Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Leads U.S. Game Sales & Nintendo Switch Reaches New Milestone in April 2022 NPD Group Report

It feels like I just posted my March recap, and here’s April! Time flies when you’re having fun, or getting old.

Existential dread aside, this morning The NPD Group was back with its latest monthly games sales report documenting consumer trends in the United States. While folks are spending less on the games industry compared to last year, there’s still plenty of successes to highlight.

Total sales across Video Game Content, Hardware and Accessories categories dipped 8% during April, which means spending has lowered year-on-year for six consecutive months. This is also the second straight April month with lower sales after last year’s 2% decline. Hardware was the only category exhibiting growth, while Content and Accessories both experienced double-digit dips.

Within the largest category of Content, mobile saw worse-than-expected negative momentum mainly due to softness in Google Play activity. On the premium side, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga led the aggregate chart. It’s the first game to dethrone Elden Ring since February, which remained at the second spot just ahead of MLB The Show 22. As opposed to last month’s bevy of new games hitting the charts, April’s overall software list only featured two new entries.

Performance within the Hardware segment was split depending on the metric being used. Nintendo Switch topped April’s console sales when using units, a metric by which it’s also the year’s best-seller so far. Just like back in March. As a result of this consistency, Switch passed PlayStation 4 on the all-time best-selling home console list. It’s now in fourth place behind only PlayStation 2, Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s own Wii.

However when using dollar sales as the measure, PlayStation 5 took home the win in April. Sony was finally able to secure enough inventory to move up the ranks, though Xbox Series X|S is still 2022’s top-selling hardware by dollars right now.

“Despite a nice hardware bump, the market couldn’t get back to growth as content and accessories lagged,” said The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella. “Perhaps we’ll see some benefit from that hardware lift next month. In any case, [the] market remains well above pre-pandemic baseline.”

Long-time readers know I like to maintain perspective when writing about monthly or even quarterly sales. Seeing a decline since prior year isn’t necessarily substantial news or a sky-is-falling scenario. The consecutive months on this negative trajectory are representative of a few things, then of course there’s those pockets of positivity for individual games and consoles.

First, quarantining bolstered sales substantially the past couple years. Easing restrictions and some semblance of normalcy means a certain level of reversion is expected. Then there’s retail supply, still hampered by a semiconductor shortage and manufacturing woes. Finally there’s the distressing and growing impact from inflation, which is painful for most folks and can hamstring discretionary purchasing decisions.

Keeping this context in mind, I’ll move into my complete analysis and a detailed rundown of April’s results.

United States Games Industry Sales (April 3rd, 2022 – April 30th, 2022)

As displayed in the above gallery, total consumer spending during April fell 8% to $4.34 billion. That means annual spend to date is also down 8%, to $18.26 billion.

I think the most telling graphic here is the line chart showing spending over time for each of the past four years. It gives clear context on pandemic impact and how the current level compares to earlier periods. For instance, until last month, each month of 2022 was trending above the corresponding one during these years except 2021. This past April’s spending is the lowest April has been in three years, but not by much.

The largest category of Content includes software, add-on, mobile and subscriptions. Spending here lowered 10% to $3.84 billion. That means it comprised more than 88% of April’s total.

The key driver within this part is mobile, which has been in a downward trajectory for months. Normally the report says when it exceeds $2 billion, and it didn’t this time. So I assume it’s below that threshold. Even so, select titles are showing strength which implies people are still playing, albeit spending at a lower clip. Candy Crush Saga, Roblox, Coin Master, Evony: The King’s Return and Royal Match were the top earners.

Moving into premium titles, the aforementioned Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga led the rankings overall and every single individual platform chart as well. Including Nintendo Switch, as it was the first third-party title to top that chart since Monster Hunter Rise in March of last year. This performance across platforms led to the adventure title from Warner Bros. achieving the single best launch month dollar sales for any Lego game in tracked history. It’s immediately the second best-selling title of 2022 at present, behind only Elden Ring.

Speaking of Elden Ring, it was number two on the overall chart in April. Into its third month on market and it’s already achieved an astonishing accomplishment: The open-world soulslike has now outsold November 2021’s Call of Duty: Vanguard in the U.S., making Elden Ring the top-selling premium game of the last 12 months. This is virtually unheard of in the States, where Activision Blizzard’s military shooter perennially dominates sales charts. It’s a combination of relative weakness in Call of Duty lately and the stunning quality of FromSoftware’s latest masterpiece, which reached 13.4 million units globally in March according to publisher Bandai Namco. It’s even more by now, the true definition of a sales giant.

After an early access period led MLB The Show 22 to #4 in March, it advanced up to the third spot in April and moved up to 5th on the year’s best-sellers list after debuting outside the Top 10. While this performance isn’t as high as last year’s entry, which led its initial month, it’s still a quality showing. Intriguingly, it didn’t appear in the Top 10 on Xbox yet from an engagement standpoint, Xbox is its leading platform by player count. It’s a clear display of the Xbox Game Pass effect, as this year’s title was again available on the service at launch. It’s also worth noting this report doesn’t include digital sales from Xbox for this particular title, which of course impacts platform ranks.

The last new release on the overall chart was Nintendo Switch Sports, which really had only two days on sale during this time period. It still scored an impressive fifth place on the overall chart. Within the Nintendo list individually, it ranked third behind Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga and Kirby and the Forgotten Land. It’s another title, like all of those published by Nintendo, that doesn’t account for digital downloads. May’s result will give a better indication, as I expect it to be quite successful.

That covers the new releases, and most other movement on the charts featured familiar names from the prior month. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is holding strong, as is Horizon Forbidden West. Then there’s Mario Kart 8 which will never, ever stop selling. Most of the year’s Top 10 is the same save for the entry of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. Check below for a full look at April’s ranks plus 2022 so far.

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

  1. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
  2. Elden Ring
  3. MLB The Show 22^
  4. Kirby and the Forgotten Land*
  5. Nintendo Switch Sports*
  6. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  7. Horizon Forbidden West
  8. Mario Kart 8*
  9. Gran Turismo 7
  10. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  11. Minecraft
  12. FIFA 22
  13. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  14. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  15. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  16. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  17. WWE 2K22*
  18. Mario Party Superstars*
  19. Madden NFL 22
  20. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands*

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

  1. Elden Ring
  2. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
  3. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  4. Horizon Forbidden West
  5. MLB The Show 22^
  6. Gran Turismo 7
  7. Call of Duty: Vanguard*
  8. Kirby and the Forgotten Land
  9. Madden NFL 22
  10. Mario Kart 8*
  11. FIFA 22
  12. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  13. Minecraft
  14. Dying Light 2: Stay Human*
  15. Monster Hunter Rise
  16. Mario Party Superstars*
  17. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  18. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  19. WWE 2K22*
  20. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Hardware was the main bright spot of April from a growth standpoint, boosting up 16% since last year to $343 million. Even so, it’s still down for the first four months of the year in aggregate. Sales of consoles year-to-date reached $1.54 billion, or 9% lower than the same period in 2021.

This April figure is somewhat reassuring, considering spending on this segment declined 30% this time last year. It indicates better availability, at least for certain platforms as The NPD Group called out PlayStation and Xbox increasing supply. This year has been a wild one for hardware; a different console has led each of the first three months. Demand is thriving, so consumers are buying whenever inventories pop up. Something like the Xbox Series S in particular is proving attractive because of its price point.

Still, it was actually the PlayStation 5 that showed up in April. Sony’s massive new console led last month on dollars generated as more stock hit shelves, a similar story as other regions including Europe based on data from local providers. Other than January, which was the last time PlayStation 5 topped the list, it’s been a somewhat dry year for Sony and its supply chain. As I wrote just this week, the company announced the platform passed 19.3 million units shipped globally and is now lagging its predecessor considerably.

Not to be overlooked, Nintendo Switch was April’s best seller by units. It’s the same for 2022 to date as Nintendo’s hybrid console continues to attract interest going into its sixth year on sale. In the States, lifetime Switch sales have now outpaced PlayStation 4 to become the fourth best-selling home console of all time. PlayStation 2, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, in that order, are the only home platforms with more units sold domestically.

Xbox Series X|S rounds out this category as it secured second place during April by both dollar and unit sales. Similar to March, Microsoft’s family of devices is currently the year’s best seller by dollar sales. Microsoft has been most consistent on the production side, plus of course benefits from higher average revenue per unit for the premium Xbox Series X model.

I know that’s a lot to digest for hardware, since the report includes multiple metrics. Suffice to say there are at least minor indications of greater supply popping up, however it’s not yet a trend until it keeps happening. We still need to closely monitor the semiconductor shortage and input costs to see if it becomes an upward trend in overall supply movement, rather than one-off monthly spikes.

The third and final category of Accessories unfortunately didn’t track alongside hardware in April, instead showing some weakness compared to a year back. Monthly spending here fell 10% to $151 million. It’s currently the only segment in a double-digit decline for the year as a whole, moving down 15% to $743 million.

In a shocking upset, the PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 Wireless controller in black was April’s best-selling accessory. You read that correctly. That’s last generation’s PlayStation game pad leading a month in the second year of this current console cycle. Perhaps there were discounts leading to this upside? Though this report is mostly based on dollar sales, so there has to be some sort of advantageous average selling price for Sony in order for it to win.

I can’t remember the last time a PlayStation 4 game pad led the category.

Expanding a bit, the Xbox Elite Series 2 wireless controller, which has led all months except this past one, is still the best-selling accessory for the year right now. As it has all year, bolstered by its extravagant price tag.

Lately, it’s proving difficult for spending on games to keep pace with the highs of recent years. Especially early last year, which saw months of historic highs. Six months of monthly declines and we’re seeing this movement away from the ballooning amounts of spending during the pandemic due to restrictions of going out plus stimulus money at the time.

Softening is expected right now, even if it’s challenging to report on a downward trend. It’s just a matter of magnitude as spending normalizes, plus buyers face inflation pressure for essential goods which limits additional cash flow. There’s also the allure of spending on different types of entertainment as more people get out of the house in which they’ve been cooped for a while.

“We’ve also seen an extended run of months showing year-on-year declines,” Piscatella wrote. “[The] video game market is facing a return to experiential spending as well as higher prices in other areas of consumer spend. Tough combo. Will require the bigger games to really pull the market.”

On those AAA projects, the latest news cycle revealed how 2022 is shaping up to be another year of delays. Starfield. Redfall. Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. The next The Legend of Zelda mainline entry. Stalker 2: Heart of Chernobyl is on hold due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And I’m not sold on God of War: Ragnarok hitting this calendar year, as I’ve said many a time on social media.

Focusing strictly on the potential for May’s monthly report, it’s a very light month for new software that isn’t a remake, re-release or indie launch. I’m expecting another month of spending declines, except perhaps for consoles. Evil Dead: The Game and Sniper Elite 5 are probably the highest profile releases on the calendar. I’m not sure the Top 10 will have any new entries, let alone the Top 5.

Which means it’s a major opportunity for carryover titles to promote new content or have events that keep players buying. This ties in with the subscription play, a staple in Microsoft’s suite of course and Sony’s strategy with its PlayStation Plus reworking starting in June. Games like MLB The Show 22 and Nintendo Switch Sports will have a lot more days on sale than last month. Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga has a good chance at leading again, as does Elden Ring. I’m not the most upbeat on Call of Duty: Vanguard right now, but it will certainly secure a solid position.

