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

Nintendo Reduces Annual Switch Target in Mixed Yet Still Impressive Financial Report

As the latest console manufacturer and software maker to feel the impact of component supply shortages in consumer technology, Nintendo shared a mixed earnings report for the six months between April and September.

The good news is that, in the context of the last decade including five years of Switch sales, this second fiscal period was still a historically good quarter considering the environment. Plus the Japanese gaming company actually signaled optimism in certain areas by raising guidance for profit and software performance.

Lifetime Nintendo Switch hardware sales reached 92.87 million to date after moving 3.83 million more units in the three months ending September. It’s the seventh gaming console or device of all time to pass the 90 million threshold.

That brings the most recent six month total to 8.28 million Switch shipments, down 34% compared to the highs of last year.

Originally Nintendo was targeting 25.5 million for the full year. That’s been revised to 24 million, consistent with a recent report out of Nikkei claiming production would be exactly this amount for the fiscal year ending March. Which means the company has to ship 15.72 million in the back half. Unfortunately, this figure could even be higher if the part shortages and supply chain circumstances were better.

“We can’t produce enough to meet the demand we are expecting during the upcoming holiday season,” President Shuntaro Furukawa commented during a briefing after the release. “Currently there is no sign of improvement and the situation continues to be severe, so I can’t say how long it will continue.”

As I wrote a few months back, the lifetime figure for Switch hardware sell-thru to consumers was 85 million back in June. Now it’s upwards of 90 million which implies an even higher percentage of shipments hitting households. A clear indicator of end-user demand as Switch continues to sell at retail.

While Nintendo’s slate of new exclusive software releases has been quiet the last few months, it provided updates on them and evergreen titles. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD has shipped 3.6 million units since launch in July. Going back historically, it’s selling at a faster rate than the original Wii version which sold-in 3.52 million between November 2011 and March 2012.

In its second quarter on sale, Mario Golf: Super Rush sold 600K units to reach 1.94 million. Signs point to it now being the best-selling game in the series, above the 1.47 million of Mario Golf on Nintendo 64. And the most curious result to me was New Pokémon Snap, which hit 2.19 million lifetime after.. 2.07 million in the quarter ending June? Granted these are only for outside of Japan since The Pokémon Company publishes it locally. Without knowing the full picture, it’s hard to compare it to the top-selling original at 3.63 million lifetime. All we know is that it lacks any sort of momentum outside of its home market.

On the financial side, Nintendo’s first half revenue reached $5.69 billion or a reduction of 19%. This implies July to September quarter revenue of $2.75 billion, representing a decline of 27%.

On the profit side, operating income dipped 25% to just over $2 billion during the six months ending September. The second quarter alone saw this metric reach $913 million, when it was $1.34 billion in the prior period.

Again when calculating the latest annual period, operating profit reached $5.18 billion. That’s actually above the $5.01 billion aggregated last year.

All of these results reveal a similar trend for Nintendo’s forecast going forward. The company reiterated its annual revenue guidance of $14.58 billion, which would be a decline from the record $16 billion or so. It then upped operating income target by 4% to $4.74 billion. While that’s still down from the all-time high of $5.8 billion in 2021, the upward move combined with an increased dividend payout as well shows more confidence in its expected profitability.

Time to recap the full report and make some predictions of my own.

Boiling this gallery down into a quick summary, Nintendo’s business is reverting towards the mean after historic highs due to supply constraints, a more sparse lineup plus a comparison to the commercial phenomenon that was Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s still doing very well.

Now I’ll move into the fun part.

Quick reminder that revenue during Q2 hit $2.75 billion. As displayed on the quarterly graph above, this is the second highest result for a second quarter since 2009 behind only the record-breaking sales around this time in fiscal 2021. For context, I’ve included an annualized chart as well. Expanding this sales metric to a trailing 12-month figure shows $14.7 billion in total. Compare that to $14.89 billion a year back and the trend is clearly normalizing. It’s still among the best in a decade, notably when looking at pre-pandemic times.

Accounting for expenses, operating profit hit that $913 million figure down from $1.34 billion in 2021 Q2. Similar to revenue, it’s the runner-up result when looking back more than a decade. Annualized operating income right now is $5.18 billion, even better than last year which shows strength in margins and a shift towards evergreen titles retaining players that want to continue spending.

Both of these are still highly positive, especially in comparison to the difficult years surrounding Wii U’s flop after its launch in 2012. Last year was more of an outlier, an extraordinary time with Animal Crossing: New Horizons release right before most of us began staying home.

Regional split exhibits a similar movement as last quarter, with The Americas making up 44% now versus 41% last year. Europe is up next at 24%, up from 25%. Japan was at 23% last year, it’s now slightly below at 22%. This means 78% of Nintendo’s sales right now are outside of its home market.

Digging into product categories is a bit more interesting. 43% of Nintendo’s business is from Switch hardware which is down from almost half at 49%. Retail software is 30%, compared to 25% previously. Digital software is actually down to 11% from 14%, while subscriptions and add-ons hit 12% this quarter while generating 8% in 2021 Q2. The small remainder is from mobile and IP licensing business. This reflects lower production of Switch and improved split for retail intriguingly enough. Existing owners are buying games, and non-owners are waiting on inventory.

Now that Nintendo and its peers Microsoft and Sony have all reported their respective quarters ending in September, we can look at how they stack up against one another. Because it’s always a competition, right? No, because all of them are doing very well overall and selling as many pieces of hardware their suppliers can muster. It’s still fun to run the numbers, at least for me.

Remember that Nintendo generated $2.75 billion. From my articles on Microsoft and Sony, quarterly revenue from gaming was $3.6 billion and $5.86 billion respectively. These were both all-time highs for that particular quarter, while Nintendo was in the business of breaking top-line records around a year ago. Microsoft doesn’t report operating profit unfortunately, so all we have to compare is Nintendo’s $913 million to Sony’s $750 million.

This tells the story of companies at different stages in their console life cycle, naturally. Nintendo’s hardware margins are better right now because Switch is five years old, while Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 launched in November 2020. These higher priced boxes are generating substantial revenue though also cost more to manufacture. There’s also the subscription impact for Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus, whereas Nintendo’s online is lower cost. (Well, before the recent Expansion Pass.)

