April was the Dark Souls of months for the game industry.
Consumers spent $509.5 million on new game-related products at retailers in the United States last month, according to industry-tracking firm The NPD Group. That’s down 15 percent year-over-year from $598.1 million. Unlike in March, April saw a major decline in both software and hardware sales. Only accessories, a segment that includes interactive toys such as Nintendo’s Amiibo and the recently defunct Disney Infinity, saw any growth.
Here are the numbers:
- Hardware: $142.1 million in March 2016 (down 23 percent from $183.7 million)
- Software: $203.9 million in March 2016 (down 21 percent from $256.7 million)
- Accessories: $157.6 million in March 2016 (up 4 percent from $157.6 million
April had a pair of hugely successful launches in Dark Souls III and Ratchet & Clank, but NPD analyst Liam Callahan points out that 2016’s games didn’t before nearly as well as the games from the same period in 2015.
“New physical software declined in April 2016 due to a few factors: poor comparisons to last year’s new releases, and the poor performance of March launches in April compared to last year,” said Callahan. “Despite some record-breaking new launches, there were poor comparisons to the release of Mortal Kombat X in April 2015. Mortal Kombat X was a strong launch last year — its April 2015 sales exceeded that of the entirety of all April 2016 new launches by 18 percent.”
So nothing got gamers quite as excited for this April as Mortal Kombat did last year. Additionally, March 2016 sales didn’t carry their momentum through to the following month.
“Given the strength of March 2016 launches and how they lifted sales over March 2015, it was surprising to see the dollar sales performance drop by 16 percent compared to sales of March launches last April,” said Callahan.
When it comes to hardware, however, the industry is still seeing a decline due to the plummeting average sale price of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (even if these are more profitable because of these systems cost less to make than at launch).
“Hardware sales declined 23 percent compared to April 2015, with the majority of the decline due to a 19 percent or $30.4 million decline in console hardware sales,” said Callahan. “Compared to last year, dollar spending for [current-generation] consoles decreased by 15 percent with an over 70 percent decline in [last-generation] consoles. Portables also dropped by $11.3 million in sales over last April.”
At the same time, this is not a red alert for console gaming. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are still trending 40 percent higher than the cumulative sales after the same 30 month period compared to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
NPD only tracks a small part of a larger gaming industry. It doesn’t include digital games, hardware sold outside of the U.S., or second-hand shops. That means it is best to use this data as a snapshot of a massive, more dynamic market.
On to the charts.
- Dark Souls III (PS4, Xbox One)
- Ratchet & Clank (PS4)
- MLB 16: The Show (PS4, PS3)
- Tom Clancy’s The Division (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
- Grand Theft Auto V (PS4, Xbox One, 360, PS3, PC)
- Minecraft (Xbox One, 360, PS4, PS3)
- Quantum Break (Xbox One)
- Call of Duty: Black Ops III (Xbox One, PS4, 360, PS3, PC)
- NBA 2K16 (PS4, Xbox One, 360, PS3)
- Star Fox: Zero (Wii U)
Ratchet & Clank is the big surprise here. It’s a PS4 exclusive, and it rose right to the top of the charts unlike any game in the series ever has.
“Ratchet & Clank had the best launch of any game in the Ratchet & Clank franchise when adjusting for the number of days sold in the data month, with sales recapturing success not seen for the franchise since the height of the PlayStation 2 era,” said Callahan.
With Ratchet selling so well, you can imagine that Sony is probably kicking itself for not having more big, blockbuster releases that harken back to the days of the PS2. The company hasn’t had a lot of first-party exclusives, but when it does, these games sell very well.
Of course, Dark Souls III was the top-seller for the month. You can see that the series is nearly growing exponentially.
“The launch of Dark Souls III marked the strongest launch in the franchise’s history,” said Callahan. “Sales for Dark Souls III nearly doubled that of its predecessor, Dark Souls II, when adjusted for days in the market.”
Other noteworthy releases for April include time-bending action game Quantum Break, which didn’t light the world on fire. It was the top Xbox One exclusive, but it couldn’t outperform Ratchet & Clank.
Another exclusive, Wii U’s space shooter Star Fox: Zero, also slipped onto the list at No. 10. That’s impressive considering Nintendo’s console has a far smaller audience. If you only look at games on a SKU-basis (meaning you separate them by platform and by standard and collector’s variations), Star Fox: Zero was the No. 5 best-selling game of the month. By that same measure, the 3DS role-playing adventure Bravely Second was No. 9.
NPD doesn’t disclose hardware data publicly, but we’ve reached out to the console manufacturers about what they want to share.
Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all declined to comment on the performance of their hardware.
But while no one is saying how each system sold, it’s clear that Sony and Microsoft are selling fewer consoles. This continues to create a strong case for the possible release of upgraded systems.
Gamers are repeatedly hearing rumors for the PlayStation 4 Neo, which is allegedly a faster, more powerful PS4 that can play some 4K content. Microsoft has previously talked about something similar, and separate rumors claim it is exploring the idea as well.
The benefit of new PS4 and Xbox One hardware is that Sony and Microsoft could potentially sell new systems for $400 again as opposed to the $300-to-$350 range new systems are selling for now. That price increase could help repair the dipping hardware numbers by boosting the average sale price and by getting the most dedicated gamers to spend $400 to upgrade.