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Digital games earned $3.9 billion worldwide between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, said market researcher SuperData. That represented a 10% decline from a year ago and it suggests even games aren’t immune from changing consumer habits during the pandemic.
Changes in consumer buying patterns led to a drop in Black Friday and Cyber Monday digital game revenue in 2020. Game spending is still on track for a record-breaking 2020, but consumer anticipation for next-generation consoles and the growing popularity of subscription services diminished the importance of the holiday weekend as a main revenue driver, said SuperData.
Spending on PC games during the weekend was up 6% year-over-year, but this was more than offset by a 13% decline in console earnings. Unmet demand for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S likely depressed spending on digital console games, said SuperData analyst Carter Rogers in an email to GamesBeat. It’s worth noting that SuperData does not track sales of the Nintendo Switch, and Nintendo may have benefited from having plentiful supply while the other consoles were sold out.
The current console transition is more seamless than past ones, with both console families allowing players to purchase a game on an older device and upgrade to the new-gen version at a later point. However, some gamers appear to be waiting to get a new console before starting recent major titles, Rogers said. In order to experience the whole game in the best possible way, they are holding off on purchasing the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions entirely.
“Heavy-spending early console adopters may have decided to wait until they could get a next-gen console and get the best game experience possible, rather than start playing some games on their old systems with lower framerates and longer load times,” Rogers said.
SuperData said another factor in the decline is the rapid growth of subscription services like Xbox Game Pass, whose October 2020 user numbers were up 216% from a year ago. These “Netflix of gaming” services provide access to a large library of games at a fixed monthly price, and gamers don’t have to seek out Black Friday deals on older titles they can already play through their monthly subscription.
“[Xbox Game Pass] subscriber numbers began a steady upward trajectory in mid-2018 (the year Microsoft-published titles started arriving on the service on day one) and have not let up since,” Rogers said. “Additionally, year-over-year subscriber growth in 2020 has been the highest it’s ever been for the service.”
For the whole season, Rogers noted that the overall game industry is growing. And shoppers who might have bought physical games at brick and mortar retailers in a normal year are opting for the convenience and safety of downloading games.
As live-service games grow in popularity, players did seek out Black Friday and Cyber Monday in-game content deals for titles they have already invested significant time and money in. For example, Grand Theft Auto Online vehicles were on sale, limited-time item bundles were available in The Elder Scrolls Online, and Apex Legends players received bonuses when purchasing loot boxes. Through the end of October 2020, global in-game content sales accounted for 89% of digital games revenue.
In-game item sales and upfront purchases of games grew much faster in the U.S. than the worldwide average in the months leading up to Black Friday. From January to October, U.S. digital game spending was up 32% year-over-year compared to 13% worldwide. This was attributable to a combination of the pandemic (which limited access to other types of leisure activities) and consumers being more accustomed to spending on digital games than in other markets.
Digital games are expected to maintain their momentum through the holiday season. On Christmas Day 2019, the amount spent in digital console storefronts in North America was four times higher than the daily average during the rest of the year as players used game gift cards they received as presents on digital storefronts. Unlike Black Friday weekend, Christmas Day spending will likely be up in 2020 since many people will be receiving all-digital consoles as gifts.
Beyond the holiday season, Superdata said the game industry is poised to see pent-up demand for the major releases of next year. Games such as Halo Infinite and Deathloop were delayed partially due to the impact of COVID-19 on production, and their arrival next year will help boost game spending even as COVID-19 is brought under control, SuperData said.
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