Moving back to Nintendo itself, out of the 8.28 million Switch units shipped in the six months ending September, 6.45 million were Standard edition while 1.82 million were Switch Lite. Basically last year the standard model alone, shipping 8.36 million, outsold the combined total in Nintendo’s latest half year report. Switch Lite has taken the biggest hit lately, off 56%. I’ll note the Switch OLED launched right after this fiscal period, so it will be curious to see how Nintendo displays splits next quarter. The assumption is OLED will slowly replace the Standard option.

I’ll reiterate what we all are witnessing, these hardware trends show slowing momentum amidst part supply challenges and an abnormally high comparable last year. Even a decline of 34% for hardware units overall in the first half was still well above fiscal 2020 two years back when it was 6.93 million.

Software is faring better on a comparative basis, declining only 6% during the six months ending September to 93.89 million units. It was slightly above 100 million before. This brings Switch lifetime software to 681 million, up from 632.4 million a quarter ago. I don’t have much analysis on that other than to say that’s a lotta games!

Over this same time frame, Nintendo shared how there are 18 titles, 14 self-published then four by 3rd parties, that amassed at least a million copies sold in this time alone. This is down slightly from the 20 million-sellers last year, reflecting a bit lighter lineup this time around.

I mentioned sales for newer releases like The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword HD and others earlier. Nintendo also provided updates on its more evergreen titles from past periods, so I’ll share the current list of top-sellers on Switch as of September. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe reached 38.74 million to become the biggest commercial success in the franchise passing Mario Kart Wii at 37.38 million. It jumped another 1.66 million somehow in the quarter and continued to show why sadly there won’t be another Mario Kart until next generation. Next up is Animal Crossing: New Horizons rising almost a million units to 34.85 million. Third is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate crossing the 25 million mark, landing at 25.71 million to be exact.

Elsewhere, stand-outs lower down the software list include Super Mario Party up 760K to almost 16.5 million, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe shipping 1.04 million to lifetime 11.48 million then Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury from earlier this year gaining 770K in the last three months to its 7.45 million total. Momentum here is one of the reasons why its software split is widening, in addition to hardware constraints of course. I expect the upcoming holiday season to be similar.

I’ll note Nintendo didn’t share news on WarioWare: Get it Together!, which debuted in September. Which points to a sub 1 million seller. Then Metroid Dread launched in early October, so we’ll hear about that next time around. I’m anticipating a major success within the mainline Metroid franchise.

On a related topic, digital sales for Nintendo declined 16% in the last 6-months to $1.3 billion. So it made up around 23% of its overall revenue. From a software standpoint, digital units made up 45% of total dedicated platform game sales during this time frame. That’s down slightly from 47%. This trend parallels the decline in overall software sales, though looks to be more pronounced as brick-and-mortar makes a return.

Alongside these earnings results Nintendo provided a more broad corporate briefing update which covered a range of topics. I’ll focus on the more tangible numbers and comments from executives on Switch’s life cycle since 2017 and potential future of its various businesses.

Nintendo actually posted certain engagement statistics, the first called “annual playing users” which represents someone playing a Switch at least once in the past year. That’s at 79 million currently, down from 87 million which was of course the highest it’s been since launch, driven by the enormous growth last year. Nintendo Switch Online however is growing, with 32 million subscribers compared to the 26 million in September 2020.

Going forward, management is seeking another year of growth for Switch with its recent start of OLED model production. It hopes this will maintain engagement and contribute to ongoing software success.

“Nintendo Switch is shifting to a new stage where the foundation of software business growth is being strengthened in addition to the further expansion of the hardware business,” Furukawa said. “With the Nintendo Switch lineup and its new addition, Nintendo Switch OLED Model, we will aim for a sixth year of growth, something never before experienced with our dedicated video game platform business.”

This sentiment is reflected in its financial forecast and software guidance, even if hardware is expected to soften.

Nintendo opted to reiterate its dollar sales target for the full year ending in March, which it thinks will be roughly $14.58 billion. Other than last year, that would be the highest in a decade. Executives revised operating income forecast upwards 4% to $4.74 billion. While down from the record-breaking $5.84 billion of fiscal 2021, it’s still above every year than 2010. Not too shabby when putting it in context over time.

Alongside the reduction in annual hardware unit sales forecast from 25.5 million to 24 million, Nintendo actually raised its software unit guidance to 200 million. That’s 5% higher than it was before.

“Our [Switch] shipment forecast for the second half was reduced because of the change in our production plan due to the effects of the global semiconductor shortage,” said the team. “On the other hand, we revised the Nintendo Switch software forecast up by 10 million units to 200 million units based on the sales performance of the first half.”

My estimate for Switch hardware in the year ending March 2022 is now revised to 25 million from an upbeat 28 million. Supply conditions are not improving. There’s too much uncertainty. Upside for Nintendo is the OLED version comes in at a higher price, generating more revenue per unit sold. The company claimed this model is just as profitable as others, meaning the net result is bottom line growth potential.

And I can see the rationale for Nintendo bumping up its software target. I think Metroid Dread is going to be an overwhelming success. The type of break-out that Animal Crossing had last year, even if not nearly as much unit upside. There’s also two Pokémon launches in the next three months with Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl in a couple weeks plus Pokémon Legends: Arceus scheduled for January. Pokémon is one of the most dependable brands in all of gaming. Lastly, this optimism could signal a potential January to March release that isn’t on the calendar just yet so I’d watch out for that. (I don’t know anything. Just reading into the numbers is all.)

The last tidbit of information came from a question and answer discussion after its briefing and is referenced in the above slide. Nintendo’s next gaming system is planned for this decade, of course. Furukawa indicated that internal research and technology building is ongoing for this next console. Or an “experience” as he describes it.

So, not even Nintendo itself knows what the successor to Switch will be or when it’s targeted to begin production. I’d bet it’s not too far off from the winning formula of the current hybrid device.

That wraps up the numbers and analysis for Nintendo’s second fiscal quarter report, an impressive one in context even if it can’t reach the high bar set 12 months ago. Switch boosting past 100 million unit sales is a foregone conclusion at this point, even as the company provides mixed forecasts for the year ending in March. Like all consumer technology manufacturers at this stage, it’s at the mercy of part availability and supply logistics which are challenging during a world that’s still undergoing a deadly pandemic. Luckily its software prowess and quality lineup are offsetting hardware limitations, as Nintendo is best-in-class at making compelling games.

