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

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

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

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

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

Everything in context!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, context!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, what about this month of April?

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

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

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

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

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

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

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

-Dom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.