an excellent “bonus” mode in Bowser’s Fury, an open world 3D platformer that’s more standalone than it seems. The game is immediately the 2nd best seller of 2021 to date, and all of this without even considering digital dollars (because Nintendo doesn’t share that portion).

Second is the ever-present Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. This marks the first time since launch in November that it wasn’t top dog. That’s kind of.. ruff. Of course it remains the best-selling of 2021 to date, a position I expect it to retain until the next annual release later this year. Plus, February was yet another month where two Call of Duty games occupy spots in the Top 10.

At #3 on the overall chart was Persona 5: Strikers, an impressive start for Sega and Atlus’ spin-off musou game in the Persona franchise. Not only did it debut in the Top 3, it’s the 9th top-seller of the (admittedly young) year right now. The other supremely remarkable new release is Little Nightmares II at #6. Tarsier Studios’ chilling sequel to 2017’s horror adventure Little Nightmares has already passed 1 million copies sold globally, making it the fastest-selling ever for Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe and propelling the franchise to 5 million units sold. Clearly helped by a great launch in the States.

Otherwise, plenty of familiar titles among the software ranks in February including Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales at #4, the 5th-ranked Madden NFL 21 and a couple more Nintendo games naturally among the Top 10. Time to check out the charts!

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

  1. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  3. Persona 5: Strikers
  4. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  5. Madden NFL 21
  6. Little Nightmares II
  7. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  8. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*
  9. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  10. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  11. FIFA 21
  12. NBA 2K21*
  13. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  14. Mortal Kombat 11
  15. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*
  16. Ring Fit Adventure
  17. Just Dance 2021
  18. Minecraft: PlayStation 4 Edition
  19. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  20. Immortals Fenyx Rising

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

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  2. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
  3. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  4. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  5. Madden NFL 21
  6. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*
  7. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  9. Persona 5: Strikers
  10. Ring Fit Adventure

Among the three categories in February 2021, Hardware experienced the most intense growth. Compared to this time last year, spending here more than doubled (rising 121% to be exact) to $406 million. That’s the best dollar result in a decade since February 2011’s $468 million. When reviewing 2021 so far, the Hardware segment achieved $725 million. Up 130% year-over-year.

No doubt a two-tailed reason for this: Nintendo Switch momentum and strong demand for new consoles.

Switch topped all console sales in February, this time by both unit sales and dollar revenue. That marks a staggering 27 consecutive months leading on unit sales, in what must be a record for any single piece of hardware to date. Its February was quite incredible, attaining the highest unit and dollar sales for any platform in a February since Nintendo Wii during 2009, smack in the middle of that craze.

Looking back historically, Switch reached major milestones last month. It’s now the second best-selling Nintendo hardware ever behind only Wii. This also makes it the 7th top-selling single platform ever domestically. That’s out of every console released during NPD Group’s tracked history, back to the 90s. Turns out re-launching a Mario game from the failed Wii U generation a month before games released as part of the franchise’s 35th anniversary won’t be on sale any longer equates to sizeable commercial success.

The other beneficiary of high hardware demand in February 2021 was the PlayStation 5. Sony’s new platform continued its “big” streak by becoming the fastest-selling console in U.S. history as measured by dollar sales during the first four months after launch. In terms of ranking, it was the runner-up in the Hardware segment last month.

While an excellent start for PlayStation 5 itself, this sort of lofty performance isn’t isolated to a single new platform. There are plenty of buyers for both PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S at this early point in their life cycles. (Even if some are scalpers, unfortunately.) These manufacturers literally can’t distribute enough to satiate audience appetite right now.

It just so happens that Sony must have stocked more inventory in February domestically, at least that’s my take on the situation. I expect healthy demand throughout the year, for both, then supply should catch up starting solely in the Summer months.

Shifting over to the final category of Accessories, in what’s essentially the unsung portion of the report that’s been as steady as they come. Industry spend on this segment increased 41% since last year to $195 million. Want more February records? Game Pads, Headset/Headphone and Steering Wheel sub-sections all did that, reaching their best levels ever for a February month.

As it’s done all year as the best-selling in 2021 to date, the PlayStation 5 DualSense Wireless Controller generated top dollar sales during February 2021. It truly has control over this category, in lockstep with the momentum of its corresponding console. Especially given its substantial price and general availability. Sony is even trying to sell accessories to people who wait in queue for a PlayStation 5 online and aren’t able to order one. Savvy, if a bit icky.

As I alluded to earlier, February 2021 marks the final month before very difficult comparable months start up. March 2020 saw Animal Crossing: New Horizons break out as a cultural phenomenon during the early part of the global coronavirus outbreak, driving all three categories in the U.S. to either record March highs or near that level.

I anticipate consistent results upcoming, even as vaccinations speed up. Spending on video games isn’t going anywhere, especially given it’s the first full year of a new console generation. Though I doubt we’ll see growth like we’ve become accustomed to lately with these reports, given that buying habits shifted when everyone started to stay at home.

For more information on February’s report, visit NPD’s website or check out NPD Analyst Mat Piscatella’s detailed Twitter thread. I’m really here to react and analyze to the stacks of information gathered by their team each month.

Until next time: Thanks for reading, stay safe and be well!

*Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Bandai Namco, Nintendo, NPD Group, Polygon, Sony.

-Dom

Familiar Franchises & New Hardware Lift U.S. Games Industry to a Record January

It’s the first U.S. monthly sales report of the new year, featuring formidable familiar faces topping the charts on the way to a record January for domestic games industry spending.

Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and Marvel’s Spider-Man among others drove a solid double-digit increase in content and software sales, while Nintendo Switch alongside PlayStation 5 combined to push hardware results to more than double the amount of this time last year. Even accessories increased over 70% year-on-year in January, bolstered by Sony’s most recent innovative controller.

It’s clear even with vaccine distribution thankfully happening around the globe, the video games industry is a primary beneficiary of continued shelter in place and quarantine orders. Even devoid of flagship releases charting on the software side, inventory constraints on the hardware front and following a major holiday season, January achieved a record.

This proves the strategy of many publishers in the current era providing ongoing content, seasonal events and cosmetic drops to engage an audience that wants to stick around longer than in prior generations. People love a reason to play the games they own, whether solo or with others, and this modern model certainly fulfills that.

Before I dig into the numbers and document my reactions, I want to again eternally thank the front-line, healthcare and retail workers for all the effort during an impossibly difficult time. I hope you are able to find some downtime and enjoy these games as a much-needed distraction.

United States Games Industry Sales (January 3rd, 2021 – January 30th, 2021):

Straight from NPD Group itself, plain and simple: January 2021 was a record January across its tracking history.

Consumer spend in the U.S. during the month reached over $4.71 billion, an increase of 42% since January 2019. Every single category of Content, Hardware and Accessories saw at least double-digit growth year-on-year.

Starting with the biggest contributor, Video Game Content sales exceeded $4.17 billion, comprising nearly 89% of monthly spend. This figure is up 36% when compared to early last year. Big results from Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the resilience of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla plus a plethora of strong catalog titles from Nintendo highlight this category’s continued momentum.

