Video game enthusiasts spent more than $1.6 billion on gaming hardware, software and accessories in March, a 35% increase from the previous year, according to data from analytics firm NPD Group.
The figure marks the highest reported spend in March since 2008. NPD Group analysts attributed the spike to social distancing mandates put into place to combat the spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
“With schools closing and shelter-in-place orders going out across multiple states, U.S. consumers’ habits reflect the need to live primarily indoors for the foreseeable future,” NPD Group Games President Rob Liguori said in a statement. “While steep transaction declines are being seen across multiple industries during the pandemic, consumer spend on entertainment is strong, especially in video games.”
NPD noted all video game categories, including software, hardware, game cards and accessories experienced a double-digit sales increase last month compared to March 2019. Nine of the top 10 best-selling video games of last month generated higher sales figures than similarly ranked titles did a year prior, the study said.
Hardware experienced the most growth of all categories, a 63% increase year-over-year, largely driven by the Nintendo Switch, which doubled its year-over-year sales.
“The Nintendo Switch also generated the highest unit sales for any hardware platform in a calendar year’s first quarter since the Nintendo DS in 2010,” NPD Analyst Mat Piscatellawrote in a blog post.
The surge in Switch purchases is spurred by the highly-anticipated release of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” which was the top-selling game in March, according to NPD Group’s rankings despite its late release on March 20. A close second was “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,” released by Activision Blizzard in October 2019.
“It is ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ that truly defined March 2020 for the video game market and the corresponding period of social distancing,” said Piscatella, adding that the multiplayer game where users play as adorable, anthropomorphic animals cultivating a lush island landscape was released right “as people looked for a sense of togetherness and community.”
But Piscatella said “Animal Crossings: New Horizons” might not have attracted so much attention without the pandemic. “Would ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ have performed as strongly were it released in any other month in history other than March 2020, when social distancing was fairly consistent across the country? I believe the answer to both questions is likely no,” he said.
While the Nintendo Switch is currently the most popular gaming platform (and remains sold out at most retailers), NPD also noted a 25% increase in spending on Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation 4 consoles compared to a year ago. “The market also experienced record levels of spending on accessories, including in segments such as gamepads and headsets,” Piscatella said. Oher non-Nintendo games are having a good first quarter — a new release of baseball-themed video game “MLB: The Show 20” launched amid its highest debut month sales in its history, he noted.
Overall video game spending so far this year totals $3 billion, down roughly 4% from this time the year prior, NDP found. A lighter release slate and “late cycle video game hardware dynamics… drove the variance,” the study said. These spending statistics are expected to shift in coming months when both Xbox and PlayStation release new consoles this winter in time for the holiday season.