The industry was down a little bit in May, but Sony’s PlayStation 4 gaming console bounced back in a big way.
Total new physical game-related sales at U.S. retailers generated $507.6 million in May, according to industry-tracking firm The NPD Group. That is down 13 percent from $584.9 million last year. Both hardware and software sales were down against a tough comparison to a May in 2014 that had Watch Dogs, Mario Kart 8, and Wolfenstein: The New Order — although it’s not like May 2015 had a dearth of new releases in the $55 billion worldwide console gaming market.
May was also a win for Nintendo, with the family friendly paint shooter Splatoon appearing on the top-sales chart in its debut. It’s a sign that Wii U owners are just not ready for more content but also willing to try something outside of its hit franchises like Mario or Zelda.
New hardware sales generated $153.6 million in May, which is down 18 percent year over year from $186.4 million. Software looked even more sluggish as it was down 25 percent from $273.9 million to $204.7 million.
“The decline in May 2015 is attributed to poor comparisons to a strong release slate in May 2014, specifically the launches of Mario Kart 8 and Watch Dogs,” NPD analyst Liam Callahan said. “Collectively, May 2015 launches sold 55 percent less dollars than May 2014 launches, however, catalog games outside of the launch month sold 3 percent more dollar volume compared to catalog games in May 2014.”
Put simply, Callahan is saying new games made less money but old games made more in May 2015 in comparison to May 2014.
But, as always, I’m here to tell you that you cannot take the numbers in this report at face value. NPD only tracks new physical games sold at U.S. retailers. You know what doesn’t factor into that description? Used games, digital, mobile, or anything sold in Europe. So think of this as a useful snapshot of a wider, more dynamic industry.
OK, with that disclaimer done with, we can get to the software sales:
- The Witcher III: Wild Hunt (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
- Mortal Kombat X (PS4, Xbox One)
- Grand Theft Auto V (PS4, Xbox One, 360, PS3, PC)
- Minecraft (360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4)
- Splatoon (Wii U)
- Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (PS4, 360, Xbox One, PS3, PC)
- NBA 2K15 (360, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, PC)
- FIFA 15 (PS4, Xbox One, 360, PS3, Wii , 3DS, Vita)
- MLB 15: The Show (PS4, PS3)
- Super Smash Bros. (3DS, Wii U)
“Despite poor comparisons to May 2014 releases, eighth generation consoles software unit sales rose 8 percent in May 2015 and also gained 15 percentage points in overall software unit share to total 54 percent,” said Callahan.
Games on PS4 sold especially well. May was a month where its huge overall lead helped it also dominate software sales. The PS4 version outsold the Xbox One version for every game in the top 10 list that is available on both with the exception of Minecraft.
Beyond the battle between Microsoft and Sony, however, we can see that The Witcher III was the big software winner. It debuted May 19 and outsold everything else on the chart. Developer CD Projekt Red revealed that through its first two weeks, the open-world role-playing game saw more than 4 million people buy it.
“The Witcher III: Wild Hunt was the number one game this month and also had the best-selling first month unit sales within the role-playing super genre for eighth generation consoles,” said Callahan.
But May’s biggest surprise is probably Nintendo’s Wii U exclusive Splatoon. The colorful shooter did not debut until May 28, which means it only had two days of sales on this chart. Despite that, it was able to come in at No. 5 overall. This is impressive for a new intellectual property that is not widely available on all systems.
Everything else on the list is a returning favorite — and that likely was a big contributor to the downturn in sales for the month as people just didn’t have a reason to go out to retailers for new games or systems.
Finally, if you don’t lump together the sales for every game across all platforms, Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster for PS4 is in the top 10 best-selling games chart.
The PlayStation 4 was the top-selling console in May. Sony shared the following statement with GamesBeat:
“As we head into E3, we would like to thank gamers for making PS4 the top-selling console and the leader in software sales in the U.S. in May,” a Sony spokesperson said.
Microsoft touted growth in sales and its community — even if it was second to Sony for the month.
“Xbox One and Xbox Live continue to see strong growth in sales and engagement. Xbox One sales in the U.S. were up 81 percent over May 2014 and active global Xbox Live members, Xbox One and Xbox 360, were up 20 percent,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. “We are grateful to our fans for choosing Xbox One and for making Xbox Live the fun and vibrant community that is. We can’t wait to share more on the greatest games lineup in Xbox history at E3 next week.”
We asked Nintendo for comment.
Once again, overall hardware sales were down in May, but that was not really due to the new systems.
“Year-to-date, hardware unit sales are stable with a slight 1 percent decrease from the same time period last year,” said Callahan. “Eighth-generation unit sales are stable, with seventh generation down 45 percent, and portable hardware sales up 41 percent.”