As anticipated, Video Game Hardware saw the strongest movement: a staggering 144% gain over the same month in 2019, to upwards of $319 million. This time last year marked the last hurrah of the prior console generation, so naturally 2021 will bring about sizeable increases. I argue it’s slightly more impressive considering the public supply constraint issues admitted by both Sony and Microsoft.

As a knock-on effect of console launches plus Sony’s popular DualSense controller revision, Video Game Accessories bumped up 73% year-over-year to a spending amount of $222 million. A rising tide lifts all boats in this case, as displayed by all sub-categories here reaching all-time January highs last month.

Software is the leading category, which means it’s up first.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War once again led the charge on the overall rankings, a spot its held each month since launching in November. It’s also the best-selling title over the past year. Not only that, the military shooter from Activision broke into the Top 20 best-selling games *of all time* in January, right at that #20 spot.

NPD Analyst Mat Piscatella called it “incredible” and said this particular statistic “made his jaw drop.”

2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is even in the Top 10. Activision Blizzard shared recently that both sales and engagement increased in the quarter ending December, namely how net bookings from the Call of Duty franchise rose over 50% in the quarter. Black Ops Cold War itself drove monthly active franchise users to increase around 70%. Lifetime spending across series history reached $27 billion in 2020, plus it entered this year with its largest user base to date.

In a similar success, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla ranked #2 on January 2021’s chart. It’s now the second fastest-selling game in the open world franchise from Ubisoft Entertainment, as measured by first three months U.S. dollar sales, behind only 2012’s Assassin’s Creed III.

As part of a quarterly report this week from Ubisoft where the company achieved record net bookings of over €1 billion ($1.21 billion), the French publisher noted how Valhalla generated record revenue within the long-running series.

Rounding out the Top 3 was PlayStation exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s also the 10th best-selling title of the last 12 months. Insomniac Games’ super hero action game achieved global unit shipments of 4.1 million since launch in November alongside the PlayStation 5, no doubt accelerated by Sony’s willingness to put out games simultaneously across both console generations. Smartly capitalizing on the 115 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the wild.

Another observation when perusing the list is again the sheer number of games from Nintendo even without digital sales reported, snagging 4 of the Top 9 spots. Animal Crossing: New Horizons returned to the Top 5 for the first time since July 2020, after surpassing the 30 million copies sold worldwide milestone. And Ring Fit Adventure among them at 7th overall, a further example of a clever bet from the Japanese company within the fitness sub-genre. Ubisoft’s Immortals Fenyx Rising, a late year gem, maintained a Top 15 finish after its Top 10 showing last month.

You might be wondering about the precipitous drop for CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk 2077 from second to 18th, barely making the Top 20. Or perhaps the notable absence of Hitman 3 after excellent reviews from IO Interactive’s latest? Well, it’s the same reason why Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2 are no longer staples of the charts: No digital sales. While NPD Group has expanded its coverage of publishers sharing downloaded data, there are still a number that opt out.

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

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

Top-Selling Games, 12 Months Ending January 2021, 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. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Flipping over to Hardware, both Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5 lifted category sales to well more than double the amount recorded this time last year.

Switch was the leading platform in terms of unit sales during January. This marks the 26th consecutive month atop the rankings by this measure, a record in the history of tracking dating back to the 90s. Switch unit sales reached the best result for a January month since 2010, back when even grandparents purchased the Nintendo Wii at the height of its popularity.

Last week, Nintendo updated its financials and it’s staggering stuff. Switch is approaching 80 million units on market, 79.87 million to be exact, exceeding the almost 76 million of Nintendo 3DS as of December. This means Nintendo exceeded its initial full year target for Switch shipments with a quarter to spare. Shoot, the Switch Lite model alone is approaching the lifetime sales of its predecessor the Wii U, at 13.53 million compared to 13.56 million respectively.

In terms of dollar sales domestically during January 2021, PlayStation 5 once again led hardware. Same as it did last month, when I wrote about how it achieved the best result for PlayStation consoles thru each platform’s first December. Sony said last week that PlayStation 5 shipped 4.5 million units in its first quarter on sale, a number that’s a bit higher now taking into account January sales.

There’s not much in the report about Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S, so it’s hard to know where it lies in relation to its competitors. On a global scale, friend of the site and Niko Partners Analyst Daniel Ahmad estimated the family at around 3.3 to 3.5 million globally to date. Just hard to know how it did in January here in the States.

Lastly, here’s even more records when moving onto the final segment of Accessories. Not only did the category itself jump over 70% to achieve a January historical high on dollar sales, each of its sub-segments did as well. Game pads, headsets and headphones plus steering wheels. January month records for all!

Among the products themselves, Sony’s PlayStation 5 DualSense Wireless Controller (seen above) topped everything to be the best-selling accessory of the month. Another one of Sony’s offerings, the Pulse 3D Wireless Headset, topped headset/headphones.

Taken as a whole, January echoed the ongoing story of games industry sales, reaching a record January month on the back of catalog titles plus new hardware shipments. Individual software franchises from Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft plus both hardware and accessories from Sony were the winners, though many more boasted great results to start 2021.

Highly recommend checking out Twitter accounts for NPD Group and Piscatella for even more general commentary and data within platform rankings. Definitely worth it if you’ve made it this far!

Thanks to all for reading. Let’s regroup in February for more sales talk. Be safe.

*Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Activision Blizzard, Nintendo, NPD Group, Ubisoft.

-Dom

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.

-Dom

2020 Year-in-Review: Five Most Impressive Gaming Companies

Behind all the numbers and corporate speak, companies are people. And it’s those people that worked hard to design, create, polish, quality check, publish and distribute hardware, games, products and services during a tumultuous year that was 2020.

This category is meant to celebrate the teams of hard-working folks at companies with the most impressive lineups or multitude of successes. Later categories will focus on smaller, indie studios and publishers. This is reserved for the stand-out performers, often publicly-traded. We’ll hit all segments of the industry with the Year-in-Review.

No time to waste, right into the awards!

Activision Blizzard, Inc (United States)

While I don’t always agree with its business practices or monetization strategies, there’s no denying the sheer output of Activision Blizzard during 2020. Between new ventures in owned franchises, integration across Call of Duty titles plus the reintroduction of beloved catalog titles, its teams delivered multiple launches amidst the work-from-home demand of the coronavirus pandemic.

The internal teams Treyarch Studios and Infinity Ward collaborating to integrate last year’s excellent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Warzone free-to-play battle royale with November’s Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War was a massive, if not ludicrous, undertaking. Then, put out continuous free updates with its seasonal content model, delivering new maps, weapons and a battle pass every few months. As of now, there’s both cross-play and cross-progression across these titles, nearly everything accessible to players on various platforms. The franchise overall reached $3 billion in net bookings during the 12 months ending December, proving upside of this adjusted business model.

Not to mention, finally, its Activision unit dug into the vaults of its storied IP library to produce Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, a remade collection of two skating classics by Vicarious Visions, then a new entry in a long-running series: Toys for Bob’s Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Fans have been calling for the company to leverage its back catalog for a long time, so these decisions should satisfy.