My best guess is Elden Ring returns to number one. With the caveat that if Nintendo included digital, I’d probably bet on Nintendo Switch Sports.

As for Hardware, throw a dart at the wall and take a guess. Xbox Series X|S on dollars. Nintendo Switch again on units. Those are my dartboard guesses, at least.

Now that I’ve come to the end of this month’s coverage, I highly recommend perusing Piscatella’s Twitter thread for more details on platform rankings and additional commentary.

It’s been a supremely busy week for the games industry and business nerds. I’m both exhilarated and exhausted. I hope you enjoyed the articles, I plan to have more in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading. Until next time, be well!

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: Bandai Namco, The NPD Group, Warner Bros Interactive.

-Dom

Xbox Series X|S & Elden Ring Show Strength in March 2022 During Another Month of U.S. Game Sales Declines

That’s another first quarter in the books. Congratulations, all. You made it!

In celebration, industry tracking firm The NPD Group gave everyone an early present this week as its March U.S. games spending report was originally slated for release on Tuesday. It was a Monday surprise! I’m a bit late in covering it because WordPress Issues, but I’m here now and ready to rock. And since it’s a March month, that means we have a whole quarter of data to peruse.

Now, the headline seems drearier than it is. Yes, domestic consumer spending on video games declined in March, marking the fifth straight month of lower sales. All three categories saw double-digit dips. Do you remember where spending was at this time last year? All-time highs for a March month, that’s where.

According to this latest report, consumer spending across Video Game Content, Hardware and Accessories declined 15% in March to just under $4.9 billion. That’s down from a record-breaking March of $5.69 billion in 2021. Essentially, this past month was in-line with the first phase of the pandemic. To help with context in gaming, that’s when everyone was playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Everything in context!

While all categories moved down in March, the broadest of Content (software, mobile, add-ons, subscriptions etc) showed the most resilience down only 13%. This is partially due to a lower mobile contribution. Within premium software, the beast that is Elden Ring beat out a slew of new titles to snag its second straight monthly win atop the overall chart. Launches of Gran Turismo 7, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, MLB The Show 22, WWE 2K22 and Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin all sold well enough to be in the Top 10 last month.

Hardware as a segment experienced the most precipitous decline on a percentage basis, down 24%. Xbox Series X|S secured its spot as best-selling console of March measured by dollars. Why? Well, because it was more available to buy. Especially the entry level Series S design is popping up more frequently at retail. Not only was the family of devices the month’s top seller, it also generated the highest dollar sales of any console during the first quarter.

“Consumers [are] returning to experiential spending, and perhaps even pressures from higher prices in other areas, may now be impacting video games,” wrote The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella on Twitter. “Continued supply constraints in hardware aren’t helping.”

Manufacturers and suppliers on the hardware side are doing as much as they can to produce as many boxes as possible, given those constraints. Though it’s still not enough to satiate demand at this stage. Software publishers are seeing the impact of more normalized, plus less discretionary, spending in this inflationary environment. Notably within mobile. So, a lack of growth isn’t a doomsday indicator. It’s more a reversion, dampened by higher prices for companies and individuals.

Moving into the fun stuff. The numbers, of course!

United States Games Industry Sales (February 27th, 2022 – April 2nd, 2022)

Beginning with the overall figure I referenced earlier, total consumer spending on the games industry declined 15% to $4.85 billion during March. When expanding to the first three months of 2022, it’s $13.92 billion or 8% lower than the corresponding period before.

I’ll cover Video Game Content first. During March, spend on Content dipped 13% to $4.11 billion. Which means this category currently makes up around 85% of monthly spending.

There’s clear downward pressure from mobile, which saw 12% lower spending last month than in March 2021. This includes a 25% decline in Google Play games revenue, whereas Apple’s App Store purchasing came down only slightly. Even considering this impact from March, mobile spending declined less than 10% for the quarter. Top earners for mobile in the month were Candy Crush Saga, Roblox, Coin Master, Garena Free Fire and Genshin Impact.

“U.S. mobile game spending continues to considerably outpace our pre-pandemic projections,” noted the report. “Although signs of the space cooling off as consumers return to in-person occupations and spend more time on other pursuits outside the home are showing.”

When it came to premium software, the story was new games hitting market before fiscal year end for many publishers. It was a busy month where seven of the Top 12 sellers on the combined chart were brand new games. Three of those were among the Top 5.

March’s best earner Elden Ring is technically not one of those new releases since it had all of two days in February’s report. Those alone propelled FromSoftware’s latest to first at the time. Now a double-digit sales increase during March helped it secure the win again. The soulslike open world was the highest seller on all its available platforms, it’s still the best-selling of 2022 to date and second to only Call of Duty: Vanguard over the last 12 months. The Tarnished may be “maidenless,” yet they are certainly makin’ more.

Finishing in second place during March was PlayStation exclusive Gran Turismo 7. The racing sim entry from Sony’s Polyphony Digital accelerated to the best launch month in Gran Turismo franchise history when measured by dollar sales. (I have a note out to NPD Group to confirm the prior record.) It’s also immediately fourth on 2022’s top sellers so far. As a quick comparison, its predecessor didn’t chart. With the caveat it was a holiday release in December 2013.

Quite literally rounding out the Top 3 was Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Keep in mind Nintendo doesn’t include digital portion for its Switch games. While NPD Group didn’t share much in the way of comparison to prior Kirby games, I would wager it had the best launch month ever. I ran some quick checks on rankings. Switch title Kirby Star Allies debuted at #4 in March 2018 while Nintendo 3DS entry Kirby: Planet Robobot didn’t hit the Top 10 during June 2016. When Nintendo reports its annual earnings in a couple weeks, I fully expect the Switch effect to boost Kirby and the Forgotten Land to fastest-selling in the franchise. Sorry if that was a mouthful!

Fourth place in March was the curious case of MLB The Show 22. I say that because looks can be deceiving. Last year’s entry was the top-selling of April 2021, setting an all-time franchise record after becoming a multi-platform release also available day one on Xbox Game Pass. Now, this year’s initial rank only accounts for certain special editions offering an early access phase. Next month’s report will tell the full story; I expect it to be a good one.

Wrapping up other new releases, 2K Games’ WWE 2K22 wrestled to #7 after taking a year off. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands and Ghostwire Tokyo secured 10th through 12th place respectively. Lastly, Triangle Strategy landed just outside the Top 15. Note some of these also have the “no digital” caveat. The list below has specifics.

My final observation on the software side from March is how four games outsold Call of Duty: Vanguard in the first quarter of 2022. It’s another indicator of lagging premium Call of Duty sales, echoed in this week’s quarterly financials from Activision Blizzard which I covered on social media.

Here goes the full software charts for March and Q1 2022.

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

  1. Elden Ring
  2. Gran Turismo 7
  3. Kirby and the Forgotten Land*
  4. MLB The Show 22#
  5. Horizon Forbidden West
  6. Pokémon Legends Arceus*
  7. WWE 2K22*
  8. Mario Kart 8*
  9. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  10. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin
  11. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands*
  12. Ghostwire Tokyo
  13. FIFA 22
  14. Minecraft
  15. Madden NFL 22
  16. Triangle Strategy*
  17. Mario Party Superstars*
  18. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  19. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  20. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Top-Selling Games of Q1 2022, U.S., All Platforms (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Elden Ring
  2. Pokémon Legends Arceus*
  3. Horizon Forbidden West
  4. Gran Turismo 7
  5. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  6. Madden NFL 22
  7. Kirby and the Forgotten Land*
  8. Mario Kart 8*
  9. Dying Light 2 Stay Human*
  10. FIFA 22
  11. MLB The Show 22#
  12. Monster Hunter Rise
  13. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  14. Minecraft
  15. Mario Party Superstars*
  16. God of War 2018
  17. Total War: Warhammer III
  18. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  19. WWE 2K22*
  20. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*

Shifting focus to Video Game Hardware, this segment saw $515 million in spending within March. That’s 24% lower than the record-breaking $680 million last year, which was the highest March hardware result since way back in 2008. You know, the time of the Nintendo Wii.

Again, context!

When looking at the first quarter, hardware sales dipped 15% to exactly $1.2 billion. It’s solid compared to last year’s highs, and not too shabby considering it was under $800 million back in Q1 2020 towards the end of last generation of course.

During March, Xbox Series X|S achieved that top-selling status within hardware using dollars generated as the metric. Microsoft’s current devices experienced the best March monthly sales in the tracked history of the Xbox brand, by both units and dollars spent. Prior to this, March 2011 and March 2014 were all-time bests for units and dollars, respectively.

This monthly win in March bolstered Xbox Series X|S to becoming the best-selling platform during the first three months of 2022.

It’s worth nothing that when accounting for units sold as the measure, Nintendo Switch led for March and Q1.

Want proof that whichever console maker can produce the most will win a given month? When using dollar sales, each month of 2022 so far has been led by a different platform. PlayStation 5 secured January, Nintendo Switch topped February and now Xbox Series X|S won out in March. This says, as much as anything, that supply is fluctuating month to month or even week to week. Whoever pushes the most inventory will likely be crowned victor. Temporarily, of course.

Still, it’s unclear that even with recent supply spurts, hardware output isn’t matching ongoing demand from consumers.

“Xbox had a big month due to having supply that could help meet some of the demand,” said Piscatella. “Supply [is] still an issue in hardware.”

The last category of March’s monthly report is Video Game Accessories. This paralleled almost perfectly with Hardware as consumer spending declined 23% to $227 million. This same month last year, the $300 million generated on accessories was a March record. Effectively, this particular segment is back to March 2020 levels.

When taking into account the first three months of 2022, sales on accessories moved down 16% to $592 million.

As it has all year, Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Series 2 controller was the heavy hitter. This top-end game pad was March’s best-selling accessory, making it the top seller for Q1 as well. There’s not much more color digging into this particular segment from March’s data.

As I alluded before, March spending declines aren’t doom and gloom. At all. It’s a natural movement back towards more normalized amounts, especially for something like mobile. There’s also the impact of rampant inflation causing more essential spending to take precedent for many households.

A monthly report like this really displays the impact of mobile within Content. First quarter premium releases are doing quite well at least alongside historical counterparts, illustrated by the likes of Elden Ring, Horizon Forbidden West, Pokémon Legends Arceus plus that wide swath of March launches stacking up the charts.

It sounds like a broken record, I know. Gaming hardware goes as inventories do, seeing as there are plenty of buyers when consoles do hit stores or online channels. The upside is clearly limited in the foreseeable future. Each moth a different platform shines, though Xbox did so brightly enough in March to push past the others when aggregating Q1.

Then, what about this month of April?

Well, it’s certainly not going to be as eventful as this report on the premium software side. There are fewer blockbuster games in April’s slate. Nintendo Switch Sports is a headliner that will be massive on Switch, even if it’s out very late in the month. I’m incredibly upbeat on Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga after Warner Bros. Games revealed it’s already shipped 3.2 million copies globally.