For those interested, there’s a lot more from its corporate briefing including IP decisions, expansion into other media like movies, theme park strategy and other initiatives. I didn’t have the space to cover here because I focused on the financial results, and these are more nebulous topics. Certainly still worth a look!

Hope everyone is safe this busy earnings season. Check back later for more commentary and thanks for reading!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on reported conversion: US $1 to ¥ 109.78.

Sources: Getty (Photo Credit), Nikkei, Nintendo, Video Games Chronicle.

-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

Nintendo Reports Second Best First Quarter Results Since 2009

The last of the three major gaming console manufacturers to report this season is Nintendo, as it enters a new fiscal year starting this April to June.

And it was a very good one, as has been the trend for the company lately in this latest generation. Even if not quite as good as its ridiculously impressive highs during last year’s corresponding period.

The Japanese hardware designer and software developer reported first quarter net sales around $2.91 billion, 10% lower than last year’s Q1. Operating profit reached $1.08 billion, a decline of around 17% leading to a lower margin as well.

Sure, both of these are technically down. Expanding to a historical context shows it’s actually exceptional performance in the scheme of things. Other than the unprecedented time last year, it’s Nintendo’s best first financial quarter in just over a decade. Operating income in particular effectively matches the level of fiscal 2009 Q1. Nintendo is proving resilient, especially on the hardware side, as Switch sales are translating to software performance for both new and catalog titles.

When it comes to Switch hardware it remains, quite simply, on fire. The console sold-in 4.45 million Switch units in Q1, a dip of roughly 22% year-on-year though twice as much as the same period in fiscal 2020. Lifetime shipments of the hybrid console now total 89.04 million. This means it’s past yet another milestone in the industry, moving past the 87.4 million at last count for Sony’s PlayStation 3 since its launch back in 2006.

Lately Nintendo has also reported sell-through to consumers, which represents actual ownership in households. As of June, Switch family sell-thru hit 85 million consoles. This is up from 81 million in the quarter ending March 2021. That means upwards of 96% of all shipments have been purchased at retail to date.

The most attractive part of owning Nintendo’s hardware is, of course, to play games that aren’t available anywhere else. Nintendo reported both overall sales movement plus shipments for three main first party releases during the quarter. New Pokémon Snap, a spin-off in the series that’s all about photographing the famed pocket monsters, reached 2.07 million after launching in late April. (Note: This does not include sales from Japan, where it’s published by The Pokémon Company.) In comparison, its 1999 predecessor Pokémon Snap hit 1.5 million units by the end of its first year on sale and is estimated at 3.63 million lifetime.

Separately, the latest sports entry Mario Golf: Super Rush released on June 25th so it had less than a week on market by the end of this reporting period. Shipments over that time hit 1.34 million copies. Going way back, the original Mario Golf on Nintendo 64 is estimated at 1.47 million during its entire product life. Basically, Mario Golf: Super Rush is estimated to already be the second-best seller in franchise history. It’s a lower result for a mainline Mario game, though notably great within this particular spin-off series. That’s the power of the Switch right now, with the caveat that it’s difficult to track exact sales for older titles.

The last new launch of the first quarter was the role-playing game Miitopia on May 21st. The remastered version of the 2017 3DS game of the same name barely crossed the million mark, reaching 1.04 million. This is almost as much as the original scored during its first three years at 1.18 million, another rough estimate of course.

I’ll note that there was no word on June’s Game Builder Garage game creation software. Since it didn’t make the million seller list, have to assume it’s currently below that milestone.

Now, read on below for much more analysis behind the numbers plus forecasts going forward. It’s totally worth it. I wouldn’t lie to you. Plus, who doesn’t love charts!

Whew. I know it’s a lot of data. Let’s break it down.

First, broadening the time frame helps put the aforementioned $2.91 billion in net sales and $1.08 billion profit from operations during Q1 into perspective. Taking a peek at the quarterly revenue chart, this illustrates how it’s the second best 1st quarter since the $3.82 billion generated in April to June in 2008. Around the height of the Nintendo Wii’s popularity, a common trend we’ve seen before the darker days of the Wii U era starting in 2012.

Expanding the revenue chart using trailing 12-months smooths out performance and exhibits a familiar sort of trajectory. That’s $15.56 billion in aggregate sales during the last four quarters. This particular figure hasn’t been above $15 billion during a first quarter for Nintendo since fiscal 2010.

Flipping to profitability, it’s even more impressive how Nintendo is managing costs lately. Quarterly operating profit is nearly the best it’s been in a decade. Other than last year’s peak during the pandemic, the last time operating income reached $1 billion in a Q1 period was that Wii era of fiscal 2009. Trailing 12-month profit hit $5.56 billion or so during June, and this time that’s the best first quarter since the same time during 2009.

On regional splits, the Americas hit nearly 44% of overall dollars sales for Nintendo. Europe up next at 24%, then Japan around 22%. Which means the proportion of sales outside of Japan is upwards of 78%. This is a notable shift towards the Americas, which itself made up 38% last year.

For a quick quarterly comparison amongst its peers, Nintendo had the lowest revenue during Q1 under that $3 billion mark yet is more profitable than its Japanese counterpart in Sony. The PlayStation brand achieved $5.62 billion in revenue while Microsoft generated $3.74 billion. Still, Sony’s gaming profit of $760 million is notably lower than Nintendo’s. Which makes sense, since Sony is starting off a new console cycle with the PlayStation 5 while Switch is further along, has lower marketing spend and production costs.

Underlying this latest success is Switch hardware momentum, however what in particular is driving it? It’s actually the base model’s popularity.

Out of the 4.45 million consoles shipped during Q1, a figure down 22% as I noted earlier, 3.31 million were that standard edition. This is notable because it’s actually above the high comparable period last year when this figure was 3.05 million. Worth mentioning this model was more supply-constrained back then, according to comments from executives. Switch Lite is behind the overall decline, dipping to 1.14 million from 2.62 million. That’s a serious 57% drop, no doubt impacted by many portable buyers last year attracted to Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the go.

Even more than four years after its launch, Switch hardware sales are still just as much dictated by supply because audience demand is consistent.