Blizzard’s output has been notably lower the past couple years, with Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV in the pipeline. Yet it still released a new expansion in the World of Warcraft legacy called Shadowlands, a release that moved 3.7 million copies in a single day to briefly achieved the fastest-selling PC launch ever back in late November (before CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk 2077 broke its record shortly after). Blizzard’s even received positive early impressions for mobile game Diablo Immortal!

Oh, speaking of mobile. There’s King, one of the most consistent labels within the field. It was mainly about consistent output this year across all three sub-divisions of the American publisher, and its teams deserve a shout out for delivering on these tight deadlines.

Microsoft Corp (United States)

As you’ll see here and a bit later, it’s time to celebrate the people behind the start of a new generation. That’s the main reason why Microsoft and its Xbox staff members easily make the cut. Those who worked through a pandemic to design, engineer, produce, market and ultimately distribute the Xbox Series X|S family.

Project Scarlett, as it was once dubbed, had a formal reveal late in 2019 as the Xbox Series X, and then 2020 happened. Team Xbox had to shift to a more virtual campaign for rolling out, plus deal with the delay of its flagship title Halo: Infinite. They successfully completed this effort in November at the launch of not only the higher-end Series X but the entry level, digital-only Series S as well.

Even without something at the scope of Halo, Xbox platforms saw plenty of worthwhile games and allowed smaller projects to shine. Ori and the Will of the Wisps from Moon Studios is one of the year’s most exceptional. Obsidian Entertainment’s Grounded attracted 5 million players to date and introduced clever new ideas in accessibility. Microsoft Flight Simulator from Asobo Studio reinvigorated a beloved, dormant franchise. It was one of the highest-rated games of 2020, just recently surpassing 2 million players.

Gears Tactics, Call of the Sea, Battletoads, Tell Me Why and Wasteland 3 rounded out the year’s lineup of games on Xbox. Shoot, Microsoft even somehow nabbed the local console launch of Phantasy Star Online 2. While perhaps lacking in triple-A experiences, there was plenty to enjoy.

Shortly before the new consoles, it updated the Project xCloud branding to Xbox Cloud Gaming and launched a formal beta alongside Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in September. It’s now available across 22 countries, with at least four more planned in the future. It’s a compliment to the traditional delivery model, meant to propagate the idea of ecosystem and connection. And it’s a damn fine service from personal experience.

Then there’s the continued growth and appeal of Xbox Game Pass, which snagged a partnership with Electronic Arts’ EA Play membership service as a way to expand its catalog. Recent rumors point to the potential inclusion of Ubisoft games, too. At last count, Game Pass had 15 million paid subscribers, up from 10 million earlier in 2020.

Lastly, in perhaps the biggest news drop of the year for the company and even gaming overall, Microsoft announced the purchase of ZeniMax in September for $7.5 billion. This is the parent company of the historic Bethesda Softworks, home to a number of development teams behind long-running franchises like Fallout, DOOM, Elder Scrolls, Wolfenstein, Dishonored among others. The upside of these games being exclusive to Xbox platforms, or at least having content exclusive to them, is massive. Like, industry-changing massive.

Microsoft’s annual gaming revenue exceeded $12 billion for the first time ever as of its quarter ending in September. While 2020 was light in the major exclusive department, it did feature two new consoles, a major studio acquisition and an expansion of its services. It’s laying the foundation for the upcoming decade, heavily investing in ecosystem in a more holistic approach than competitors.

Nintendo Co Ltd (Japan)

Yep. Nintendo is back on the annual list. During a year where its flagship game ended up being an Animal Crossing, not necessarily the biggest of sellers historically, and competitors debuted shiny new consoles, the Japanese developer and publisher was consistent in sales, output and quirky innovation, leading to its Switch hybrid hitting multiple milestones as the year’s most sought after hardware.

Steadfastness and fun, that’s Nintendo.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the headline-grabber here in 2020. The cute, animated life simulator’s launch in March coincided with the start of quarantine, a somewhat bittersweet serendipity that led to it achieving the fastest-selling launch ever for a Switch title at 11 million copies in under two weeks. It exceeded the *lifetime* sales of all other games in the series within 11 days. Then 13 million in 6 weeks.

Since then, it’s moved over a staggering 26 million units to date, already making it the second best seller on Switch behind only Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (a game in itself that saw exceptional momentum last year). Beyond the sales stats, it’s the single Nintendo-published game that served as a virtual safe haven for people to meet and hang out while the pandemic kept them physically distant.

It wasn’t the only notable software from Nintendo during 2020, even if the schedule was lighter than past years on big exclusives. Paper Mario: The Origami King is one of the most joyful and heartfelt games of the year, even if overlooked by general consensus. Its Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity collaboration with Koei Tecmo was a surprise critical darling, a musou prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Remakes of older titles like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX and Pikmin 3 Deluxe strengthened its annual lineup.

Then there’s the celebration of Mario’s 35th anniversary, where Nintendo launched a bevy of products related to the plumber’s birthday. Super Mario 3D All-Stars brought three prior gen games to Switch, even if underwhelming in their lack of modernization. Free to download Super Mario Bros. 35 pitted almost three dozen players at a time in a sort of Mario Royale competition. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit continues in the company’s tradition of innovation, as a live version of the cart-racer. Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. was the next entry in the collectible type of physical consoles. While I don’t like how some of these are only available for a limited time where the end happens to coincide with Nintendo’s fiscal year end, seeing them acknowledge the anniversary with such fervor was welcome in a difficult year.

Of course there’s the story of how Switch hardware continued to sell gangbusters and set records along the way. It reached 68.3 million units in September, vaulting past Super NES, Xbox One and the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) all during 2020. It was the best-selling in the U.S. by units during the coveted November time slot at 1.3 million units, outpacing the shorter supply of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. This marked a record 24 straight months atop the monthly hardware chart by retail unit sales.

All of this led to another stellar year for Nintendo, commercially and generally critically. Its financial situation hasn’t been this solid since 2009, measured by both revenue and operating profit. While it didn’t reveal much in the way of titles like the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Metroid Prime 4 or Bayonetta 3 last year, as long as Switch is in supply and the team consistently produces quality releases in its own special way, it will likely be a repeat in 2021.

NVIDIA Corporation (United States)

As far as higher-end PC gaming goes, NVIDIA was the backbone of 2020.

Its recognition here stems from the introduction of its latest line of graphics cards, the GeForce RTX 3000 series, plus continued success of its GeForce Now streaming service and a monumental acquisition deal.

The difference in its RTX 3000 card series compared to prior generations is real-time ray-tracing, a fancy way of saying “really cool lighting” techniques that happen while playing which make light sources, reflections and shadows pop when implemented correctly.

I won’t get bogged down in the tech nitty gritty here, there are other sites for that. Suffice to say these graphics cards built on its new Ampere architecture set the standard for performance across the mid and top end of the market. The beefy RTX 3090 and 3080 GPUs debuted in September, then RTX 3070 started in October. December brought the more affordable RTX 3060 Ti.