I expect various games from first quarter to compete in April, notably Elden Ring yet again and MLB The Show 22 after the strength of a full launch. I’ll predict here that Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga takes it home and Nintendo Switch Sports scores a Top 3 finish.

Hardware is, again, anyone’s guess. Personally, my best guess is Nintendo Switch on both dollars and units mainly due to that sports boost. Folks will be partying like granny and the fam playing Wii Sports bowling back in ’06!

We’ll have to wait and see. Until then, I recommend reading Piscatella’s thread for details directly form the source. Thanks for stopping by the site, be safe and well. Take care for now!

*Digital Sales Not Included, ^Xbox Digital Sales Note Included, #Includes on the MVP Edition and Digital Deluxe Edition

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: The NPD Group, Newsweek (Image Credit), NY Times (Image Credit), Warner Bros. Games.

-Dom

Elden Ring’s Huge February 2022 Debut Isn’t Enough to Offset Fourth Straight Month of Declines for U.S. Game Sales

Everyone truly is playing Elden Ring, it seems. At least that’s what the data says!

Still, despite FromSoftware’s latest masterpiece plus a variety of major releases, consumer spending on the U.S. games market declined during February 2022 according to the latest report from The NPD Group. That’s the fourth straight month of lower sales, attributed to supply pressure on the hardware front and slowing mobile momentum in the content segment.

Total consumer spending dipped 6% to $4.4 billion during February. Which checks out and really isn’t as bad as it sounds, considering this same period last year achieved a record result for a February month. A single-digit decline from all-time highs is quite a solid showing in the current environment of uncertainty.

The Video Game Content segment fell 4% since last year. This includes lower mobile spending, the first time mobile device spend has declined in a February since the pandemic started in 2020. There were a slew of newer premium titles charting like the aforementioned Elden Ring alongside Horizon Forbidden West, Dying Light 2 Stay Human and Total War: Warhammer III which all shared the Top 5 with January’s major launch in Pokémon Legends Arceus.

Nintendo Switch returned to its place as top earner within Video Game Hardware, the category with the most pronounced decline in February of nearly 30% year-on-year. Clearly semiconductor shortages and elevated input costs were a factor, which they will be this year and likely even further in to the future.

Content often goes as mobile and premium titles do, so seeing a dip means spending on recent launches couldn’t outpace mobile’s contribution. When it comes to hardware, and to an extent Video Game Accessories as the third major segment, inventory and availability is dictating results and who leads from report to report.

Not only were monthly sales lower than last February, the number for year-to-date is presently trending downward after January followed a similar decline. For the first couple months of the year, consumer spend reached $9.1 billion or 4% lower than the same time frame in 2021.

“Definitely seeing signs of a move away from the pandemic-fueled gaming surge that had been a part of the market since April 2020,” wrote The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella on Twitter. “[The] question is where things settle in, and how many of the players added over the past 2 years stick around, and how engagement hours/spend change.”

Before I dive deep into the numbers, I want to say I stand with the people of Ukraine in their fight against Russia’s attempted takeover of their country and freedom. Everyone who has been displaced is in my thoughts. If you are interested in donating to relief efforts, here is a pretty robust list of charities.

Also, I hope everyone is safe and well as you start to return to workplaces, conferences and more in-person events. Even if it’s a small semblance of normalcy, it’s a welcome change. You’ll always have these recaps to keep you occupied whether at home or out and about!

It’s time to talk shop. Bring on the charts and figures.

United States Games Industry Sales (January 30th, 2022 – February 26th, 2022)

As I alluded earlier, The NPD Group reported February gaming sales in the States totaled $4.384 billion which is down 6% since last year’s (record) $4.671 billion. This was dragged down the most by hardware, though the other categories also saw notable declines.

Expanding to 2022 so far, total spending reached nearly $9.1 billion. That’s 4% lower than the first two months of last year. It’s a situation many of us expected, given the surge of domestic spending on games we’ve seen over recent history.

Video Game Content contributed 89% of all games industry spending in February, or $3.9 billion in dollar value which represents a 4% decline. Looking at this same category over the year to date, it’s at $8 billion and that’s also 4% off its 2021 highs. Leading all mobile titles by revenue were Candy Crush Saga, Roblox, Coin Master, Genshin Impact and Pokémon GO.

I mentioned briefly how mobile momentum is slowing. This sub-segment dipped almost 3% during February, the first February decline in a couple years. I’d say this is natural given where we are with things slowly opening back up, though I expect it to continue leading the Content category as people have access to mobile devices wherever they go.

When it comes to premium titles, Elden Ring earned the crown for both February and 2022 to date. Bandai Namco and FromSoftware’s latest open world action role-playing game is having the biggest launch in the developer’s storied history. For this domestic report, it had the best start of any game in the past year besides the behemoth that was Call of Duty: Vanguard. It’s already the 5th best-selling title of the last 12 months. And with just two days on sale during this period! Incredible.

Expanding globally, the companies announced just last night how the soulslike sold a staggering 12 million units worldwide since late February. I was way bullish on Elden Ring as one of the most anticipated titles ever across the industry. But I don’t know if anyone expected this, as it’s officially turned into much more of a mainstream success. And has done anything but Tarnish the developer’s rep. (Those playing will know!)

Second place in the month went to another open world title in Horizon Forbidden West, the sequel to 2017’s robo-dinosaur hunt Horizon Zero Dawn. The PlayStation 5 version of this exclusive made by Guerilla Games set a brand new first month record for titles on PlayStation 5 when measured by dollar sales, I believe outpacing Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s also the 3rd best-seller of 2022 right now. The original game hit upwards of 20 million copies lifetime, and I’m way optimistic on the prospects here over time. Even if it continues the trend of launching around an all-time great: Elden Ring now and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild previously.

January’s best-selling game Pokémon Legends Arceus captured the third spot in February, now with a number of weeks on market. Those there pocket monsters selling well, what else is new? Then, Techland’s Dying Light 2 Stay Human fought to #4, which is down compared to the original game that led the January 2015 monthly ranks. Still, it was enough for the zombie parkour experience to reach 6th for year-to-date. It’s worth noting both Pokémon and Dying Light 2 Stay Human do not include digital downloads. I don’t expect that would have made a difference for the latter. Maybe for the former.

Finishing up the Top 5 is Total War: Warhammer III mainly due to its strong PC push and Xbox Game Pass word-of-mouth boost. The strategy tactics game is also currently #8 on 2022’s list. I couldn’t find its predecessor anywhere on the chart during its September 2017 start, though I’m not sure if this is a record for the sub-franchise within the broader Total War saga.

All other games within February’s Top 20 were releases from prior months or even years. One that stood out to me was Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, taking the 16th spot overall. That’s up from 57th in January. The now infamous remastered version of three Grand Theft Auto games seemed to have a boost in February at retail, since Take-Two Interactive is another publisher that excludes digital.

See below for premium software rankings for both February 2022 and the year so far.

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

  1. Elden Ring
  2. Horizon Forbidden West
  3. Pokémon Legends Arceus*
  4. Dying Light 2: Stay Human*
  5. Total War: Warhammer III
  6. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  7. Madden NFL 22
  8. Mario Kart 8*
  9. FIFA 22
  10. Minecraft
  11. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  12. Mario Party Superstars*
  13. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  14. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  15. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  16. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition*
  17. NBA 2K22*
  18. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl*
  19. Far Cry 6
  20. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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

  1. Elden Ring
  2. Pokémon Legends Arceus*
  3. Horizon Forbidden West
  4. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  5. Madden NFL 22
  6. Dying Light 2: Stay Human*
  7. Monster Hunter Rise
  8. Total War: Warhammer III
  9. God of War (2018)
  10. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  11. Mario Kart 8*
  12. FIFA 22
  13. Minecraft
  14. Mario Party Superstars*
  15. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  16. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl*
  17. Far Cry 6
  18. NBA 2K22*
  19. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  20. Battlefield 2042

Last month, Video Game Hardware saw the most precipitous dip of the three primary categories as it declined 27% to $295 million. For perspective, console spend was above $400 million back in February 2021. The decline for 2022 so far is less severe, down 5% in the first two months to $685 million in aggregate. It certainly reiterates how difficult it is to find hardware, especially the top-end PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

After PlayStation 5 took home January, Nintendo Switch was back as the leading platform by both dollars and units during February 2022. Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S family of consoles secured the second spot, benefiting from the dual SKU approach since the entry level Xbox Series S is easier to find lately.

This flip-flopping of monthly winners on the console side is going to continue, because it’s all about who can come up with the most stock for a given time frame. Nintendo had a blow out holiday and inventories for Switch seem to be bouncing back after a slow January. Xbox Series S could push Microsoft to a win here and there. I’m still mostly impressed with Nintendo Switch entering its sixth year and still consistently putting up the best stats.

When taking the first two months of 2022 into account, it’s PlayStation 5 that leads all hardware by revenue however Nintendo Switch tops on unit sales. PlayStation 5’s strong post-holiday month was enough to hold off its competitors for the time being on dollar sales, benefiting from that premium price tag.

Really it’s just a matter of how long the supply situation lasts, and which company can secure its pipeline enough to keep consistent product on shelves. Nintendo held that title for February in a down month for domestic hardware spend overall, signaling we still have a long way to go in the everlasting semiconductor shortage.

Similar to its counterparts, the final segment of Video Game Accessories cooled during the month of February. Spending here was 7% lower than February 2021, reaching $180 million. It’s also the only category with a double-digit decline for 2022 to date, off 11% to $365 million.

This again isn’t as bad as it sounds because of where it was last year. At that time, various sub-categories within accessories saw their best February on record. That included Game Pads, Headset/Headphone and Steering Wheels. It’s tough to keep up to the best ever, especially when console sales aren’t picking up.

Out of all accessories sold, Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Series 2 controller topped the month. It’s also the best-selling accessory of 2022 at present.

One thing to keep an eye on here is the pace at which accessory spend is declining is currently worse than hardware. Another bystander of supply, and that’s even more pronounced when people aren’t purchasing many new consoles.

In certain recent reports, The NPD Group has shared some insights into virtual reality which is included in the accessories portion. I didn’t see any this time, likely because that’s more of a story during the holiday season or major product launches.

After a slower than usual start to the year, February welcomed a number of new premium games to market. It was a busy time for gamers looking to spend wisely because of just how many hit within weeks of one another. The biggest of those in Elden Ring is having a historic start, while others are certainly doing well in their own rights especially the Horizon and Total War series.

The unfortunate part is many of those same people also want to buy a fancy new console, yet probably can’t at legitimate retail. Nintendo was able to restock well in February, plus Microsoft’s Xbox Series S is propping up that particular family even if it doesn’t generate as many dollars because of its more affordable pricing. There’s certainly demand that’s going unfulfilled.

Even so, seeing single-digit declines from a record high February 2021 isn’t that concerning. In the context of recent years and even going back further, spending on the games industry is healthy.

“The last two years of significant growth have introduced gaming to new and returning audiences, have expanded the ways people engage with gaming, and have solidified gaming as a social gathering place for family & friends,” Piscatella said.

Shifting focus towards March, the last month of first quarter, and we see an equally busy calendar though I would argue less upside on the triple-A segment and spending as a whole. Square Enix boasts a number of titles: Babylon’s Fall, Triangle Strategy and Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin and I’m hesitant on all of them.