Oh. Here’s a pretty wild stat I thought would be fun. Nintendo is, of course, the top-selling hardware manufacturer ever globally. It passed an absolutely wild margin this past quarter: 800 million console units sold since debuting the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1983. This of course includes handhelds, otherwise Sony’s PlayStation brand would be outpacing when using home consoles only. It’s still a fun big fact after this latest success!

Diving into updated software sales, Nintendo said 45.29 million copies sold on Switch during Q1 as compared to 50.43 million last year. Around a 10% decline, primarily due to the overwhelming success of the new mainline Animal Crossing a year ago.

Nintendo shared that nine games sold a million or more copies on Switch during April to June alone, seven of them first party exclusives. That overall figure is the same number as this time last year.

Apparently everyone can’t stop buying Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as it remains the top-selling Switch game ever, moving up almost 1.7 million to 37.08 million units lifetime. It’s like Nintendo’s Grand Theft Auto, except without the theft part. Animal Crossing: New Horizons retained the second spot, reaching 33.89 million units after selling 1.26 million in the quarter. Rounding out the Top 3 is still Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at 24.77 million to date after moving just under a million in Q1.

One major mover on the legacy side has been Ring Fit Adventure, originally out in October 2019. Last quarter, it joined the 10 million sold club. It has since moved 1.15 million more, pushing up to the 10th spot on Nintendo’s Switch best-sellers list at 11.26 million units. People are certainly exercising their right to spend!

Nintendo doesn’t often share much on the third-party side. Management noted that “sales of titles from other software publishers continued to grow steadily” without much context. Based on anecdotes around the industry, there’s certainly a Switch effect especially for independent publishers.

What about digital contribution, an area where Nintendo has lagged the broader industry? Well, it’s down 25% to $685 million, equating to roughly 24% of total quarterly dollar sales. Nintendo’s proportion of digital sales on the software side was 47% in Q1, meaning just under half of total dedicated platform software units were downloaded. Compare this to 56% last year, a somewhat inflated figure by retail store closures, buy-at-home convenience plus Animal Crossing: New Horizons skewing results.

“Although sales declined for downloadable versions of packaged software on Nintendo Switch, sales remained steady for download-only software, including indie titles,” said the leadership team. “In addition, Nintendo Switch Online sales also increased.” Though the company didn’t share any more specifics on the Nintendo Switch Online service. The last paid subscriber count was 26 million around September 2020.

Taking a look ahead, Nintendo reiterated its forecast for the current year when it comes to financial performance, consoles sold and software units. As often happens during its first quarter, especially as this management team leans towards a conservative nature.

During fiscal 2022, net annual sales are still expected to be $14.4 billion while operating profit will be at $4.5 billion. These would be down 9% and 22% respectively, yet still a major result looking back many years. Switch hardware guidance is flat at 25.5 million for the year, implying that Nintendo needs to ship just over 21 million more during the next three quarters.

So where would that put Switch lifetime compared to other consoles? Well, Nintendo Wii is next up. There’s a notable gap right now, the Switch’s 89 million compared to nearly 102 million for Wii. If Nintendo hits this year’s forecast, it will clear that milestone easily by the holiday quarter. And I fully expect that to happen, boosted by easing supply considerations plus the Nintendo Switch OLED Model iteration. In fact, I believe Nintendo’s hardware guidance is conservative and expect executives to move it up next quarter. I’ll stick to my 28 to 29 million estimate for the year ending March 2022, which I established a few months back.

Nintendo currently expects to ship 190 million software units on Switch this year, down from 231 million in the year ending March 2021. Again, that will be beat. Software slate in the near-term is a bit light, driven by last month’s The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD then WarioWare: Get it Together! in September. Then fan favorite Metroid Dread and party game compilation Mario Party Superstars are scheduled to kick off the holiday quarter in October plus two Pokémon remakes in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will bolster the schedule in November.

The company lists Splatoon 3 and the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for calendar 2022, one of which could be January to March. Well, probably not Zelda if I’m being honest.

Regardless, it’s going to be another quite incredible year for the company’s bottom line and console sales in particular, unless some sort of unforeseen disruption hits on the production side. Even without the existence of that “Switch Pro XL” model, a rumor that’s been going on for what feels like years now. Maybe the “insiders” will be right eventually. Me? Catch me here, looking at the numbers.

Thanks as always for reading and be safe everyone!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on reported conversion: US $1 to ¥ 110.74.

Sources: Aishah Mulkey (Photo Credit), Celene on ResetERA, Microsoft Corp, Nintendo Co Ltd, Sony Corp.

-Dom

Sony Reports Biggest First Quarter Ever for PlayStation Revenue

The latest gaming manufacturer to report earnings is Sony Corp, this time sharing fiscal 2021 first quarter results. During which the Japanese company revealed its PlayStation division recorded its highest first quarter sales ever even as PlayStation 5 shipments slightly lag its predecessor. Though sell-through to consumers for this latest generation of hardware is still going at a faster pace, driving gaming segment results for the consumer tech conglomerate.

This is the first full quarter that’s compared against highs set during the height of stay-at-home requirements, so the impact of a global pandemic on gaming and consumer spending is coming into focus. A record Q1 for Sony’s gaming department shows that audience demand is resilient, especially on the console side, even if software spend is descending from a very tall peak.

Suffice to say, PlayStation is making history even considering supply challenges facing the industry alongside easing pandemic restrictions.

Sony’s Gaming & Network Services (G&NS) i.e. PlayStation brand revenue rose just under 2% to a Q1 record of $5.62 billion. Higher than even last year’s impressive result of $5.5 billion, this performance was mainly driven by PlayStation 5 demand and exchange rate changes despite lower 3rd party software and add-on content sub-categories.

Essentially for Sony at this stage three quarters into a new generation of gaming consoles, hardware is selling out though its audience spend on games is slowing.

On the profit side, G&NS segment quarterly operating income dropped 33% to roughly $760 million on higher costs associated with making and marketing a new console cycle. More so, that lower third-party software and add-on spending relative to last year. Still when taking a broader perspective, this is actually fantastic output. It’s the third best operating profit performance in a first quarter in the history of breaking out the gaming segment.

Speaking of PlayStation hardware sales, Sony shared updated shipment figures for both of its latest boxes. PlayStation 5 shipped 2.3 million units in the quarter ending June, bringing lifetime to 10.1 million. This is notable for a couple reasons. First, it’s about 500K lower than PlayStation 4 did in the same quarter during April to June 2014. So its pace of shipment is slowing compared to its predecessor, no doubt impacted by a global chip shortage that’s adversely affecting everything from automobile to graphics processor output.