Critical consensus during reviews was outstanding. The series was lauded for advancements in 4K resolution, Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) to boost frame rate performance and general ray-tracing capabilities. The tough part unfortunately was supply to the market, no doubt impacted by manufacturer yield issues, availability of parts and the pandemic at large. Even with the staggered schedule, scalpers and bots were usually first to order leaving regular consumers either without cards or resorting to secondary sources. Good news is sky-high demand. The tough part is the company said stock will increase next year, though it may take a few months, and scalpers will still be there.

In another major launch for NVIDIA, it formally kicked off its public beta for game streaming service GeForce Now back in February across North America and Europe. It’s really cool tech from the sound of things, though I haven’t tried it myself. Supports cloud gaming on laptop, PC, Mac, SHIELD TV and even Android phones or tablets. What’s nice is it connects to existing library on certain storefronts, although certain publishers have blocked using it with their games. Once NVIDIA figures out incentive to get publishers on board and launch in more territories, it could very well be the ideal option for cloud gaming.

Beyond its latest set of graphics cards and streaming offering, NVIDIA’s RTX technology suite is pushing audio, recording and streaming advancements too. Its RTX Voice feature beta started in April 2020, a module used to improve sound quality when using one’s PC for calls. This was then replaced by Broadcast app during the Fall, which featured new functionality for noise removal and virtual background while streaming.

Oh. There’s also the groundbreaking deal where NVIDIA announced its intention to purchase ARM from SoftBank for $40 billion in cash and stock. ARM is a major player in processors and intelligent computing, which would lead to a combined entity pushing research into artificial intelligence and super-computing. It’s expected to close within the next year or so, though certain investors have speculated it might be blocked by regulators in the United Kingdom. If it does go through, it’s a significant deal within the tech and computing industries.

Back in September, NVIDIA said it set records for quarterly revenue and profits. Sales jumped 57% year-on-year. Its share price reflects the ongoing financial success, more than doubling in 2020. If the American graphics card and chip maker can ensure supply of its latest product suite and close on its ARM deal, 2021 could be another historic year.

Sony Corp (Japan)

Our final entry in the list of impressive companies in 2020 is none other than Sony. Of course. PlayStation 4 achieved new sales records. PlayStation 5 became a huge (quite literally), landmark tech product. Its laundry list of exciting new games offerings both book-ended a generation and set the stage for this future one, with advancements in narrative, performance and accessibility options. The gaming teams at Sony continue to set the industry benchmark for both hardware and software, and deserve recognition for doing all of this during one of the most difficult times in modern history.

The Japanese consumer tech conglomerate started the year with the reveal of the PlayStation 5 logo, then dove into more about its new generation box and its brand new DualSense controller throughout the year.

At the same time, PlayStation 4 continued its commercial success. The second best-selling home console ever maintained decent enough momentum in its final year, reaching nearly 114 million in units shipped as of October. Bolstered by third-party exclusives like Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Persona 5 Royal and Nioh 2 in addition to flagship first-party titles like The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima alike. Many of which are mainstays on year-end award lists and, more importantly, internal teams like Naughty Dog worked to set a new gold standard for accessibility features.

Then comes November, the PlayStation 5 launch. It was a big one, literally and figuratively. Sony’s approach is more towards defining the new generation with a new form factor, revamped controller and select games solely for the latest box as opposed to the fully backwards compatible strategy of its main competitor. Admittedly Sony acknowledges that it can’t ignore the millions and millions of PS4 owners, so there are plenty of cross-gen games. Even if its messaging was murky.

Headlined by Insomniac Games’ Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls from Bluepoint Games/Japan Studio, the PS5 launch lineup was smartly supplemented by joyful surprises like Asobi Team’s Astro’s Playroom and The Pathless by Giant Squid. As part of Sony’s shift towards cross-generational consistency, it also offered a suite of legacy games via the PlayStation Plus Collection to PS5 buyers.

This dedication to exclusive software and new feature sets plus a competitive price led to PS5 being the fastest-selling global launch in brand history, beating out its predecessor. Sony didn’t said by how much at the time. A recent report suggests that the first four weeks reached 3.4 million consoles shipped. (Unofficial for the time being.) Domestically in the States, NPD Group said PS5 achieved the highest launch sales of any console in tracked history during November as measured by both units and dollars, again besting the PS4.

While services like PlayStation Now are somewhat lagging and the future of its virtual reality program is up in the air, Sony’s late PS4 support and movement into the new generation with PS5 marked a transitional year during which it consistently delivered memorable experiences and solid sales results. Out of the five companies on the list, it probably has the most upside for 2021.

Here we are at the end of yet another 2020 Year-in-Review piece. Check back to the megapost for more. Be safe, all!

Sources: Company Investor & Media Sites, Digitimes, NPD Group.

-Dom

Marvel’s Avengers & Nintendo Assemble at the Top of September’s U.S. Game Sales Charts

It’s officially sales season in gaming, and is proving to be busy one at that.

September ushered a great start domestically for a polarizing game from Square Enix, while overall consumer spend achieved yet another double-digit increase even as the console cycle comes to a close. Plus, there were tons of debuts and new-ish games to discuss on the software side while Nintendo secured another dominant win within the hardware category.

Industry tracking firm The NPD Group has, hm.. assembled its latest monthly sales statistics for the U.S. games market. Stand-outs during September included Marvel’s Avenger’s achieving the top spot on the software chart, sports games occupying 3 of the Top 5 spots including a record performance from a familiar franchise, Crusader Kings III debuting within the Top 7 and Nintendo Switch besting hardware as it’s done every month since December 2018.

Total spending across the categories of Video Game Content, Video Game Hardware and Video Game Accessories reached a whopping $4.3 billion in the domestic market during September 2020. An increase of 10% since this time last year. While it’s not as robust as the growth seen in the spring and summer months, it’s still yet another double-digit rate which has been the case each month since March. Of course coinciding with the tragic rise of the pandemic, which has forced people to remain home for months.

“Mobile, hardware and accessories were among the largest growth segments,” said NPD Group Analyst Mat Piscatella. In terms of hardware, “growth in sales of Nintendo Switch offset declines on other console platforms.”

Expanding to the year-to-date figures, broad consumer spend in the games industry reached $33.7 billion through September. This is up 21% since last year. Continued stay-at-home guidelines and quarantine mandates combined with a variety of brand new titles from major publishers, namely licensed releases and sports titles, contributed to impressive growth this late in the console generation.

Let’s get more into the numbers and commentary.

United States Games Industry Sales (August 30th to October 3rd):

As mentioned before, September brought healthy gains overall and across all three major categories in the U.S. tracked by The NPD Group. The above chart shows monthly and year-to-date metrics.

The largest category of Content (i.e. game sales and in-game purchases) reached $3.84 billion in September and $29.8 billion for the year as a whole, increases of 8% and 21% respectively. Mainly driven by titles from some of the most popular companies in the business: Square Enix, Nintendo, Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts.

Diving into the data, Marvel’s Avengers fought its way to the top spot on the total software chart which I’ll list out shortly.

The hero brawler slash live service game made by Crystal Dynamics received mixed critical reception at release in early September, yet brand power goes a long way when it comes to licensed titles. Not only was Square Enix’s latest the top-selling game overall last month, it held the top spot on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One individual charts plus immediately became the 7th best-selling title of the year so far.