PlayStation’s flagship racing sim Gran Turismo 7 launched a couple weeks back, and has a legitimate chance at a Top 3 finish. Take-Two Interactive sports a heavy load: WWE 2K22, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands plus yet another version of Grand Theft Auto V, this time for the current console generation.

Nintendo’s big game of the mouth, I mean month, is Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Plus the publisher has downloadable content for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, both of which will perform well. I expect Kirby in particular to set records within the franchise, benefiting greatly from that Switch Effect.

For my quick set of predictions, I’m actually leaning towards Elden Ring repeating in March based on the number of weeks on sale plus its momentum isn’t going anywhere. I’m thinking Kirby secures Top 4 position, while Mario Kart 8 should move back into the Top 5 somewhere.

What console will lead March? Your guess is as good as mine. I like Nintendo Switch always, so I’ll say it wins March by both dollar and unit metrics. I’ve learned to not bet against Nintendo, even when I’m wholly unsure.

Did anything else stand out to you with February’s report? What do you foresee in March? Do you have any questions or comments? Feel free to reach out on social media. I also highly recommend checking out Piscatella’s thread on Twitter. Be safe and take care!

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: Bandai Namco, The NPD Group, Xbox Twitter (Image Credit).

-Dom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Though I was genuinely surprised by the rankings last month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

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

-Dom

Switch, Call of Duty & Mobile Boost U.S. Games Industry Spending to Record $60B in 2021

Anything going on lately in gaming?

Joking, of course. It’s been a busy time in what’s proving to be a most rambunctious year already for industry news. Last week Take-Two Interactive announced its $12.7 billion purchase of Zynga in what was, at the time, the biggest deal ever for gaming. Not to be outdone, Microsoft dropped a megaton this past week on how it’s going to pay a whopping $68.7 billion in cold hard cash to buy Activision Blizzard.

Oh. Consumers also spent a record amount of money on video games in the U.S. during 2021. No biggie!

While I’ll cover the Microsoft and Activision Blizzard news more in the future starting with the former’s earnings report next week, this here article is my recap of the final monthly report of 2021 from industry tracking firm The NPD Group.

And a standout report, it was. December’s over $7.5 billion in consumer spending on games during the holiday season resulted in an all-time annual high of $60 billion. Backing into the global share using recent data from Newzoo, the U.S. was almost exactly one-third of global games industry dollar spending.

Underlying this 8% domestic spending growth for the full year was consistency in mobile, subscription growth, hardware acceleration during this latest generation plus major software franchises at the top like Call of Duty, Madden NFL and the ever-present Pokémon.

As a quick reminder, there are three categories tracked broadly by The NPD Group: Content, Hardware and Accessories. Content as the largest includes game sales plus mobile spend, downloadable content (DLC), in-game transactions and subscriptions. Hardware measures console sales while Accessories comprises all the physical peripheral items. All three saw some level of growth during 2021.

The Content category rose 7% year-on-year and comprised over 85% of annual games industry sales. Like its trend globally, mobile had a significant impact as the report mentioned December was the best month ever for mobile spend. Content also benefited from two Call of Duty titles atop the yearly software chart, new sports game launches, various catalog releases in the top ranks and ongoing subscription momentum.

Hardware was the only mega category with double-digit gains in 2021, led by Nintendo Switch as its top seller and bolstered of course by PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S production, the latter of which has edged up slightly for its Xbox Series S model during the holiday push. Demand is thriving, and supply is doing its best to catch up.

The smallest category of Accessories also saw the lowest annual growth at 2%, showing some resilience even as it’s harder to make both consoles and devices lately due to chip production limitations. Game pads from PlayStation and Xbox led the charge.

Briefly focused on the December month alone, overall spending fell ever so slightly at 1%. Content was essentially flat, Hardware moved 3% lower while Accessories took the biggest hit with nearly a double-digit dip. Premium game sales declined to the point where subscriptions and recurring revenue weren’t enough to offset during the month. Hardware was trying its best to match holiday demand, no doubt pressured by shortages.

“Hardware revenues in December across the three lead platforms [were] very close,” wrote The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella on Twitter. “All are finding great success and strong demand. Switch [was] off its peak, but still leading.”

It’s a lot to take in between annual and monthly figures. No time like the present!

United States Games Industry Sales (November 28th, 2021 – January 1st, 2022)

For December, total spend on the domestic games market hit that $7.54 billion figure which was a slight decline from the highs of last year’s $7.63 billion. Expanding to full-year 2021, the impressive record $60.4 billion level was 8% higher than 2020.

First, I’ll address the leading segment of Content spending. Content reached $5.73 billion, or 76% of the whole, the same dollar amount as December 2020. Across all twelve months of 2021, Content produced $51.7 billion compared to $48.1 billion prior year.

Mobile, subscriptions, micro-transactions and downloadable content bolstered the growth. While there are select brand new titles atop the charts, legacy titles from prior years remain and people are spending a lot for new stuff in their favorite older experiences.

The report prominently highlights mobile as a catalyst, increasing 14% for the full year after an excellent December for the sub-category. The best December ever, actually. It was also the 10th straight month where mobile eclipsed $2 billion in spending, which happened every month in 2021 except February. While the report doesn’t provide mobile game rankings, it cited Candy Crush Saga, Roblox, Coin Master, Garena Free Fire plus Pokémon Go among the year’s top earners.

Swapping over to results for more traditional software releases. Call of Duty: Vanguard topped December’s overall chart. That and 2020’s Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War tag-teamed the year’s Top 2 spots, like last year with Black Ops Cold War and 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Activision Blizzard’s military multiplayer shooter series has now led annual software spending for 13 years in a row.

Looking back based on my research, the last time a non-Call of Duty title led the annual software chart was 2009 when Wii Play landed at number one. Note that back it was measured by unit sales as opposed to dollar revenue. At the time, all three best-sellers launched on Nintendo’s Wii console. Those were the days!

Microsoft’s Xbox exclusive Halo Infinite reached the second spot during its debut month of December, proving once again that Xbox Game Pass launches supplement premium sales as opposed to cannibalize them. It was the month’s best-selling title on both Xbox and PC platforms. There’s no word yet on player counts or engagement for Halo Infinite, and it’s difficult to compare directly to prior debuts because of its staggered roll out on the subscription service. Just for the sake of documenting it, Halo 5 Guardians led its launch month of October 2015 while Halo 4 on Xbox 360 started at #2 in November 2012. All very similar ranks.

Next up was Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl, which captured the third spot for the second consecutive month after launching in November. Not only that, but it also ended the year as 2021’s fourth best-selling game. All of these without even considering its digital portion since Nintendo still doesn’t share it. Pokémon franchise retail software dollar revenue had its best year in over two decades, since 2000! Incredible.

During the latter part of the National Football League (NFL) season here in the States, Madden NFL 22 ranked fourth on the December chart and third for 2021. Electronic Arts’ football sim named for the late great John Madden (Rest in Peace) was the best-selling sports title of the year in the U.S. for a second straight year.

One major trend within the 2021 best-sellers was older games that many people kept on buying. Especially alongside new purchases of a Nintendo Switch console. There are several repeats from last year. Seven games among the Top 20 to be exact. Three of these in Mario Kart 8, Mortal Kombat 11 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also charted during 2019. Talk about evergreen, as in ever making a lot of green for publishers.

Check below for full lists for December and 2021 plus more commentary on the additional categories.

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

  1. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  2. Halo Infinite
  3. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl*
  4. Madden NFL 22
  5. Battlefield 2042
  6. Mario Kart 8*
  7. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
  8. Mario Party Superstars*
  9. NBA 2K22*
  10. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  11. FIFA 22
  12. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  13. Minecraft
  14. Far Cry 6
  15. Just Dance 2022
  16. Forza Horizon 5
  17. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
  18. Ghost of Tsushima
  19. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
  20. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*

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

  1. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  3. Madden NFL 22
  4. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl*
  5. Battlefield 2042
  6. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
  7. Mario Kart 8*
  8. Resident Evil Village
  9. MLB The Show 21^
  10. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
  11. Far Cry 6
  12. FIFA 22
  13. Minecraft
  14. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  15. NBA 2K22*
  16. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  17. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  18. Back 4 Blood
  19. Mortal Kombat 11
  20. Forza Horizon 5

As seen in my many monthly report recaps including those starting around the holiday season, Hardware movement is the story as that new generation cycle continues. While December was a down month, 2021 more broadly saw a double-digit boost for console revenue.

Strictly speaking on December, Hardware dollar sales lowered 3% to $1.32 billion. Spending on consoles pushed past $6 billion for full year 2021, rising 14% and exhibiting the best growth across all three major categories.

Fitting the trend of recent years, Nintendo Switch topped December console sales when measured by units sold. As it’s done for 36 of the last 37 months on record, with September 2021 being the only time over that period when it lost to Sony’s PlayStation 5.

Speaking of PlayStation and looking at dollar sales instead during the holiday month, The NPD Group said Switch effectively tied with PlayStation 5. Which makes sense given the latter’s more premium price point and lower unit volume.

“Hardware revenues in December across the three lead platforms [were] very close,” Piscatella wrote. “All [are] finding great success and strong demand. Switch off its peak, but still leading.”

As I had predicted what feels like many years ago back in January 2021, Switch ended the year as the best-selling console domestically by both unit sales and dollar sales. The resilience is spectacular as Nintendo uses the multiple model approach to attract new buyers and entice existing owners to snatch up another hybrid console for their household. That’s one of the company’s ultimate goals: Multiple Switches in a single home. And it’s working.

There wasn’t much color around PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S on an annual basis. Based on monthly trajectory and broader dynamics, I assume PlayStation 5 was second place and Xbox platforms took third. Right now, it’s solely dependent on who can produce more boxes.

Though the gap isn’t as wide as last generation. Global shipments for PlayStation 5 totaled 13.4 million at Sony’s last earnings call. Xbox’s recently-promoted CEO of Microsoft Gaming Phil Spencer told The New York Times that Xbox Series X|S is the fastest-selling Xbox ever, which prompted trusted friend and Niko Partners Senior Analyst Daniel Ahmad to estimate 12 million units shipped worldwide. Console competition is healthy!

For our final category of Accessories which includes things like controllers and headsets etc, a weaker December wasn’t enough to offset earlier year gains.

December monthly spending reached $493 million, which was 9%$ lower than $540 million generated this time last year. However, the segment gained 2% to $2.65 billion when looking at the year overall compared to the $2.61 billion of 2020. While the annual rise wasn’t as pronounced as its counterparts of Content and Hardware, it certainly benefited from that growth as buyers grabbed additional items to use with their new consoles.

Microsoft’s fancy Xbox Elite Series 2 wireless controller was the best-selling accessory in December, seemingly a hot holiday gift item for core gamers. On the year, Sony’s PlayStation DualSense white game pad was the strongest seller no doubt bolstered by that hardware expansion.

One area I don’t often cover in these reaction articles is virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR). Sales of this hardware sub-category and related accessories more than doubled in the time between Thanksgiving (November 21st) and Christmas (December 25th). That’s based on both units and dollars, which rose 180% and 153% respectively.