However, shipments can’t tell the whole story when there’s more information available. Sony Interactive Entertainment said recently PlayStation 5 sell-thru to its audience hit the 10 million milestone as of July 18th. That’s 3 weeks faster than PlayStation 4 took to reach that same amount. Which means the number of PlayStation 5 consoles getting to consumers (or perhaps scalpers, I know) at this stage in the cycle is higher than any other in the brand’s history.

There’s also the underlying profitability dynamics for these PlayStation 5’s moving through to households. According to executives on the earnings call, its standard disc edition is actually now profitable per unit after the tradition of being sold at a loss during initial quarters. I’ll note the version without a disc drive is not yet breaking even.

As expected this late in the PlayStation 4 life cycle, quarterly shipments dipped below the million unit mark for the first time since launch back in November 2013. This brings its lifetime mark to roughly 116.5 million. I expect this slowing to continue, and wouldn’t be surprised if Sony’s reporting tops out around the 120 million mark.

Well then. It’s time to get into the nitty gritty for a bit, then end with forecasts and predictions!

The above gallery above shows relevant slides and a handful of charts I compiled to illustrate where the PlayStation division is starting out this new fiscal year. I know it’s a lot of data. But it’s goods stuff, I swear!

Expanding broadly, Sony overall saw sales rise 15% in Q1 to $20.6 billion. Growth in both Electronics Products & Solutions (EP&S) plus its Music category outpaced all other categories, although gaming is still the main contributor from a dollar (or really yen) standpoint.

Quarterly operating profit for the company topped $2.56 billion, up 26%. Driven by that same EP&S category, dragged down by higher expenses within PlayStation.

I mentioned the record quarterly sales and lowering operating profit for G&NS before, so let’s see how these compare when expanding over time to smooth out the results. This helps put quarterly performance into context.

When looking at trailing 12-month gaming revenue accounting for this latest quarter, it’s again at another record high of $24.35 billion. That trend-line is impressive, no doubt bolstered by people trying to get their hands on the coveted new console. Trailing annual operating profit hit $2.75 billion, with the dip in the latest time period. Still, it’s higher than this same time last year. As the company gets more efficient in making PlayStation 5’s plus sees component costs potentially lower, I expect it to bounce back again.

You’ll also see a chart above drilling into category sales results within gaming. Of course, Hardware is the biggest gainer as it’s more than double the amount last year for obvious reasons. Consistent with earlier comments, both Physical and Digital Software decreased in the double-digits as did Add-On Content. Sony attributed that to 3rd party declines. Network Services is proving resilient, moving up compared to last year. The final category Others encompasses peripherals, PlayStation VR and first-party software on non-PlayStation platforms almost doubled, I imagine boosted by DualSense game pad demand.

On the software and engagement side, Sony shared new figures for game sales, PlayStation Plus subscriptions plus Monthly Active Users (MAUs) in its supplementary filing, the last of which is the estimated number of unique accounts that uses PlayStation Network during June 2021.

Full-game software sales totaled 63.6 million across PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 during the quarter, substantially lower than the 91.4 million during Q1 last year. Within this, 10.5 million were first party exclusives, down from 18.7 million.

Thing is, this is more a reversion to the average than a decline. There’s also how last year saw the massive launch of The Last of Us Part II. Executives said every new release during April to June 2021 exceeding internal expectations. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is at 1.1 million units since June 11th. MLB The Show 21 hit market on April 16th and has since sold 2 million units while attracting 4 million players, certainly benefiting from a simultaneous Xbox Game Pass launch. Returnal also released in April, reaching 560K copies in the interim.

There’s also a specific shout out to PC versions of Horizon Zero Dawn and Days Gone as Sony opens up its legacy first-party catalog to a brand new audience.

Paid PlayStation Plus subscriptions reached 46.3 million from an even 45 million last year, while MAUs were down to 104 million from 114 million. This movement shows a bit lower average engagement, though it looks like new console owners are signing up for the PlayStation Plus service that allows online multiplayer and provides access to certain games each month.

The leadership team provided a bit more color on these stats, saying that total gameplay time of PlayStation users declined 32% from the highs of quarantine impact. It’s up 18% compared to the same quarter of 2019 fiscal year, a more normalized period even if well into PlayStation 4’s lifetime.

Now, how does Sony’s $5.62 billion revenue and $760 million operating income quarter compare to recent results from peers in the industry? As I covered in my piece on Microsoft’s latest financial year last week, the Xbox division generated $3.74 billion in sales during the same time frame. And Microsoft unfortunately doesn’t report Xbox’s profit. Hardware was the driver again, though it’s clear that PlayStation is outpacing Xbox in that department early in this generation based on expert unit estimates and these dollar sales.

Separately for the other major Japanese games manufacturer in Nintendo, it reports first quarter results tomorrow. So we’ll have a better picture then. Last year during the height of stay-at-home, Nintendo generated roughly $3.27 billion in sales and $1.3 billion in operating profit, implying a much higher margin with Switch towards the middle of its life span so we’ll see where it lands this year.

Edit on August 5th: Nintendo’s Q1 revenue totaled $2.91 billion while operating income reached nearly $1.1 billion. Consistent with it being the more profitable of the two, at least right now.

Back to Sony and looking ahead, the company provided updated 2021 fiscal year forecasts for its overall and segment operations. Sales guidance remained unchanged for the company overall at $89 billion, though it did boost operating profit by 5% to upwards of $9 billion. Within gaming, it confirmed annual guidance of $26.5 billion in revenue and $3 billion in profit. The former would be a record and the latter I believe the second best in its history, revealing just how bullish the Sony team is on the modern PlayStation brand.

Leadership also reiterated that it still expects to ship 14.8 million PlayStation 5 consoles during the financial year ending March 2022, which would be the same as PlayStation 4. This implies lifetime PlayStation 5 consoles would be 22.6 million after its first six quarters, slightly outpacing the 22.4 million of PlayStation 4.

Broadly speaking on the topic of looking forward, there were slides and additional comments related to general strategy that stood out from management too, consistent with recent trends of company spending and approach.