Its launch month dollar sales were quite impressive, reaching the second best in history for a super hero game behind only the record-setting 2018 title Marvel’s Spider-Man. While early success doesn’t guarantee momentum over time, which is key for an ongoing game like Marvel’s Avengers with regular characters and content updates, a solid start establishes a baseline audience that may come back during those intervals. We also haven’t heard yet from Square Enix on global sales, which I predicted would be strong in its launch window. Essentially, only the first chapter of its story has been told.

It wouldn’t be a software chart without a major Nintendo launch, and September was no exception. Super Mario 3D All-Stars, the collection of three classic games in the beloved series, jumped to the 2nd spot overall. Spanning 2020 as a whole, it enters the year-to-date chart at the 10th spot.

For context, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is also the 2nd best retail launch for any game in the U.S. during 2020 that isn’t called Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which is more an anomaly at this point with its incredible sales. Widening the time frame, it’s the 6th best start for any game published by Nintendo in tracking history, as measured by retail dollar sales. (Note that Nintendo doesn’t share digital in this context, so this particular statistic only encompasses physical sales.)

Madden NFL 21 rounds out the Top 3, scoring a second consecutive month of solid momentum after leading the chart in August. Publisher Electronic Arts hasn’t shared specifics in terms of units or engagement for the football game, though did say in a press release that this year’s Madden recorded 20% higher unit sell-thru to customers than its predecessor during launch week.

“After the most successful year in franchise history, fans are now playing more Madden than ever before,” said Executive Producer Seann Graddy. Personally, I’d prefer to hear exactly how many people are playing, unfortunately that’s wishful thinking for a major sports title these days other than maybe Take-Two and its 2K franchises.

Speaking of, September welcomed the resurgence of Tony Hawk with the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, a rebuilding of the first two games in Activision’s long-running skateboarding series. The remake carved its way to the 4th spot overall in the most impressive of ways: it set a series record for launch month dollar sales, outpacing the prior leader in 2004’s Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. Talk about grinding out the win.

Quickly reporting on the remainder of notable new games, Take-Two’s annual basketball release NBA 2K21 scored the 5th spot. This is noticeably lower than last year’s title, which led September 2019’s rankings. I’d say that’s mainly due to the publisher no longer sharing digital share for any of its products, which is even more obvious with how both Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2 are no longer mainstays each month.

Since NPD Group doesn’t publicly state units or dollars, it’s difficult to determine an early performance comparison across NBA 2K history. Take-Two Interactive reports second quarter results on November 5th, and executives should share global unit sales at that time.

In what’s likely the surprise of the monthly chart, Crusader Kings III landed at #7. The strategy game from Paradox Interactive achieved the best launch month start in series history from both a ranking and dollar sales standpoint. Two October games that technically released right before the cut-off landed on the chart: Star Wars: Squadrons at #9 then Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time at #11. More to come next month on these when they have more days on market.

Lastly, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare maintains its position as the year’s top-seller as it enters into its sixth and likely final season of content before Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War hits stores on November 13th. I expect the latter of these to lead holiday charts. Yes, even with all the major games around the new console launches especially the hotly-anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 from CD Projekt Red, which will serve as stiff competition.

Check out the software charts below for September 2020 and the year so far, then I’ll switch over to hardware and accessories.

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

  1. Marvel’s Avengers
  2. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*
  3. Madden NFL 21
  4. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
  5. NBA 2K21*
  6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  7. Crusader Kings III
  8. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  9. Star Wars: Squadrons
  10. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*
  11. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
  12. Ghost of Tsushima
  13. Ring Fit Adventure
  14. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  15. UFC 4
  16. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  17. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  18. Super Mario Odyssey*
  19. Mortal Kombat 11
  20. Super Mario Party*

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

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  3. The Last of Us: Part 2
  4. Madden NFL 21
  5. Ghost of Tsushima
  6. Final Fantasy 7: Remake
  7. Marvel’s Avengers
  8. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  9. MLB: The Show 20
  10. Super Mario 3D All-Stars*

Moving to the Video Game Hardware category, spending in September amounted to $277 million which is up 15% year-on-year. Nintendo Switch was the only console experiencing gains. Over 2020 so far, hardware spend rose 22% to $2.3 billion in total. In the least surprising stat this past month, Switch was again the best-selling console by both number sold and dollars generated. It nearly broke a September record as per comments from Piscatella, and retains its position atop the hardware list for the year as well.

This is a spot Nintendo’s hybrid has held since holiday season nearly two years ago. And I’m on record saying that even with the release of both Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 upcoming in November, Nintendo will once again attain the top spot for each month during the 4th quarter. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is still the game to get, plus upcoming releases like Pikmin 3 Deluxe (October 30th) and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (November 20th) mean there’s still room for growth in the domestic market for Switch if you can believe it. Guaranteed to be a staple of holiday product lists.

The final category of Video Accessories is actually among the most significant of results last month. Accessory spend reached a record September amount, hitting $191 million or a 30% gain since this time last year. Over 2020 to date, this category has accumulated an all-time high result of $1.6 billion, an increase of 26% year-over-year. Within, Gamepad and Headset/Headphones sub-categories also hit historical highs for both a September monthly result and year-to-date through this same month driven by the Xbox Elite Series 2 Wireless Controller.

And that’s all for September’s numbers and positions. The late summer to early fall here in the States sees continued lock-downs in many areas as coronavirus tragically isn’t going away any time soon. The games industry continues to be a benefactor of people abiding by the rules, making the most of home entertainment and spending time interacting via online games as opposed to in-person gatherings.

For way more detail on The NPD Group release itself, head over to their Twitter page or the in-depth thread from Piscatella as well.

Until next time, stay safe and thanks for stopping by!

*Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Electronic Arts, Nintendo, NPD Group, Square Enix, Take-Two Interactive.

-Dom

Madden Wins & Nintendo Sets a Record in August Games Industry Sales Report

The push toward the goal line of 2020 is now officially underway, as signaled by the annual release of a new Madden game.

And this year’s proves to be another big seller, pushing games industry growth up double-digits here in the States.

During August 2020, Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL 21 and Nintendo’s Switch console attracted the most dollar sales in their respective categories domestically, with the former increasing the franchise streak of commercial success and the latter setting a new August month record. This is all according to the latest monthly report from tracking firm The NPD Group.

Overall, stay-at-home restrictions and everyone trying to get the most out of the relaxing days before school starts drove consumer spending across the games industry in August to $3.3 billion. That’s up 37% since this same time period last year. (Get used to that number.)

“Digital content on console, mobile and subscription were among largest growth segments,” said my friend and NPD Analyst Mat Piscatella.

Expanding to year-to-date spend, this is up 23% across 2020 so far to a total sum of $29.4 billion. Every category jumped more than 20% in August. The three main ones now being Video Game Hardware, Video Game Content and Video Game Accessories as I detailed last month.