2021 sales for VR/AR products in the U.S. moved up 163% in unit sales and 137% on revenue generated. Piscatella noted specifically how Meta’s Oculus Quest had a “big” month to close out 2021.

So. That’s the scoop on U.S. games industry spending in the year that was 2021. Even if the holiday period softened year-on-year, even with supply constraints on hardware, even given several delays for software, earlier months picked up the slack to achieve that record spending amount. Demand was way high. Spending reflected that.

Mobile, subscriptions, Call of Duty and Nintendo Switch told the story domestically last year as services grew in popularity and people kept spending on entertainment’s most lucrative segment that is gaming.

If the current slate of premium releases holds and hardware expectations continue, 2022 is going to be a tricky one with major upside especially for mobile, subscription revenue and ongoing sales. Flagship titles from PlayStation and Nintendo plus Microsoft’s non-stop investment moves alongside other huge publishers like Tencent expanding globally, I’m seeing a lot of potential for premium game spending. It’s hardware supply that will continue to be a major question mark.

“The pool will continue to grow as the industry offers more options in what to play, where to play and even the ways in which to engage, Piscatella said. “Getting to growth is no small feat after 2020, [the] future remains incredibly bright for the market.”

I’m very much looking forward to more monthly recaps in 2022. In the meantime, please check out my predictions piece to read more about the future of gaming and what trends we’ll see in these spending reports in the next twelve months.

Be safe and well, all!

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: Daniel Ahmad, Getty Images (Photo Credit), The NPD Group, Sony Corp.

-Dom

U.S. Game Sales Decline Double-Digits in November in Difficult Hardware Supply Environment

The super important November month and Black Friday shopping seasons have come to a close, and United States sales numbers are in from The NPD Group for the video game industry!

And it was a mixed one, for a variety of reasons. That can happen when the prior year was a record, I suppose.

Last month had consumer spending down double-digits overall with declines experienced across all three major categories of Content, Hardware and Accessories. Which is understandable, considering how last year was a best-ever November and the global semiconductor shortage continues to dampen all sectors of consumer technology.

Hardware took the biggest hit with gaming console sales down nearly 40% to the lowest November level since this time in 2016. Nintendo Switch is still the standout, with the company sharing how its hybrid system sold over a million console units in the month alone. That combines all devices in the family, including the latest OLED iteration. Which, fitting with the month’s general trend, is still lower than the 1.35 million achieved in November 2020.

There’s just limited inventories across the board within Hardware, especially for new generation Microsoft Xbox Series X premium model plus Sony’s PlayStation 5 family. One bright spot is the aggressively-priced Xbox Series S version has been available at various retailers, resulting in Xbox Series X|S reaching second place in the Hardware ranks for the first time in a while.

Speaking of software, services and subscription sales as part of the bigger Content category, spending focused on mobile, military first-person shooters, Pokémon remakes and the latest Forza car game from Xbox Game Studios.

Brand new titles occupied four of the top five spots on the general software ranking: Call of Duty: Vanguard led, Battlefield 2042 up next, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl snatched up #3 then Forza Horizon 5 finished in fourth. The first three of these entered the year’s best-sellers list with just the single month on record.

Mobile, consistent as ever, generated over $2 billion in spending for the ninth consecutive month. There’s only two months in 2021 where this particular source hasn’t reached that threshold.

The last broad category of Accessories saw similar declines in November dollar sales, about 20% lower than a year ago. Steering Wheels at least showed great upside, their popularity driven mainly by a Forza release. Read on for more puns later in the piece!

“It is much harder to find a console to buy this holiday,” said The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella. “Hardware sales [are] limited by supply, and the console with the most units in market is going to lead in sales, perhaps for a while.”

I hope those here in the States that celebrated had a safe, happy Thanksgiving. Then, everyone both domestically and overseas had a good month despite confronting the challenges of COVID-19’s Omicron variant and likely still having to attend those Zoom meetings from home while juggling that precious work-life balance. For those that can, take advantage of vaccinations for teens and kids plus booster shots for adults! It’s for the benefit of all.

Read on below for a look at spending data plus software charts, then see who can spot the worst “jokes” of all.

United States Games Industry Sales (October 31st, 2021 – November 27th, 2021):

Within The NPD Group’s monthly report, the firm said spending across the U.S. games industry last month reached just under $6.3 billion or a decline of 10% since the record high of almost $7 billion in November 2020.

While Content sales are mostly showing resilience, hardware was mainly behind the dip as this time last year both Microsoft and PlayStation launched their latest consoles. Positive areas like subscription and mobile spending weren’t enough to offset lower results in console hardware and accessories, the former certainly restricted by input part scarcity. Plainly, the biggest manufacturers weren’t able to make enough consoles to satiate buyer demand.

Good news is 2021 taken as a whole is still ahead of last year. Year-to-date approached $53 billion in November, which is 9% growth against the $48.5 billion of the same 11-month period in 2020. Basically, despite a more supply-constrained and softer software holiday quarter so far, the year is in high single-digit growth territory and moving towards another potential record result.

The Content category, software and the like, accounted for $5.14 billion in consumer spending. That’s 82% of November’s total, and a slight decline of 1% versus a year back. When expanding to 2021 so far, Content sales have risen 8% to breach past the $46 billion threshold. Which is 87% of the year’s overall spend.

A main contributor here continues to be mobile, which grew 11% in November and accounted for that “at least $2 billion” figure I referenced earlier. Smartphone titles Candy Crush Saga, Coin Master and Roblox among others propelled revenue. Though The NPD Group, in collaboration with Sensor Tower, doesn’t publish full mobile charts.

For console and PC gaming, some of the biggest blockbusters of the year launched last month and occupied the highest spots on the overall software chart.

Unsurprisingly, Call of Duty: Vanguard tops the list. As a game within the Activision Blizzard-published military shooter series has done during its launch month for a whopping 14 years straight since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare started the trend in November 2007.

Even considering the single month on market, Vanguard is already the year’s second best-selling game on the combined chart. Behind only last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. It’s unclear how Vanguard compares to prior titles on dollar sales. I have a question out to The NPD Group for context, I imagine they may not be able to answer publicly.

Oh. More importantly, Activision Blizzard management fostered and even participated in workplace toxicity plus various forms of harassment, employs a torture apologist on its board of directors and is now trying to stifle employees from collective action. CEO Bobby Kotick, among others, should be ashamed. And fired.

Back to the rankings, Battlefield 2042 landed at the second spot during its initial month on market, That’s one above where Battlefield V began in November 2018, and one below where October 2016’s Battlefield 1 launched at the top position. (No, there weren’t three other games in the war epic shooter between those. It’s just Electronic Arts with its confusing naming convention.) The title developed by DICE secured the second spot on both Xbox and PlayStation respectively and is already the sixth best-seller for 2021 as a whole. Again, no comparison details to prior titles available that I could find.

Switch exclusive Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl secured third place, and that’s excluding digital sales since Nintendo doesn’t participate in that portion of reporting. The Generation IV remakes in the long-running brand immediately became the 8th best-seller on 2021’s list, and of course led Switch platform ranks.

One of the biggest success stories remains Forza Horizon 5, ranking fourth on the total software chart and third on Xbox behind only Call of Duty and Battlefield. Importantly, this didn’t include Xbox Game Pass subscriptions. Which supports the notion that services can enhance sales rather than cannibalize them. The excellent open world driving title from Playground Games zoomed off the starting line, attracting 10 million players during its first week alone in the largest first-party launch for Xbox in its 20-year history.

Familiar titles like Madden NFL 22, Mario Party Superstars and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy helped round out the Top 10. Ubisoft’s Just Dance 2022 was the next new release at #11, while Japanese role-playing game Shin Megami Tensei V from Atlus debuted at #16. Note that the latter does not include downloads, which means its upside was even greater.

With just one month left in 2021, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is currently in pole position with Call of Duty: Vanguard on its heels and Madden NFL 22 in third place. Will Vanguard shoot past its predecessor? Well it certainly should, taking into account holiday sales, however it’s far from guaranteed. Which would be an anomaly in recent memory, telling a clear narrative of diminishing full game sales for the series this year.

For now, here’s November’s full results.

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

  1. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  2. Battlefield 2042
  3. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl*
  4. Forza Horizon 5
  5. Madden NFL 22
  6. Mario Party Superstars*
  7. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
  8. FIFA 22
  9. Far Cry 6
  10. NBA 2K22*
  11. Just Dance 22
  12. Mario Kart 8*
  13. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
  14. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  15. Back 4 Blood
  16. Shin Megami Tensei V*
  17. Minecraft
  18. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  19. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  20. Ghost of Tsushima

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

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  2. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  3. Madden NFL 22
  4. MLB: The Show 21^
  5. Resident Evil: Village
  6. Battlefield 2042
  7. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
  8. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl*
  9. Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
  10. Far Cry 6

The most newsworthy of categories lately is Hardware, and November’s numbers showed a heightened impact from tough supply situation.

“It’s all about stock. The console with the most units in market will lead the charts,” Piscatella said. “[This] will likely be the case for a long while.”

In what was the most pronounced monthly decline of the three segments, Hardware sales declined 38% to $883 million. That’s the lightest November outcome since 2016’s $759 million. Last year’s figure was over $1.4 billion in the corresponding month, an all-time high established as both PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S began their life cycles plus Nintendo Switch carried major software momentum into the holiday quarter.

Speaking of Switch, it was the top-selling gaming console in November as measured by both unit sales and dollars earned. (Basically, my prediction last month was half correct. Or half wrong, depending on one’s outlook. I’ll try to stay positive!)

Nintendo announced Switch sold 1.13 million units in November, 550K of which happened during Black Friday week. Note that last year’s November monthly unit sales figure was 1.35 million, which implies a decline of 16%. Still, Switch has now led on unit sales during 35 of the last 36 months, losing only September 2021 to a push from Sony’s PlayStation 5.

“As we head into 2022 and the sixth year of Nintendo Switch, the system continues to see strong demand,” said Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser in the company’s press release.

Now that there’s a full year of data on the new consoles, it’s clear that supply is dictating performance more than ever. Essentially, whichever console manufacturer produces more boxes is winning right now as Piscatella alluded. Nintendo’s November win was no doubt driven by OLED model production as its premier product, its first full month on market since launching in October. This phasing of the original model is enticing owners to upgrade or purchase an additional system.

Another noteworthy topic from last month’s report is how Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S platform landed in second place within hardware by units and dollars. Recently it’s been lower than competitors, and I am pretty sure the last time it actually led was June 2021 when it set a record for the brand. This time, it’s a combination of higher Xbox Series S availability and the attraction of Forza Horizon 5.

Now the details are fuzzy, from I gather it’s a substantial away from Switch mainly based on comments from Niko Partners analyst Daniel Ahmad. His claim is combining Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 sales for November are barely equivalent to what Switch generated alone. Which is a bit surprising to me, given how all are based on similar components and existing within a consumer tech space that’s reliant on part sourcing.

Even further, Ahmad points out a quite intriguing historical statistic in how PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Wii U sold more in November 2014 than the current three corresponding consoles did last month. I think that drives home the limited stock right now better than any quote or commentary.