“PlayStation Studios, which oversees our first-party software production on a global basis, is accelerating investment to strengthen its production capabilities” said the team. They cited the purchase of Housemarque in June then Nixxes in July, two notable acquisitions for the PlayStation portfolio in this quarter alone. This sort of investment activity this year is even more than I anticipated from Sony when I wrote about broader predictions back in January. I expect another announcement in the back half of this fiscal year, this time of Bluepoint Games based in Texas.

Backing this up, executives shared more about future potential. “Going forward, we intend to continue to proactively make strategic investments with the aim of developing new IP, supporting our multi-platform strategy, and strengthening our service offerings including through add-on content.”

What this all means to me is Sony remains supremely confident in the PlayStation business and how the PlayStation 5 will continue as the fastest-selling console in its history. I’m doubling down on my original estimate for this fiscal year of 15 million hardware shipments, which I established in last quarter’s piece.

On the financial side, I believe Sony will match or exceed its guidance. A record year is in sight for gaming revenue. It’s selling as many consoles as its suppliers can make, cost of general marketing will flatten and segments like network services will prop up if software doesn’t keep pace with last year’s explosive growth.

Major questions still swirl around supply of components and the global semiconductor environment, which has limited the number of new consoles these manufacturers can produce. Imagine if that weren’t the case! Record numbers could be even higher. Then, can new hardware sales translate into player engagement remaining near recent highs? There are audience members that either started playing or returned to games sticking around, the pie is growing. It just depends on how much.

If this quarter is any indication, Sony is certainly having its fair share of slices.

Thanks for reading everyone. Check back to my earnings calendar for more dates, and there will be even more coverage here and on social media in the coming days. Be safe!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on the reported conversion: US $1 to ¥ 109.5.

Sources: Charles Sims (Photo Credit), Insomniac Games (Image Credit), Microsoft Corp, Nintendo Co Ltd, Sony Corp.

-Dom

Microsoft’s Xbox Division Sets New Annual Sales Record in 2021

During Microsoft’s fiscal fourth quarter results presentation yesterday for the period ending June 2021, the massive American technology conglomerate shared how its gaming division is faring amidst the global pandemic and early in this latest console cycle. This presentation revealed how the Xbox team achieved a handful of impressive records.

First, Microsoft’s gaming revenue for the trailing 12-month period back from Q4 is its highest in reported history. The Xbox division generated nearly $15.4 billion in annual sales. That’s 33% higher than the same 12-month period this time last year, when it was almost $11.6 billion.

That makes this the second quarter in a row that annual gaming sales were above the $15 billion threshold for Microsoft, showcasing how both hardware momentum and subscription expansion are boosting results even as third-party software contributions slow from highs in 2020.

In terms of the new generation of Xbox Series X|S platforms that launched late last year, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Satya Nadella said on the earnings conference call they are the fastest-selling boxes in the 20-year history of the Xbox brand. These have “more consoles sold life-to-date than any previous generation” according to Nadella. This led to Xbox Hardware growth of 172% during Q4, with the caveat being of course this compares to a low point at the end of a prior generation.

Which is notable especially in terms of the current hardware supply environment for all manufacturers. Xbox is selling every single box its suppliers can make, as consumer interest far exceeds production capabilities right now. I anticipate this will continue for the foreseeable future, at least through the next fiscal year ending in mid-2022.

Parallel to the hardware performance is that of gaming software and related services, represented by the Xbox Content & Services sub-segment. This is the one notable lackluster portion of the report, with a fourth quarter decline of 4%. Increases in Xbox Game Pass and first-party releases couldn’t outpace declines in third-party.

Speaking of the Xbox Game Pass service, unfortunately Microsoft executives didn’t share updated figures for its paid subscriber base. Last count it was officially 18 million as of 2020 year-end, though more recent media reports have estimated the figure at upwards of 23 million as of April. My current estimate is 25 million, though I imagine Microsoft would share that milestone so it might be just below it for now.

Knowing these records and high level performance, I’ll now dig a bit into underlying numbers and executive comments.

If you pop open these gallery images above, you’ll see a.. number of insights.

First, the annual revenue figures for Xbox based on reported growth. Overall, gaming revenue for Microsoft rose 11% in Q4 bolstered by a major contribution from hardware and subscriptions. Based on historical sales figures, this equates to roughly $3.74 billion in quarterly revenue. That’s the highest sales ever for Xbox during a fiscal fourth quarter i.e. April to June.

Aggregating this quarterly figure into annual results and you’ll see the trend line for 12-month revenue is at that record $15.4 billion level. Even if slowing its growth trajectory, there’s no denying Microsoft’s combination of hardware launch and ecosystem play are at least pumping up Xbox’s top-line.

One note. Technically the quarterly result for gaming revenue is currently an estimate based on growth figures reported in Microsoft’s earnings slides. The company hasn’t formally filed its 10K with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) where it reveals exact gaming revenue figures. It should be very close.

(Update: Microsoft posted its annual filing on July 29th. 12-month gaming revenue reached $15.37 billion, essentially spot-on.)

For context here, how does this compare to peers in the industry?

Well, since I know you checked out my July to August 2021 earnings calendar, you’ll see both Sony and Nintendo report their respective first quarter results next week. So using recent annual figures from March 2021, Sony’s Gaming & Network Services segment reached over $24 billion while Nintendo’s overall sales totaled roughly $12 billion at the time. Essentially, Microsoft sits between the two other hardware manufacturers. And all of them are doing very well lately.

Unlike its competitors, Microsoft doesn’t reveal profit metrics for its Xbox segment. That doesn’t mean we can’t infer from what it does share. Might get technical here, bear with me. The broader More Personal Computing business unit, of which Xbox is a part, saw operating income of $4.87 billion in Q4, up from $4.09 billion. However, gross margin percentage declined 1% since last year due to a shift to gaming. Margin as a metric basically accounts for expenses deducted from total sales.

Now there’s a variety of factors impacting profitability within this segment. Suffice to say that a slight dip in margin percentage caused by this shift means gaming was a bit less profitable than others here which are Windows, Devices and Search Advertising. It’s impossible to back into exact numbers, unfortunately.

Xbox is selling every single box its suppliers can make, as consumer interest far exceeds production capabilities right now. I anticipate this will continue for the foreseeable future, at least through the next fiscal year ending in mid-2022.

