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

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