As communities have practiced social distancing and observed stay at home orders across the United States over the past weeks, many people have turned to video games as a means of finding connections. Whether together on the couch playing locally, or playing online, gaming has generated increased engagement, which has resulted in corresponding increases in consumer spend.
The NPD Group reports that total spending across tracked video game hardware, software, accessories and game cards reached $1.6 billion in the month of March 2020, the highest reported total for a March month since $1.8 billion was reached in March 2008.
Spending gains were experienced across categories, and in software across both physical as well as digital distribution. Hardware spending saw the strongest percentage gains with growth of 63 percent compared to March 2019, while software (+34 percent) and accessories & game cards (+12 percent) also grew significantly.
Social distancing and shelter in place orders certainly appear to have positively impacted consumer spending across gaming. However, one game impacted the market more than any other in March: Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
In March, as the pandemic expanded across the United States, and as people looked for a sense of togetherness and community, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the player is flown to a lush island where they can then build a community of anthropomorphic virtual animal friends, while also inviting real world friends to come visit and spend time together in their newly-constructed virtual world.
It is impossible to separate the market impact coming as a result of social distancing versus that of the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Would video game sales have performed as strongly in the month of March without Animal Crossing: New Horizons? 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.
What is clear is that Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a significant driver of U.S. video game market performance in the month of March.
Nintendo Switch, the platform on which Animal Crossing: New Horizons exclusively resides, more than doubled its sales of a year ago while selling a record number of hardware units in the U.S. for a March month. It beat the record that was previously set in March 2017 by … Nintendo Switch. 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.
On the software side, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the month’s best-selling video game, achieving the third highest launch month physical software dollar and unit sales of any Nintendo published game in tracked history. It also became, in just one month of distribution, the best-selling Animal Crossing game in U.S. history.
Other franchises and categories also achieved record results in the month of March 2020. MLB The Show 20 launched to the highest debut month sales in its history. The market also experienced record levels of spending on accessories, including in segments such as gamepads and headsets. Spending on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hardware also both increased over 25 percent in the month when compared to a year ago.
But it is Animal Crossing: New Horizons that truly defined March 2020 for the video game market and the corresponding period of social distancing. There is a synthesis between this game and this time in history that will leave the two forever connected in the world of video games. Practicing social distancing and observing stay at home orders have motivated many people to play more video games in order to find connection. Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a game designed around developing communities and forging connections, was certainly the right game at the right time. And there’s no doubt that its success helped lift an entire market beyond what would have otherwise occurred.