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):
- Far Cry 6
- Back 4 Blood
- Metroid Dread*
- Madden NFL 22
- Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba: The Hinokami Chronicles
- FIFA 22
- Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
- Mario Party Superstars*
- NHL 22
- NBA 2K22*
- Mario Kart 8*
- Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
- Ghost of Tsushima
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
- Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
- Diablo II: Resurrected
- Mortal Kombat 11
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
Top-Selling Games, 2021 To Date, U.S., All Platforms (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):
- Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
- Madden NFL 22
- MLB: The Show 21^
- Resident Evil Village
- Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury*
- Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales
- Mario Kart 8*
- Far Cry 6
- 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.