When it came to growth during Microsoft’s latest Q4, Xbox Series X|S hardware was certainly the star.

The aforementioned 172% growth for Xbox Hardware is the result of simply high demand meeting limited supply. It’s effectively the best it can be right now, as Xbox consoles are consistently selling out.

With Xbox Series X|S being the fastest-selling in the company’s history, how does that translate to unit sales? Well, we don’t exactly know formally because Microsoft stopped sharing these a while back.

Still, there are estimates out there. Friend of the site and analyst at Niko Partners Daniel Ahmad attempts to estimate units shipped for Xbox Series X|S at roughly 6.5 million since November 2020. Aligned with Nadella’s comments, this figure would outpace the prior record holder of Xbox 360 at 5.7 million starting in 2005 plus 2013’s Xbox One with roughly 5 million shipments across the same 6-month span.

Which makes sense, especially given recent performance in its largest market of the United States. The Xbox platform had its best June month ever according to The NPD Group, as I wrote about recently. Definitely check out that piece to see more specifics.

The other sub-segment within gaming is Xbox Content & Services, which saw somehwat mixed results during the fourth quarter.

Revenue here was 4% lower than this time last year, mainly because of software published by third parties available on the Microsoft store or retailers. This makes sense because the prior four quarters all experienced growth above 30%. It was bound to revert from those prior peaks.

Amidst this decline, executive comments still indicate expansion in services and player interest in particular. Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Amy Hood noted the team saw “strong engagement across the platform” during Q4.

The management team said Xbox Game Pass is “growing rapidly” while referencing certain statistics, similar to those we’ve heard in the past about how subscribers play and spend more than their non-member counterparts.

There was specific mention of cloud gaming this time, a service that Xbox has embedded within its top-tier Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and expanded to more countries in recent months. While not specific, Microsoft said that “millions” are streaming to their various devices.

What this mix of results and comments around Xbox Content & Services tells me is that last year was really fantastic during the height of pandemic quarantine orders, the audience base is still there yet spending less than that time especially on software. Subscriptions are propping it up, which is exactly what the team wants from pushing ecosystem and its robust Xbox Game Pass library.

Growth could slow a bit near-term for the Xbox division. I do think the baseline has been reset by newer audience members plus lapsed gamers sticking around and spending lately, which will help comparing growth against those high points last year.

Taking a step back to the company overall, Microsoft posts some staggering results in the scheme of things. Over $46 billion in fourth quarter revenue, an increase of 21% and well ahead of analyst estimate of $44.2 billion. Operating profit of $19.1 billion is 42% higher than this time in 2020, leading to an earnings-per-share figure above consensus as well.

Then what’s next after this record year for Xbox? Beyond healthy guidance for the firm overall, gaming is expected to grow into the first quarter of fiscal 2022.

“We expect revenue growth in the low double-digits,” said Hood in reference to gaming. “Console growth will again be constrained by supply. And on a strong prior year comparable, Xbox content and services revenue should grow low single digits.”

I can see that, consistent with its release schedule and hardware inventory limitations. There’s no flagship first party launches until Halo Infinite, and even that has a nebulous holiday release at present. There’s higher profile third party multi-platforms like Madden NFL 2022 from Electronic Arts in August and NBA 2K22 in September, which will contribute on the content side. There’s also a slew of new versions, smaller or indie titles in the coming months. The Ascent. 12 Minutes. Psychonauts 2. Hades and Microsoft Flight Simulator on console.

It might be tricky for Xbox to match the sales highs of the last 12 months, given the previous global stay-at-home situations and leading into a new console generation. Growth could slow a bit near-term for the Xbox division. I do think the baseline has been reset by newer audience members plus lapsed gamers sticking around and spending lately, which will help comparing growth against those high points last year.

Xbox Hardware will be strong, even if supply increases at a slower rate than originally anticipated. I believe subscriptions will keep pace, though am tapering expectations on content and software spend until the quarter ending December.

All in all it’s big results for 2021, like we’re seeing most places in the games industry. The question becomes where will it go from here.

Feel free to reach out here in the comments or on social media with your reactions or questions. Thanks for visiting!

Sources: Microsoft Investor Relations, The NPD Group, Wu Yi (Photo Credit).

-Dom

Xbox & Ratchet & Clank Set Records in June 2021 U.S. Games Industry Sales Report

I know it feels like 2020 never ended. Yet somehow, the front half of 2021 is now in the books. It was another challenging one for a variety of reasons, yet one of the bright spots continues to be video game sales which I hope has provided some much-needed joy and respite for everyone.

And with that, we have.. numbers, of course!

Recently, industry tracking firm The NPD Group dropped both a monthly and second quarter 2021 report on the domestic games market. With it, sharing some notable records in the process and showing how spending on all categories this year is trending upwards.

In terms of growth, overall monthly consumer spending on games in the U.S. rose a steady 5% against a high comparable last year, set in the middle of stricter quarantine guidelines. Led by a Hardware category that more than doubled its level this same time in 2020. Within that, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S topped dollar sales. Even setting a new June record within the Xbox platform’s 20-year history. Separately, Nintendo Switch maintains a staggering streak when it comes to leading on unit sales, which it did again in June, as it has every month for 31 consecutive months! Both of these impressive feats occurred amidst a global chip shortage, signaling a boost in otherwise limited stock lately.

Content i.e. software, subscriptions and add-on sales moved up slightly, propped by usual suspects like Call of Duty and MLB The Show plus three new releases in the Top 5 on the general chart: Sony’s Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Nintendo’s Mario Golf: Super Rush and Scarlet Nexus from Bandai Namco. Accessories was the only segment showing a decline in June 2021, though only 1% as PlayStation’s DualSense continues its consistency there.

Expanding to second quarter, total spend inched up 2% compared to the same three month period last year. However for the full first half of 2021, total sales climbed a solid 15% as all categories exhibited double-digit bumps. Spending on games isn’t slowing down compared to the height of the pandemic, proving new audience members are sticking around and core players are keeping up the hobby.

It’s time to delve deeper into each segment individually, including a close look at the software charts for both June and 2021 to date!

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

During June 2021, overall consumer spending in the domestic games market reached $4.93 billion, rising 5% compared to the same time last year. That’s now two consecutive months of year-on-year growth after a dip back in April.