As I’ll describe shortly, 2020 continues to be a remarkable year when it comes to gaming sales across multiple segments even amidst the ongoing difficulties of coronavirus. It’s one of the main viable forms of experiencing new entertainment at home, especially as film studios continue to push major motion pictures to theaters. Gaming is excellent at bringing people together remotely, and almost all companies involved are benefactors whether it’s those producing free-to-play releases like Fall Guys and Among Us or the traditional full-price model as we’ll see here.

On to the numbers.

United States Games Industry Sales (August 2nd to August 29th):

As displayed in the above chart compiled by The NPD Group, Video Game Content i.e. software and in-game purchases sales rose 37% (there it is again) in August 2020, reaching $2.9 billion. For the year as a whole thru last month, content category spend hit $25.9 billion which is up 22%.

The major highlight during August was Madden NFL 21, the best-selling title last month. This marked the 21st straight year that a game in the Electronic Arts-published football franchise has led the overall chart during its first month. It’s a streak that provides context for just how consistent the annualized series is commercially.

Launch month sales doubled when compared to Madden NFL 20, making it instantly the sixth best-selling game of 2020 to date. Surpassing games with months of sales like Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot and MLB: The Show 20. The continued early success here reiterates the Madden NFL brand as the top-selling sports franchise in the multiple decade history of tracking.

Another Electronic Arts game reached second place on the August list, that being UFC 4. The mixed martial arts simulator set a launch sales record for UFC games produced by EA, dating back to 2014. The game ranked within the Top 3 of the individual charts for both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 platform results.

The other ongoing stories were Call of Duty: Modern Warfare rounding out the Top 3 while games published by Nintendo occupied six spots within the Top 11. Animal Crossing: New Horizons showed steady momentum, landing it at #5 while fitness game Ring Fit Adventure finished right behind it.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild reached an impressive milestone in August, as it’s now the 10th best-selling game on a Nintendo platform of all time domestically. It was a launch title for Nintendo Switch back in March 2017, since which time it’s been in the Top 7 on that platform’s list of software sellers every single month.

Another note in perusing the lists is the notable scarcity of games from publisher Take-Two Interactive, owner of Rockstar Games and 2K Games. Its golf game PGA Tour 2K21 landed at #14 on the main chart, a respectable yet pedestrian result, and its sports titles randomly made the single platform lists. Though staples like Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2 are nowhere to be found. My understanding is this stems from a change in how the company is reporting its downloadable portion, as its games are now flagged similar to Nintendo’s without digital sales.

I expect its flagship basketball title NBA 2K21, released back on September 4th, to perform very well during September’s report. However I can’t shake the odd feeling of not seeing Rockstar on any of the lists, when I know its games are still attracting players and dollars.

Anyways, full charts for August and year-to-date below.

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

  1. Madden NFL 21
  2. UFC 4
  3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  4. Ghost of Tsushima
  5. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  6. Ring Fit Adventure
  7. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*
  8. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  9. Paper Mario: The Origami King*
  10. Mortal Kombat 11
  11. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  12. The Last of Us: Part 2
  13. Minecraft: PS4 Edition
  14. PGA Tour 2K21*
  15. New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe*
  16. Super Mario Party*
  17. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
  18. Super Mario Odyssey*
  19. Final Fantasy 7: Remake
  20. Luigi’s Mansion 3*

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

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  3. The Last of Us: Part 2
  4. Final Fantasy 7: Remake
  5. Ghost of Tsushima
  6. Madden NFL 21
  7. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  8. MLB: The Show 20
  9. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*
  10. Mortal Kombat 11

Within the Video Game Hardware category, consumer spending totaled $229 million last month which was growth of 37% (a ha! we meet again) when compared to August 2019. For year-to-date figures, spending on consoles was up 23% to $2 billion flat.

While Nintendo Switch continued its dominance as the best-selling hardware, a spot it’s held each monthly report since late 2018, August proved an especially exceptional result. The hybrid platform set a new August month record for dollar sales, outpacing that of the Nintendo Wii back in August 2008. Also, unit sales doubled since this time last year. Considering its recent momentum and ongoing demand, this shows what can happen when the supply side and inventories catch up to consumer interest.

Going back three years ago, right before Switch hit the market, I was on record as one of the most bullish on its prospects. I loved the hardware design and thought that a combination of that ingenuity and Nintendo’s software prowess, Switch would be one of the firm’s most successful consoles ever. But I stopped short of predicting it would beat the Wii, a global phenomenon in the years after its 2006 launch.

These days, I’m reconsidering that. Especially with word that the company is further ramping up production into the back half of this fiscal year and the speculation of another model next year, I’m now betting that Switch lifetime sales meet or exceed that of Wii globally.

Want another prediction that we’ll know sooner than that? Looking domestically according to these reports, I’m planting my flag that Nintendo will win the holiday months even with the start of next generation, mainly due to supply opening up for Nintendo’s box and limits on inventory for its competitors in the Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5.

Whew. Back to the report itself, Video Game Accessories also set an August record last month by jumping 42% to $166 million in dollar sales. Expanding to full year, sales within this category reached an all-time high through an August month at $1.4 billion, exhibiting growth of 26% year-over-year.

Sub-categories sales here for Gamepad, Headsets/Headphones and even Steering Wheels boasted August and year-to-date records too, though no growth or cash totals were provided. PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 wireless black model was top-selling accessory in August. Xbox’s Elite Series 2 game pad maintains its spot as the year’s top seller so far.

Moving into the back part of Q3 then holiday season is when these reports really ramp up, this year more than ever with Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2 releasing in early September. (Get it?)

Though really, the combination of coronavirus restrictions, Nintendo’s slate now being clear with Mario’s 35th anniversary games including Super Mario 3D All-Stars then Pikmin 3 plus of course new generation consoles starting in November as I write about before with Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S announcements, this is the starting whistle of the more newsworthy months in industry tracking.

Highly recommend NPD Group’s post and NPD Analyst Mat Piscatella’s thread for a great summary and further details on the results and individual platform rankings.

Stay safe everyone. Thanks for hanging out!

*Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Bloomberg, Electronic Arts, NPD Group.

-Dom

Ghost of Tsushima & Nintendo Power July 2020 U.S. Games Industry Sales

The results are in for another month, proving most of the games industry is still powering up and seemingly staying at home during what continues to be the most difficult of times. COVID-19 restrictions and major new releases from multiple publishers drove growth, which counteracted a slight dip in console sales during July.

U.S. video game sales tracking firm The NPD Group released its July 2020 domestic report this morning,. Overall movement is impressive from both a dollar sales and individual title standpoint, especially for new games from Sony and Nintendo plus catalog titles from 3rd party teams.

Let’s take a look at the trends and get some commentary going on monthly performance.

Note: NPD Group has adjusted its software tracking metrics, which means its three main categories are now as follows:

Video Game Hardware: Console and hardware sales.

Video Game Content: Previously dubbed Video Game Software. This now includes “total market Physical and Digital Full Game, DLC/MTX and Subscription consumer spending across Console, Cloud, Mobile, Portable, PC and VR platforms.”

Video Game Accessories: Self-explanatory, includes controllers, game pads, headphones and comparable gaming accoutrements.

United States Games Industry Sales (July 5th to August 1st):

Overall industry consumer spending jumped an impressive 32% in July compared to the same month last year, totaling $3.6 billion. When expanding to 2020 as a whole, total spend domestically is up 21% to $26 billion right now.