So, in a rare occurrence, PlayStation 5 brings up the rear during one of the calendar’s most intense months of commercial competition. Hardware overall was down against a record high in November 2020, still it’s lower than it probably should be a year into a brand new console generation. Bad news is the chip environment isn’t expected to change any time soon, so we should brace for further distribution limitations.

Last category to cover for November is Accessories, which also dipped almost in lockstep with its Hardware counterpart. It’s still approaching record territory for 2021 as a whole, plus one sub-segment in particular saw a substantial improvement.

Consumer spending on Accessories contracted 20% to $258 million, down from $324 million last year. It’s the lowest November month figure since back in November 2017, when segment spend was $243 million.

On the bright side, revenue for the first 11 months of the year is certainly more positive and actually currently at a record $2.18 billion. Which is an upward trend of 4% compared to this time in 2020, the prior record holder.

Clearly November was, hm.. fueled by the start of Forza Horizon 5. Steering Wheels in particular drove a substantial boost. Consumer purchasing on this sub-category more than doubled, with the Logitech G920 Driving Force Racing Wheel for PC and Xbox platforms leading the pack.

Could I possibly squeeze any more racing terms into a single section? Perhaps. I clearly peeled out and road the momentum this far!

Alright. Enough of that.

All in all, November is always an eventful time for the commercial side of gaming, the biggest publishers and data nerds covering the industry. This year paints a slightly different story than most monthly reports this year, which have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a comparison against a massive, record-breaking month in November 2020 amidst a most challenging hardware situation, which explains the difference.

This hardware availability impacts everything from new software buyers, spenders on ongoing games over time plus especially the purchasing upside of accessories. When someone scoops up a fancy new generation console, they often buy a headset or additional controller at the same time. Without a box to find, there’s less incentive to spend on the latest peripherals.

That said, I’m very much looking forward to the finale of 2021 in December’s data. The biggest exclusive title is Xbox’s Halo Infinite, as both Sony and Nintendo aren’t pushing any massive budget first-party projects other than those that are already on sale.

I’m wildly bullish on Halo Infinite’s engagement prospects, sharing on social media how I expect at least 15 million players around launch which should drive the science-fiction shooter to one of the top spots on December’s combined software list behind the likes of at least Call of Duty: Vanguard and a sports game or two that find popularity during the holidays.

On the multi-platform side, Take-Two Interactive has the physical release of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition (yes, that’s a real title and way too long to type more than once) since it was only out in digital form during November. Otherwise, it’s a relatively light end-of-year calendar for triple-A studios.

December’s report will have 2021’s annual data, which is trending towards a year of growth, especially for hardware’s performance before the supply constraints worsened. During 2020, consumers spent a record $57 billion across the games industry. 2021 is already at $53 billion, growing almost 10% as of November like I mentioned earlier in the piece. Last year’s December was $7.7 billion, which means next month only needs $4 billion to set a new record. I’m saying the potential for over $59 billion in annual spend is in sight!

So, this is the final NPD wrap up I’ll write in 2021, since December’s release is currently scheduled for January 14th, 2022. I absolutely loved covering them, and I hope you enjoy reading the recaps as well.

There’s a lot ahead at the site before the New Year as my annual Year in Review pieces will go around the last week of December. Hope everyone remains safe and well, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and a very wonderful December to all.

Thanks for the time and interest!

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: New York Times (Image Credit), The NPD Group.

-Dom

U.S. Games Industry Sales Set October Record as Seven New Titles Enter Top 10 List

It seems October was a scary good month for video game sales in the States.

That’s according to the latest monthly report from industry tracking firm The NPD Group, which released its October 2021 stats for the U.S. games market today.

The data shows it was a record-breaking October for consumer spending, where it approached nearly $4.4 billion in sales or an increase of 16%. All three categories experienced some sort of growth, both during the month and across 2021. Video Game Content and Video Game Hardware rose double-digits in these time frames, while Video Games Accessories saw more modest single-digit gains.

Within the biggest contributor of Content, new releases occupied a staggering seven of the Top 10 spots on the overall software chart. Ubisoft’s open world action shooter Far Cry 6 landed the top rank, just above a surprising runner-up in Warner Bros’ co-op zombie tag-along Back 4 Blood. Nintendo then boasted the opposite of a dreadful start for the latest entry in its classic Metroid franchise, as Metroid Dread set its own super series launch record. And, as it often does, mobile continues a steady pace with October spending again exceeding $2 billion. A feat which mobile has achieved for eight straight months now.

Hardware remains the category with the most growth upside as both Nintendo and Sony showed consistency, even amidst a supply-limited situation impeding them and competitors from making as many consoles as they’d like in ideal conditions.

Nintendo Switch regained the top spot during October, as measured by both units sold and dollar sales. Primarily bolstered by the October 8th launch of its Switch OLED model which contributed over 40% of Switch unit sales for the month. The device family is also the best-selling of 2021 to date when using units as a gauge.

PlayStation 5 is still the year’s best-seller from a dollar standpoint, no doubt influenced by steady demand and a higher asking price. Curious to see if this keeps up through the holidays, given recent reports of Sony potentially reducing production targets given part scarcity in the global supply chain.

Here domestically, October represented a consistent trend lately of spending gains, record output for certain data points, hardware growth trajectory, mobile momentum and successful software starts. Demand was certainly still solid for consoles in particular, leading me to surmise the record October could have been even more stacked if it wasn’t held back.

“Strong hardware, subscription and mobile, this month [was] aided by the flow of new releases,” said NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella on Twitter. “Still don’t know how high the ceiling is for console hardware, [it’s] still (and will be for a long while) in a supply constrained environment.”

There’s a lot to cover, let’s start with the overall figures then move into category results.

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

Consumer spending in the U.S. games market moved up that aforementioned 16% to a best ever October amount of $4.4 billion. This means it’s upwards of $46.67 billion on the year as a whole. That’s 12% higher than the comparable period in 2020.

Seeing both of these totals rise double-digits given the more strict quarantine restrictions last year proves the market’s resiliency, maintaining buyers within ecosystems like mobile and subscriptions like Xbox Game Pass, plus the ongoing popularity of live service games with long tails. Combine that with hardware demand and there’s a recipe for growth even against high comparables.

Content i.e. software, subscription and mobile sales increased 11% in October, settling at $3.76 billion. That’s 86% of total spend for the month. We know that mobile passed $2 billion, comprising at least 46% of this Content category. Monthly mobile revenue growth reached 12%. This makes sense, rising from the single-digit gains around this time last year, because people are spending more time and money on their phones.

On the traditional software side, the big story is new releases. These accounted for four out of the Top 5, seven of the Top 10. Even enough to push mainstays like NBA 2K and Call of Duty down the list further than accustomed.

Leading the pack was Far Cry 6, which is already a part of the 2021 to date best-seller list as well at #8. The title also earned the top spot on PlayStation and Xbox individual charts. I didn’t see much from NPD Group in the way of direct comparison to prior entries. Which doesn’t mean I can’t do just that. Its predecessor Far Cry 5 also led its first month in March 2018. Ubisoft claims this year’s title has 25% more engagement than its predecessor, albeit didn’t share anything on copies or dollar results. For more context, Far Cry 4 debuted all the way down in 6th place back in November 2014.

Back 4 Blood charted at the second spot during October, securing that same rank on both PlayStation and Xbox sales lists. Developed by Turtle Rock Studios featuring veterans of the Left 4 Dead team, the multi-platform title no doubt benefited from a simultaneous launch into Xbox Game Pass. In a trend now seen consistently for years, starting in the subscription service actually compliments sales rather than cannibalizes them. The word-of-mouth effect works especially well for a game like Back 4 Blood focused on the social element of slaying the undead alongside friends.

On to more records. Nintendo’s Metroid Dread speed boosted towards a historic launch, rounding out the Top 3 for October even without its digital portion. It might have been ever better taking downloads into account. Even so, the Switch exclusive set a new series record for launch month dollar sales. Looking at strictly retail, Metroid Dread’s first month earned more than double that of prior best Metroid Prime in 2002. According to an interview with Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser, it sold 854K units in the U.S. alone during October marking the best start of all time for a Metroid release. (I assume his figure includes retail AND digital, whereas NPD ranks do not for Nintendo-published games.)

Moving past Madden NFL 22 at #4 we get to the somewhat shocking entry of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba: The Hinokami Chronicles ranked fifth overall and the same spot on the PlayStation list. The anime arena fighter published by Sega is the latest in certain Japanese titles launching simultaneously in the West, much to its benefit.

Other notable new launches include Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy from Square Enix at the seventh spot. Consistent with what I predicted earlier, keep in mind this happened with only a handful of days on record after a late October start. I wouldn’t jump to conclusions yet on calling it disappointing, especially given the Marvel brand backing. Right after this were Nintendo mini-game collection Mario Party Superstars then hockey simulator NHL 22 from Electronic Arts at 8th and 9th, respectively.

Beyond that, the rest were games launched in prior periods. One slight item of note is the second game from Ubisoft released in October Riders Republic was nowhere to be found. Not yet at least.

Up next are the rankings themselves. Then it’s more deets on Hardware and Accessories.

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

  1. Far Cry 6
  2. Back 4 Blood
  3. Metroid Dread*
  4. Madden NFL 22
  5. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba: The Hinokami Chronicles
  6. FIFA 22
  7. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
  8. Mario Party Superstars*
  9. NHL 22
  10. NBA 2K22*
  11. Mario Kart 8*
  12. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  13. Ghost of Tsushima
  14. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  15. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  16. Minecraft
  17. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  18. Diablo II: Resurrected
  19. Mortal Kombat 11
  20. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*

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

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

Flip flopping over to the Hardware category, spending totaled $472 million in October. That’s up 82% from $260 million. Expanding to 2021 numbers, Hardware is above $3.88 billion which is 53% more than where it was a year back.

Pretty substantial growth that I’ll call wholly expected, given the lower comparison during a late generation cycle last year as it’s now been 11 months of data for new consoles from Sony and Microsoft.

After PlayStation 5 topped September, Nintendo Switch reemerged as the pack leader during October. Driven by a fancy new OLED iteration, it snatched back the top spot on both unit sales and dollars generated.

Bowser shared how Switch sold 711K consoles in the States overall last month. 314K, or 44%, were Switch OLED model. This figure tells a story on its own. The latest version featuring a more dazzling, larger screen plus other enhancements isn’t just attracting new buyers. It’s enticing existing owners to upgrade or replace. Whether they own the original 2017 model or have a Lite they are passing along to a family member or child, there’s plenty of demand among those that already bought some sort of Switch before. Plenty of potential on the demand curve.

“We see this as a strong start for the Nintendo Switch OLED model and a very strong indicator of the performance we can expect as we go into the holiday season,” said Bowser.

Considering this kick off for the OLED and consistency of sales, Nintendo Switch is currently the top-selling gaming device for 2021 by units sold. I believe it’s held that position all year given its recent track record.

Now, while PlayStation 5 gave up the lead on the monthly chart, Sony’s most recent console still retains the 2021 to date best as measured by dollar sales. Again its revenue potential is bigger than Switch, even with OLED being a slightly higher priced model within its particular family.