While Content remained the leading segment by spending, it was Hardware making the biggest splash as production slowly yet surely ramps up. The last category of Accessories dipped slightly in June, cooling off a bit in the hot summer months domestically.

“Hardware was the obvious big story of June,” said The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella. “Xbox Series was the star of the month, but all major platforms showed double or triple digit dollar sales growth vs year ago. Demand is nowhere near satiated, supply is still a massive challenge.”

Across the second quarter between April to June, total spend in the U.S. hit $14 billion. That’s up 2% since the same time in 2020. The NPD Group reported Q2 growth across a variety of sub-groups: personal computer (PC), cloud, non-console virtual reality, mobile, subscriptions plus, of course, gaming consoles.

“Consumer spending has not only maintained the elevated levels reached a year ago, but exceeded them in key areas such as hardware, mobile and subscription spending,” said Piscatella in the Q2 report at the firm’s website.

This trend is illustrated even more when looking at the entire first half of 2021. The total for consumer spend jumped 15% to $28.94 billion during the six month span ending June, driven by console growth in particular. Demand for new consoles still outstripped inventories, though manufacturers proved resilient with production even as it’s difficult to source certain parts in the supply chain.

When focusing on Content alone, sales in June reached $4.32 billion. Up a modest 1% year-on-year. Looking at second quarter, this major category saw $12.6 billion in sales, growing 2%. Notably driven by subscription spend, showing double-digit growth in Q2 (although the firm wasn’t specific in that figure). Across the time frame from January to June, Content bumped upwards of $25.36 billion, 13% higher than first half of 2020.

New releases wrote the narrative here for June. Sony published Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, the month’s top-selling software title. The latest mainline Ratchet & Clank action-adventure platformer achieved the best dollar sales ever in franchise history, a staple within the broad portfolio of developer Insomniac Games. The prior record holder for the series was April 2016’s Ratchet & Clank, a counterpart to a movie launched that same month.

Right behind chart mainstay Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which ranked #2, was Nintendo’s latest sports offering in Mario Golf: Super Rush. Within the States, this title set a new Mario Golf record for first month dollar spend, outpacing that of GameCube’s Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour way back in 2003. Nintendo hasn’t yet shared global unit shipments for its latest Switch exclusive sports game, though I expect a similarly solid start when it does on August 5th.

June’s biggest surprise to me was Scarlet Nexus fighting to the five spot on the combined platform chart. An action Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) from Bandai Namco is the latest in splendid starts for Japanese titles expanding overseas during simultaneous global launches, echoing examples like Square Enix’s NieR: Replicant at #5 in April 2021, Capcom’s Monster Hunter Rise in the second spot during March 2021 plus Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot also from Bandai Namco, the best-selling title in January 2020.

Through the first half of 2021, chart composition is familiar. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War was the best-seller with Resident Evil: Village and MLB The Show 21 right behind it at #2 and #3, respectively. One notable position is the 9th-ranked Outriders from Square Enix, a quietly consistent seller during the first half even if it lost some ground compared to May.

It’s time for the lists themselves, both monthly and first six months of the year.

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

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

Top-Selling Games, 1st Half 2021, U.S., All Platforms (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

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

Moving onto gaming consoles during June 2021, the Hardware category saw gains across all three major platforms in PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo, driving exceptional growth of 112% to $401 million. That’s the top June sales amount for Hardware since June 2009’s $617 million.

I mentioned before the great, record-breaking month for Xbox where Series X|S led by dollar sales. That’s the first time since its launch in November 2020. It recorded the best June month ever for an Xbox platform, beating out June 2011. No doubt driven by new content for console exclusive Sea of Thieves, continued pace from MLB The Show 21 plus the allure of Xbox Game Pass as the best value proposition in games.

Microsoft wasn’t the only manufacturer with an exciting month. Nintendo Switch led by unit sales in June 2021, as it has every month for years now during its wild run of success. PlayStation 5 continues its extremely quick start. Sony’s new generation (big ol’) box is still the fastest-selling home platform in tracked history, as measured by unit sales during the first 8 months on market. Note this statistic excludes handhelds, since Game Boy Advance is still the fastest-seller overall.

Stretching the time frame to second quarter, console spending moved up 12%. Then between January and June, this Hardware category earned $2.35 billion. That’s a fantastic 45% increase, even if compared to a time that was later in the console cycle last year.

It’s worth repeating that numbers during the early portion of a new platform generation are driven by supply rather than demand, more now than ever given the inventory environment. Essentially, Xbox produced enough Xbox Series X|S units to lead by dollar sales during June. Demand is for all platforms is stellar, even Nintendo Switch four years after its debut. This contrasts a chip shortage expected to block higher production output for a year or two, at least.

The only mildly disappointing category during both June and second quarter was Accessories, unable to keep pace with its counterparts. Understandable given the strength of spending this time last year. Although it did exhibit growth when looking at the aggregate during the first half of 2021, an encouraging sign.

Monthly spending on this category comprised of game pads, headsets etc declined 1% to $207 million in June and was 12% lower than last year when looking at the second quarter. Still, it saw 14% growth during the first six months of 2021, rising to $1.23 billion.

Sony is the consistent leader here. The PlayStation 5’s DualSense Controller Midnight Black edition topped this accessory group during June. Out of the four best sellers last month, three of those were DualSense game pads. Similarly, DualSense’s base White variant led the segment for the year so far.

It appears additional spending on these pieces of ancillary hardware is slowing in the early summer months, so will see where it goes leading into the back half.

The domestic games market saw many bright spots during June, especially for platform holders. Each of them had bragging rights in their own way, and all of them are doing well despite production challenges.

Individual software titles, subscriptions and mobile are keeping up consistency in spending, proving how the industry was not just able to grow its audience during the last year or so, but keep it around to maintain commercial momentum and interest in the medium.

Which makes sense to those tracking closely. Gaming is somehow both the most massive entertainment segment in the world and the quietest, a trend that last week’s reporting clearly shows especially when considering double-digit gains across each category since the year’s start.

I hope everyone stays well until next month when July marks the start of 2021’s second half, always an exciting time for those of us that love to follow. Feel free to drop a comment here or on social media. Be safe and thanks for reading!

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

Sources: Billy Freeman (Photo Credit), The NPD Group, PlayStation Press Center.

-Dom