NPD Group Analyst, and online friend of mine, Mat Piscatella said this about overall performance in July: “Double-digit percentage spending gains in accessories, subscription, mobile and both digital full game as well as post launch spending on console and PC offset a slight decline in hardware.”

The largest contributor to last month’s results by far is Video Game Content, at $3.3 billion in dollar sales. This is an increase of 34% over July 2019. In particular the Digital segment within Content is expanding rapidly, showing growth of 41% year-on-year although no dollar amount or split was shared. I’d imagine physical is also showing resilience as we’ve seen with multiple earnings reports from big publishers around the world, though digital is certainly benefiting most from current conditions due to ease of access and retail closures.

As for individual software releases, PlayStation 4 exclusive Ghost of Tsushima solidified the number one spot on the overall chart. The latest action game from internal Sony studio Sucker Punch Productions, which I reviewed recently, is the developer’s fastest-selling to date, outpacing 2014’s inFAMOUS Second Son. Early momentum resulted in Ghost of Tsushima achieving the 4th best Sony-published launch in tracking history, immediately entering the 2020 to date chart as the 5th best-selling title. Sony shared that global unit sales hit 2.4 million within 3 days of release, consistent with my upbeat call on its commercial upside based on where the PS4 install base is at this point in the generation.

The other notable new release is Paper Mario: The Origami King, debuting at #3 on the combined chart plus numero uno on the Switch rankings. It set a new launch high for Nintendo’s Paper Mario franchise, beating the prior record-holder Super Paper Mario in 2007. Additionally, retail launch sales were more than double that of 2004’s Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. Its one of five Nintendo titles within the Top 10 in July, the next highest being the commercial breakout hit Animal Crossing: New Horizons which this quarter became the second top seller ever on Nintendo Switch at an absurd 22.4 million global unit sales as reported earlier this month.

Additional contributors to software growth include another PS4 hit The Last of Us: Part 2, which ranked #4 and has now achieved the 3rd highest lifetime sales ever for a game published by Sony behind Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War both from 2018. Ring Fit Adventure, Nintendo’s fitness entry, continues to have legs due to high consumer demand and increased stock as it climbed to the 7th spot. Rounding out the Top 10 was a surprising one to me, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris from Bandai Namco. It’s the best ever placement for a game in the series to date, since Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet hit #14 in 2018. The game also achieved the 3rd spot on the Xbox One’s individual chart, behind only heavy hitters Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Mortal Kombat 11.

Software and additional content really are carrying the industry with lockdowns still in place around the country, proving a smart way to pass the seemingly endless time. Below are the general charts.

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

  1. Ghost of Tsushima
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  3. Paper Mario: The Origami King*
  4. The Last of Us: Part 2
  5. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  6. Ring Fit Adventure
  7. Mortal Kombat 11
  8. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*
  9. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  10. Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris
  11. Minecraft: PS4 Edition
  12. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  13. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege
  14. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  15. MLB: The Show 20
  16. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  17. Need for Speed: Heat
  18. Marvel’s Spider-Man
  19. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
  20. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

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

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  3. The Last of Us: Part 2
  4. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  5. Ghost of Tsushima [New]
  6. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  7. MLB: The Show 20
  8. Resident Evil 3 Remake
  9. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
  10. Mortal Kombat 11

In really the only lackluster category result of July, Video Game Hardware saw consumer spend decline 2% to $166 million. This is showing that most people have already purchased the current generation systems, are waiting for more news on discounts going into next generation or even holding off until Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 before making a move. The upside is for 2020 as a whole, spending hit $1.8 billion which is an increase of 22% versus this same time frame last year. Mainly driven by strength in Switch, especially during the height of Animal Crossing: New Horizons buying.

Speaking of, Nintendo Switch was yet again the top-selling piece of hardware during July 2020. Nintendo’s hybrid offering has topped the list every month since November 2018. Which means it remains the best-selling console for 2020 as well, naturally.

Finally, Video Game Accessories accounted for the remaining $170 million in monthly sales which is actually a July month record. This figure is 34% higher than July 2019. Gamepad and headsets in particular set July records, although no specific number was attached. Reminiscent of when Fortnite was at its height of popularity, though not the same type of sizeable dollar amounts.

Stepping back to view July domestic sales overall, it’s not another ridiculous month like we saw during say March or the April. It’s still an exciting result for total industry spend, growing double-digits again for the the fifth consecutive month, plus featuring titles like Ghost of Tsushima and Paper Mario: The Origami King with steady demand to set select, more focused records.

Gaming is the type of entertainment that continues to be a great option for people that perhaps thought the country would be more open than it is due to lingering effects of COVID-19. I’ll take this time again to thank those people working hard to keep the States going, whether in medical, retail or other essential fields, and hope that games are able to lift the burden and provide a brief respite when not on the grind.

Hit up NPD Group’s lists and Mat Piscatella’s thread on Twitter for additional deets on July’s report. Stay safe, all. Thanks for stopping by.

*Digital Sales Not Included

Sources: Nintendo, The NPD Group, PlayStation Twitter.

-Dom

Let’s Count Just How Many Records Video Game Sales Set in April 2020

April 2020 will go down forever as a tragic, horrifying month globally for many people enduring the coronavirus outbreak. My condolences to all those impacted, I wish you all the best during these trying times.

One silver lining at least is that video games are able to provide at least some relief from the monotony of social distancing and lock-down orders. And if sales are any indication, tons of people are most certainly getting their money’s worth.

Last month was a monumental one for video game industry sales, both domestically in the States and globally across digital marketplaces. It literally might have a record-breaking amount of records broken.

Just today both U.S. industry tracking firm The NPD Group and global digital data provider SuperData reported their respective figures for April, in what’s one of the single most newsworthy days in the history of gaming sales nerdom.

Rather than a more comprehensive deep dive into the myriad of stats, we’re going to do a rapid-fire recap of all the ridiculous statistics revealed today alongside lists of top-selling games both in the U.S. and globally by digital revenue. Then, I’ll get through a brief bit of commentary before we say goodbye.

Ready? Time to hit record.

Last month was a monumental one for video game industry sales, both domestically in the States and globally across digital marketplaces. It literally might have a record-breaking amount of records broken.

United States Games Industry Sales (April 5th to May 2nd):

Overall games industry spending increased a crazy 73% since this time last year, generating $1.5 billion. This is a record high for an April month, eclipsing that of April 2008’s $1.2 billion.

Monthly game software sales jumped 55% since April 2019, reaching the highest level ever for an April at $662 million. This beats out the previous record-holder again from April 2008, which totaled $642 million.

Within software, the most notable record is for Final Fantasy 7 Remake which led the monthly rankings chart and set a new franchise high for launch month dollar and unit sales, eclipsing that of Final Fantasy XV from 2016. Square Enix’s latest JRPG re-imagining is immediately the 3rd top seller of 2020 so far plus the best-selling PlayStation 4 title on the year.

It wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t mention Nintendo’s flagship hit Animal Crossing: New Horizons, even if the only record it set is short-term. The cute simulation and lifestyle game was ranked #2 on both the April and 2020 to date software charts. Its mini-accomplishment is that it’s the top-seller on Nintendo Switch as a platform over the past 12 months.

In terms of commercial successes we talk about every month, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was the 2nd top-seller of April and is still the highest ranked game of both the last 12 months and 2020 itself. During its 7th month run since release, it’s the 4th fastest-selling game ever tracked by NPD Group. That fits my description of an “almost” record, so I’ll allow it.

Moving like Jagger to a game that’s the opposite of talked about each month, Just Dance 2020 is the quickest selling game in Ubisoft’s long-running franchise since Just Dance 2014. It improved its ranking on the monthly software chart, now at #11 in April after boogying to the 17th spot in March.

Quickly flipping to the hardware category, overall dollar spend is so close to being a record that it gets like half a point. Console sales reached $420 million during April 2020, up a whopping 163% versus this time last year. April 2008 refused to be dethroned this time, as it maintains the best April month ever when it generated $427 million.

Within the Hardware segment, Nintendo Switch held the #1 spot for the 17th straight month. Here comes the real doozy: During 2020 so far, its sales are the highest of any single platform in the history of domestic tracking for the first 4 months of a year outpacing even the Wii over a decade ago in April 2009. Incredible, especially in a time with supply concerns.

Not only that! Dollar sales of the “Big 3” consoles in the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One all increased more than 160% year-on-year with Xbox One generating the best growth although NPD Group did not reveal an exact figure. From a unit sales standpoint, each of these hit record April amounts according to Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter:

Switch: 808,000

PlayStation 4: 411,000

Xbox One: 329,000

Last category here is accessories and game pads, which generated $384 million in monthly sales for an increase of 49% since April 2019. Record alert! Consumer spend on game pads reached a high for an April month, clearing almost twice as much as last year’s amount. PlayStation 4’s Dual Shock 4 black controller topped April’s list, while Nintendo’s Switch Pro Controller is still the best for 2020.

Want another record? I’ve.. heard we got one for ya. Spending on headsets and headphones achieved the best April month in history, beating out that of April 2018. Last month also boasted record results for Steering Wheels and Game Cards. Note that we didn’t hear exact figures for any of these sub-categories, only that they had their best April months of all time.

I feel like we all need a breather after so many records. Let’s look at the full domestic software charts for both last month and year-to-date before going global.

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

  1. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  4. NBA 2K20
  5. Grand Theft Auto V
  6. Resident Evil 3 Remake
  7. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered
  8. MLB: The Show 20
  9. Madden NFL 20
  10. Red Dead Redemption 2
  11. Just Dance 2020
  12. FIFA 20
  13. Mortal Kombat 11
  14. Borderlands 3
  15. Predator: Hunting Grounds
  16. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*
  17. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  18. Persona 5: Royal
  19. Need for Speed: Heat
  20. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot

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

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  3. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  4. NBA 2K20
  5. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  6. MLB: The Show 20
  7. Grand Theft Auto V
  8. Resident Evil 3 Remake
  9. Madden NFL 20
  10. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*

Gaming allows individuals to escape into new, exciting worlds where they don’t have to worry about a pandemic. Or they can at least virtually fight back against one.

Worldwide Digital Games Industry Sales (April 2020)

Expanding to the global games market, let’s check out digital sales estimates from SuperData via its usual monthly report. In general, this only includes digital downloads and additional revenue through in-game transactions thus excludes physical copies sold.

And again to confirm, these are internal estimates as opposed to say publisher data.

Spending on digital games around the globe surpassed a monumental $10.5 billion during April 2020 which is the highest month ever and growth of 17% since last year. Ding ding. Another record!

Driving this figure was a jump in console sales of 42%, mobile growth of 14% then PC sales moving 12% higher. Of course this is temporarily bolstered by lock-down orders, as gaming has become a popular way to defeat the inevitable boredom that sets in from staying home. The question becomes how long can it last?

Diving into more individual game results, usual suspect Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold 3.6 million digital copies in April which is down slightly from the record 5 million in its launch month of March. Still, it was the top-selling console game on the worldwide chart. Here’s this month’s record: After only two months on market, it’s already the top-selling Nintendo Switch title as measured by both digital unit sales estimates and dollar revenue from downloads.

The aforementioned Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which was the best-seller in the States during April, achieved the 2nd spot on the global digital rankings. Since we’re certainly counting, its total of 2.2 million digital downloads set multiple records for a launch month. This is the best digital result within the franchise ever, plus it’s the fastest-selling PlayStation exclusive to date beating out Marvel’s Spider-Man in 2018 by a slim margin. A win is a win!

While not a record, Resident Evil 3 Remake achieved another notable result during April 2020. Capcom’s latest remake in the long-running horror franchise eclipsed 1.3 million digital units sold during this its launch month, slightly below the 1.4 million of its predecessor in 2019’s Resident Evil 2 Remake.

Back to the records. Last month, League of Legends hit its best player count of all time and spending in Grand Theft Auto V on in-game content reached its highest level ever. Ongoing games continue in their appeal, as people gather virtually to either compete or work together collaboratively.

This leads into the full charts from SuperData estimates for global digital sales. Take it away, fancy image.

Top-Grossing Console Games of April 2020, Worldwide, Digital Sales:

  1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  2. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  3. FIFA 20
  4. Grand Theft Auto V
  5. NBA 2K20
  6. DOOM Eternal
  7. Fortnite
  8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered
  9. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  10. Resident Evil 3 Remake

Alright. I believe I’m fully on record proving how April was a record-breaking month. Counting them up, there are more than a dozen here which is likely some sort all-time high.

My reactions? No one could have predicted this, not even as recently as a couple months ago. This is absolutely unprecedented, even if for the wrong reasons during a tragic time for our world history.

Gaming as much as any other medium is benefiting because of the feeling of connection caused by sharing on social media or gearing up with others online. There’s local play, which helps pass the time with the very few loved ones with which we can spend time. Gaming allows individuals to escape into new, exciting worlds where they don’t have to worry about a pandemic. Or they can at least virtually fight back against one.

It’s not much in the way of analysis to say that April was one of if not the most noteworthy sales months this generation. What’s difficult to say is how long it will last with all the uncertainty surrounding the scary longevity of coronavirus and the potential for a vaccine. I’m thankful that people have games to entertain, especially those on the front lines working hard for our safety, and that for now many have enough disposable income to spend.

As the summer starts here and new PlayStation 4 games like The Last of Us Part 2 and Ghost of Tsushima release then Nintendo launches Paper Mario: The Origami King, where will the broader economy be, what level of unemployment will we see and how will sales look going into the marketing cycle for next generation consoles?

Let’s celebrate April for what it was, while acknowledging we have a long way to go outside of games.

As always, please check out NPD Group Analyst Mat Piscatella’s thread for many more details plus friend of the site Jeff Grubb’s recap on Venture Beat on the domestic report, then SuperData’s site for the global update. Thanks for reading, be healthy!

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

Sources: Media Play News, NPD Group, Square Enix, SuperData Estimates, Venture Beat.

-Dom