You might be wondering if there’s anything on Microsoft’s Xbox performance. Well, unfortunately I didn’t see any within The NPD Group’s reporting. I’ll assume the trend that Xbox is selling out, it’s just not producing as many boxes as its peers. Just wish the report confirmed this narrative.

Within the smallest and usually most uneventful category of Accessories, spending gained 5% in October to $158 million. Marginally above the $151 million last year. Considering the first 10 months of the year as a whole, it’s showing more growth at 9%. That’s upwards of $1.92 billion in sales for this segment.

Microsoft did lead in at least one aspect during October: Its Xbox Elite Series 2 Wireless Controller generated the most sales within Accessories.

Briefly digging into the category, game pads are the top seller for the year so far. Spending on game pads is 7% higher now than it was thru October 2020.

And looking at 2021 so far, PlayStation 5’s DualSense White controller continues as top dog. Because of its pricing and the popularity of its corresponding console, I believe it’s been the broad leader all year.

Hardware supply, hardware supply, hardware supply. And spankin’ new games. These are the highlights of October’s record report, a stellar period for overall spending, Nintendo’s Switch OLED model and standout entries in series like Far Cry and Metroid.

Echoing a hesitant sentiment on the console side, there’s been (unconfirmed) reports in the industry that Sony has slightly lowered its global target for PlayStation 5 production for the year ending in March 2022. Similarly, as I wrote last week, Nintendo formally reduced its worldwide annual Switch shipment guidance from 25.5 million to 24 million.

The word being thrown around is uncertainty, which is the bane of any analyst or predictor’s existence. We just don’t know when chip availability will improve. Still, it’s the pre-holiday rush season including the coveted Black Friday time frame, so expect a lot of competition for that top spot. My personal choice is Nintendo Switch leading November by units, then PlayStation 5 squeezing out a slight victory on dollars.

Bowser mentioned the general environment and Nintendo’s related effort during his interview.

“These challenges have been facing many industries, and they’ve been going on for quite some time,” he said. “But we’re working to meet demand for our holiday products, including Nintendo Switch OLED model. I will say things are constantly changing, but we’ve been working across the supply chain – from production to overseas transport to local distribution channels – to make sure we have a steady flow of hardware and games through the holiday cycle.”

Speaking of a steady flow of games, November will continue the fourth quarter spree of triple-A blockbuster launches in particular. It’s the season of heavy hitters.

Activision Blizzard, whose executives still haven’t fully addressed any clear steps being taken to improve workplace conditions and should be held accountable for their inaction in recent years, published its latest military shooter entry Call of Duty: Vanguard last week. I fully expect it to the November’s biggest seller, and enter the 2021 to date chart near the top.

Then there’s the glorious success story of Forza Horizon 5, which I expect to be in the Top 2 or 3 of the overall chart and easily top the Xbox platform list in November. The open world driving game from Playground Games already surpassed 6 million players according to Xbox’s Aaron Greenberg, overtaking my ambitious initial week estimate of 5 million! Not only is it a first-party Microsoft title going directly into Xbox Game Pass, the early access version attracted at least a million buyers based on in-game statistics. It should be the largest Forza Horizon launch of all time in the U.S.

There’s also the likes of Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 2042 (which I expect to round out the Top 3 on the total charts), Switch exclusive Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl plus Rockstar Games presenting Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition. I expect a fun, eventful November especially given how October shaped up!

As usual, check out Mat at NPD Group’s thread for more details and further insights direct from the company itself.

Definitely look forward to digging into it then and chatting here or on social media. Until then, be safe, get those booster shots and thanks everyone for taking the time to hang out.

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: Aaron Greenberg, Bloomberg, GamesRadar (Image Credit), The NPD Group, Ubisoft, The Verge.

-Dom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time for all them rankings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

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

-Dom

Madden & Mobile Score Big in Record August Report for U.S. Games Industry Sales

Yes, it’s football season again in America which means autumn is on the way. And a new Madden NFL game is atop the charts.

The world is returning to its natural order.

Jokes aside, I first want to say I hope everyone is well in this challenging portion of the pandemic. Which is still going on, despite what some might have you believe. I wish you and your families all the best during this still difficult time. Hang in there.

Hopefully for a quick distraction, industry tracking firm NPD Group reported its monthly U.S. games spending report for August 2021. It’s a huge one. As in almost $4.4 billion in spending, which marks an August record for overall sales across the industry’s history.

Within the Video Game Content category, which saw monthly sales growth of 5%, the aforementioned Madden NFL 2022 led the total software chart. This is a feat the Electronic Arts-published franchise has accomplished now for a staggering 22 straight years during its launch month! The last time a Madden NFL title wasn’t the best-seller in its first month was August 1999 when wrestling game WWF Attitude outpaced the start of Madden NFL 2000. Granted, this was a time when the latter of which had a limited amount of days during that measured period.

Mobile continues its climb notably as more people open up their commutes and traveling, accounting for over $2 billion or roughly 45% of the domestic spending total. Led by Candy Crush Saga, Garena Free Fire and Roblox among others, this segment is a driving force behind the record August performance.

Swapping to the console side, Nintendo Switch, Sony’s PlayStation 5 and even Xbox Series X|S continue solid trends leading Video Game Hardware category spending to a 45% increase and an August dollar total that hadn’t been reached since 2008. Nintendo Switch was the best-selling in August by unit sales, thus retaining its spot as the top-seller for 2021 so far. This unit sales lead is the 33rd consecutive month for the hybrid console, which I expect to continue thru next month and beyond with the launch of its new OLED model.

PlayStation 5’s first year momentum marches on despite widespread supply shortages. It was August’s highest-selling platform by dollar sales, a metric by which it also leads for the year to date.

The literally massive PlayStation 5 has been on sale for 10 months now. During that time, it’s the fastest-selling PlayStation brand platform in tracked history. As I noted last month in July, NPD Group reported it was the fastest-selling hardware ever thru nine months at the time. Now that its comparison has reached the Nintendo Switch’s holiday season, the PlayStation 5 no longer holds the top spot. Still an impressive run given constraints on the inventory side. It could even return to being the quickest seller, depending where production goes.

Now that I’ve hit the highlights, it’s time to move into the full August figures.

United States Games Industry Sales (August 1st, 2021 – August 28th, 2021):

As detailed in the above gallery, overall consumer spending rose 7% to $4.37 billion during August 2021. Spurred mainly by Madden, mobile, subscriptions plus both older and newer hardware growth despite semi-conductor concerns, this is an August month record across NPD Group’s tracking history. Full-on proof the games industry keeps on moving as the most popular entertainment vertical.

Expanding to annual figures, total consumer spend on gaming year-to-date hit nearly $38 billion. This is 13% higher than the first eight months of 2020. All of the three major categories saw double-digit growth during this time, showcasing the stickiness of demand, general fan retention and even audience expansion.

Video Game Content i.e. everything from software, mobile and related sales made up the bulk of these monthly totals, reaching $3.88 billion in August. Or around 89% of overall spend. Which is 5% better than the same time last year. Underlying this is the sixth month in a row where mobile alone generated $2 billion, something that only happened three times all of last year.

As NPD Group reports have shown recently, the strength of 2021 to date sales continues with Content alone moving up 11% to $33.33 billion in aggregate during this time-frame.

Digging into individual title performance during August, I mentioned before how Madden NFL 2022 led the chart during its first month on sale and maintained an historic streak going back more than two decades. As a result of.. kicking off this initial performance, the game is immediately the fourth best-selling title of 2021 so far.

Football wasn’t the only big story of the software list. Open world samurai slasher Ghost of Tsushima, which came out on PlayStation 4 back in July 2020, saw a resurgence in August due to the start of its Director’s Cut version including an upgrade path to PlayStation 5 alongside a new expansion. Sony’s PlayStation exclusive was ranked 110th in July. Talk about making moves!

Rounding out the Top 3 was, of course, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War as it entered its latest Season 5 of ongoing content. The military shooter is published by Activision Blizzard, a company that’s still under a lawsuit due to reported workplace toxicity and a culture of abuse towards women and marginalized people. I’m behind the employees fighting back against executives.

Right after this was the 4th best-selling title of the month in turn-based strategy game Humankind. Published by Sega and made by Amplitude Studios, it was the top-selling PC game during August. It’s already 5th on the 2021 to date chart for PC as a platform. An exceptional start, especially for a game without a console release just yet. (I guess it did launch on Google Stadia.. hah.)

Otherwise, the top monthly rankings were about as expected. Business as usual for a couple Nintendo games among the ten best-sellers: the ever-present Mario Kart 8 then The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD moving to 7th from its top spot in July. The publisher has a number more in the Top 20, as always.

Minecraft in there like usual. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla did show a nice move back into the Top 10 from #20 in July, likely due to ongoing support via Ubisoft’s downloadable content. In terms of new releases, No More Heroes 3 from Grasshopper Manufacture started at #42. Tough to contend in August as a Switch exclusive and with only a few days in the tracking period.

Below are the software ranks across all measured platforms for August plus year-to-date.

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

  1. Madden NFL 2022
  2. Ghost of Tsushima
  3. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  4. Humankind
  5. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  6. Mario Kart 8*
  7. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD*
  8. Minecraft
  9. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  10. MLB The Show 21^
  11. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  12. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019
  13. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
  14. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  15. Pokémon Sword & Shield*
  16. Mortal Kombat 11
  17. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
  18. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  19. Mario: Golf: Super Rush*
  20. Super Mario Party*

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

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

Video Game Hardware remained the biggest monthly grower shared by NPD Group, jumping 45% to $329 million in total spend last month. This is the single best August result for the category since $395 million back in August 2008.

“Were enough units available to actually satiate consumer demand this year, I have little doubt this record would have been absolutely smashed,” said NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella after sharing the report.

And I concur. We’ll never know the ceiling for hardware sales during these recent months with a dire chip situation for everything from automobiles to consumer tech to appliances and beyond. The unfortunate part is how this is expected to continue in the near-term, so this category’s true potential during this latest generation of platforms won’t be revealed until years to come.

Within these constraints, I mentioned before how Nintendo Switch retained the top spot in August and 2021 by unit sales thus increasing its incredible streak of monthly wins. Since November 2018! This begs the question of how long can it go? Based on a potential pricing move for the base model and demand from enthusiasts for Nintendo Switch OLED, launching worldwide October 8th, my guess is unit sales thru the holiday season will be led by Nintendo’s hybrid console.

Dollar sales leader for both August and year-to-date PlayStation 5 is faring well, even if no longer the fastest-selling platform in history. Both Game Boy Advance and Nintendo Switch are now ahead of PlayStation 5 during each platform’s respective first 10 months on market. Within Sony’s storied gaming history, it’s still top dog. Between that and leading recent months by revenue, partially bolstered by a higher price point than Switch, the PlayStation brand is as ubiquitous as ever.

Similar to recent months, there wasn’t much in the way of details on Microsoft’s Xbox platform sales. NPD Group did reiterate how Microsoft is selling-thru to buyers as many Xbox Series X|S boxes as it can produce in the States. It’s just seemingly not as many as its competitors. I’m curious about these production dynamics, in particular the gap between platform performance. I didn’t see a comparison or any granularity past these general comments.

We’ll have to live for now knowing that all three major manufacturers are performing consistently in the domestic market, just a matter of how well!

Last category on the docket before closing up shop is Video Game Accessories. It’s the only one of the three that didn’t experience growth during August, coming in exactly flat at $164 million in contribution.

This was Microsoft’s category to shine last month. The team’s Xbox Elite Series 2 Wireless Controller achieved best-selling status out of all accessories, implying that even though many people can’t buy consoles, the high-end game pad is attractive. Mainly because of its compatibility with various generations and devices, including Bluetooth capability for use with cloud gaming.

When looking at the year as a whole, the result for Accessories stays much more positive. Its annual figure to date is up 12% compared to last year, reaching nearly $1.59 billion. Sony’s PlayStation 5 DualSense Controller white variant kept its position as the year’s highest-selling accessory. No doubt mapping in parallel to its underlying console trajectory, as folks opt to purchase additional game pads for co-op or multiplayer use.

Another month in the books. While it wasn’t the most eventful, there’s still plenty of news, indicators and trends to follow.

Yet another record for overall spending, this time an August month, and hardware growth leading to the best category result in 13 years. A set of impressive streaks for Nintendo and Electronic Arts, while Sony’s latest platform trajectory remaining the best it’s ever been.

Companies selling out of console stock, trying desperately to make enough to keep up with intense demand. Big movers and shakers on the software side, plus mobile’s steady presence for content spending alongside subscription services increasing in popularity.

Top-end game pads propping up an accessories segment that often moves as hardware does early in a cycle.

September marks the last month of the third quarter already! It’s a busy one, even in a year with noticeably less output at the triple-A level. Perennial seller NBA 2K from Take-Two Interactive has a new annual entry. Nintendo’s silly party game WarioWare: Get It Together is out. Then there’s Deathloop, the unusual Xbox Game Studios title exclusive to PlayStation 5 that I predict will outperform. Life is Strange: True Colors, Lost Judgment, Diablo II: Resurrected and I imagine a surprise or two will be featured in stories upcoming.

Not to mention the biggest topic in hardware next month as Switch’s OLED model hit shelves. How will it fare given the environment, and will PlayStation 5 keep pace? Can Microsoft boost Xbox output to compete in the rankings?

We’ll know more then. Thanks everyone for stopping by this month and hope to see you again soon!

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: Electronic Arts, Neil Gardose (Photo Credit), The NPD Group, Sensor Tower.

-Dom

Hardware & Zelda Propel U.S. Games Industry Spending to Record High July

The domestic games industry is rolling with the excessive wave of warm weather hitting the States lately in that it’s heating up during these Summer months, as consumer spending in July 2021 reaching a record high for any July in history.

Industry tracking firm The NPD Group shared its latest U.S. monthly sales report this morning. In which, all signs point to continued momentum especially within hardware, even considering tight supply conditions limiting inventories in the market for next generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft. This and content spending increases notably for mobile, subscriptions and post-launch are likely bolstered by returning mandates hitting the country as variants of coronavirus spread.

Despite what a bad opinion piece from a major media outlet that I won’t link here might say, people are most certainly still enjoying games. And buying new devices on which to play them, for longer than ever.

Overall consumer spending across Content, Hardware and Accessories totaled nearly $4.6 billion in July. That’s a solid increase of 10% since this same time last year and a record amount for a July month across tracked history, dethroning last year’s $4.2 billion.

In terms of dollar sales, Content continues as the largest contributor though it was the only category of the three not to experience double-digit growth. Hardware gains proved resilient, nearly doubling year-on-year spend driven by another unit sales lead for Nintendo and PlayStation 5 continuing its historically quick start. Accessories wouldn’t be left out of the party as it actually set a July sales record of its own, influenced by a new product offering from Nintendo.

Software charts boasted two new games in the Top 3, both from storied franchises created by Japanese publishers Nintendo and Capcom. Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty franchise had another month where two of its games ended up in the general Top 10. The real story there is how the American publisher should be called out for reports of its toxic workplace every time its games are mentioned now.

It’s time for the numbers behind an exceptional July for broad U.S. games industry spending.

United States Games Industry Sales (July 4th, 2021 – July 31st, 2021):

As I mentioned above, it was a record July month for overall monthly domestic spending on games at $4.6 billion. When expanding to 2021 as a whole, total video game sales rose 14% to $33.5 billion across the first seven months. Gaming is still the preeminent entertainment experience, especially as platform holders delve more into the subscription side appealing to folks with both traditional and on-the-go devices.

Within the largest sub-category of Content i.e. software etc, it was mobile, subscription and post-launch spending boosting sales during July to just under $4.1 billion. That’s a moderate 6% increase. Year-to-date Content currently totals $29.4 billion, moving up 12%.

The Switch Effect remains in full effect here on the overall monthly software chart. Nintendo’s hybrid platform claimed four of the Top 6 spots as console or outright exclusives, three of which are published by Nintendo and don’t even count the digital portion of their sales!

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD took home top honors in July. I didn’t see much in the way of context here within the report, and I’d love to know how this remaster compares to the original game launching on Wii back in November 2011. All I can say is the first game debuted at #9, so I assume there’s a sizeable difference here. Will update if I hear anything.

Next at #2 is chart mainstay Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War from Activision Blizzard, the American publisher that’s under a lawsuit because it reportedly doesn’t treat its employees well at all and fosters a “frat boy” workplace culture. The game’s latest season launched today, and I give props to every single employee working hard to keep up with its ongoing content roadmap amidst this difficult environment. Worth noting that 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is back in the Top 10 this past month, at the ninth spot.

Capcom’s Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin landed third on the total rankings. The Switch title that’s also available on PC already generated triple the *lifetime* sales of the original Monster Hunter Stories 2017 release on Nintendo 3DS. Wow. NPD Group Analyst Mat Piscatella called this biggest surprise of the month, and can’t argue there. Monster Hunter as a whole gained a more global appeal since Monster Hunter: World in 2018, seemingly now to the point where even console exclusive spin-offs are gaining heavy traction.

Moving down the list, I have to point out Mario Kart 8 and MLB The Show 21. First off, who keeps buying Mario Kart? Well it’s probably anyone purchasing a Switch, right. Which is plenty of people right now. I’ve pushed back my expectations for a Mario Kart 9 every time I see it achieve a Top 5 month or reach a new milestone on global sales, which are now at over 37 million units.

Then there’s MLB The Show 21 at #7 in July, allowing it to set a new year-to-date sales record within the franchise. Not only that: Lifetime dollar sales of the game have already beat out last year’s entry to become the best ever for any MLB The Show game, a series which dates back to 2006. This is only its fourth month on sale! The multi-platform move and Xbox Game Pass decision by Major League Baseball made this game a mega hit.

The last of the new releases within the Top 20 was Neo: The World Ends With You debuting at #16. Launch month dollar sales of the Square Enix-published release started at more than double that of The World Ends With You for Nintendo DS in July 2007.

Finally, Capcom also launched The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles in July, a compilation of adventure games within the Ace Attorney series which started at the 22nd spot on the total chart.

Here’s a full look at two of the main software lists, first for the month then the year as a whole as of July.

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

  1. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD*
  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
  3. Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
  4. Mario Kart 8*
  5. Minecraft
  6. Mario Golf: Super Rush*
  7. MLB The Show 21^
  8. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  9. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019
  10. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  11. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
  12. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  13. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
  14. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
  15. Mortal Kombat 11
  16. Neo: The World Ends With You
  17. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  18. Pokémon Sword & Shield*
  19. Resident Evil: Village
  20. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

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

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

Now, talk about explosive growth.

Hardware experienced the biggest increase of the three segments during July 2021 as sales nearly doubled year-on-year to $323 million. Up 98%, to be exact. It’s the best individual July month since upwards of $447 million back in 2008. Sounds like all three major competitors in Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S experienced increases naturally, just depends on how many boxes they can ship honestly.

Switch maintained its staggering streak of now 32 consecutive months atop the console ranks in July as measured by units sold. It’s also the year’s top-seller, by both units and dollars. Those new software title launches plus evergreens like the aforementioned Mario Kart continue to attract, and I’m very curious to see demand impact for the OLED model that hits market in October.

However, PlayStation 5 led console spending by dollar sales in July implying a higher average selling price and consistent retail demand for its supply-constrained platform. Sony’s latest generation box is still the fastest-selling home console as measured by dollar sales during its first 9 months on market. For now. It’s worth noting that next month will be the 10th for PlayStation 5, which corresponds to Switch’s first December. Even with demand as strong as it is, I don’t know if Sony can keep this streak alive given this timing and external sources limiting output.

On the Xbox side, the report didn’t shed too much light. Piscatella noted that Xbox console sales are “significantly higher” than one year back, albeit that was very late in the Xbox One life cycle.

For 2021 in aggregate, spending on Hardware jumped 50% to $2.7 billion. That’s again the best growth in the tracked sub-categories of Content, Hardware and Accessories. As we’ve seen all year, Nintendo’s Switch console is 2021’s best-selling so far. This time measured by both units and dollars. While not a shocking result, it’s certainly noteworthy for a platform starting off its fourth year on sale versus others in their early stages.

It’s time to accessorize, as July 2021 proved to be a historic month for Accessories as well.

Not to be outdone by its counterparts, spending on Accessories just set a new July record. Last year, July 2020 dollar spend was around $170 million. This year, July sales reached its brand new all-time high of $189 million.

And yes, there’s a theme. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD Edition Joy Con debuted as the month’s top-selling accessory, no surprise really. So Nintendo’s latest launch in the Zelda franchise, even as a remaster, was responsible for the month’s best-selling game plus top accessory.

The white version of PlayStation 5’s DualSense Wireless Controller still holds the crown for now as 2021’s best-seller, driving category spending over the year so far to $1.4 billion. That’s 13% higher than the same period in 2020, almost mirroring Content spending growth.

Viewing July’s trend-lines in terms of growth within domestic games spending shows that ever since declines in the months prior to April 2021, monthly spending is now back on the rise. A July record nearly solidifies it. Spending across the industry right now reveals a blend of new audience members plus ongoing spending from casual and core players.

New software releases are helping of course, as is supply for new generation platforms. There’s consistency in both mobile and ongoing spending on the content side, and companies are selling-thru to consumers as many pieces of hardware that suppliers can push out.

It’s also the accretive nature of those people trying gaming for the first time or returning that’s defining this time over a year into the pandemic. Combined with an enthusiast audience still gobbling up Nintendo games plus pumping demand for PlayStation and Xbox, I’m not surprised by ongoing growth.

August marks what I like to consider the first major commercial push of the back half, marked by the launch of perennial seller Madden NFL from Electronic Arts. This year’s Madden NFL 2022 football franchise release kicks off on August 20th. Fully expect it to be the best-seller. August also has a couple notable updates to existing titles in Marvel’s Avengers: War for Wakanda expansion on August 17th plus August 20th’s Ghost of Tsushima Directors Cut. Even with Nintendo bereft of a major first party title and chip shortages ongoing, I’m leaning bullish on the month.

Thanks for reading, be safe and see you next time!

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: Alvaro Reyes (Photo Credit), Bloomberg, The NPD Group, Reuters (Photo Credit).

-Dom