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March US game sales jump 35% says NPD

Animal Crossing a stand-out success in a month of pandemic lockdowns and new releases

COVID-19 shut down a vast swath of the entertainment industry in March, but video game sales were up thanks in part to a smattering of big new releases and consumers' limited alternatives.

The NPD Group today reported that it tracked $1.6 billion in US consumer spending on games -- including hardware, physical software, full-game digital sales from selected publishers, accessories and game cards -- in March, up 35% year-over-year and the second highest total for March on record. (The highest was $1.8 billion it tracked in March 2008.)

While the month was a strong bounce-back for industry sales, it didn't offset the accumulated declines of January and February; year-to-date, the industry has brought in $3 billion in US spending according to NPD, down 4% compared to last year's first quarter.

Game software sales were up 34% to $739 million, led by the Switch launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. NPD reported that Nintendo's island getaway game had the third-highest launch month dollar sales and unit sales of any physical Nintendo-published game, trailing only 2018's Super Smash Bros Ultimate and 2008's Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

New Horizons has already sold enough to be the best-selling Animal Crossing game in the franchise's history, at least as far as the US is concerned.

Nintendo hasn't provided sales figures for Animal Crossing yet, but Famitsu reported the game sold more than 2.6 million copies in Japan in its first 10 days on sale.

The new release slate did well beyond Animal Crossing, with eight new titles in the top 20, including five of the seven best-sellers for the month.

The hardware side of the business similarly rebounded in March after a difficult start to the year, growing 63% year-over-year to $461 million.

Switch sales were twice what they were last year, setting a new record for system sales in March. The previous record-holder was also the Switch, which set it in March 2017 when it launched early in the month.

The Switch wasn't the only hardware up for March, as the PS4 and Xbox One both enjoyed boosts of at least 25% each.

The spike in hardware sales was enough to push the category just into positive territory for the year with 2% growth overall despite two dismal months in January and February.

Accessories and game card spending was up 12% year-over-year to $397 million. It was the best March performance on record for the category, surpassing the previous high set in March 2008.

Here's the US Top 20 (based on dollar sales) for the period between March 1 and April 4, 2020, courtesy of The NPD Group:

  • 1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • 2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019
  • 3. MLB: The Show 20
  • 4. Resident Evil 3
  • 5. NBA 2K20
  • 6. Doom Eternal*
  • 7. Persona 5: Royal
  • 8. Grand Theft Auto V
  • 9. Borderlands 3
  • 10. Mario Kart 8: Deluxe*
  • 11. Nioh 2
  • 12. Red Dead Redemption II
  • 13. FIFA 20
  • 14. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  • 15. Pokemon Myster Dungeon: Rescue Team DX*
  • 16. Madden NFL 20
  • 17. Just Dance 2020
  • 18. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  • 19. Mortal Kombat 11
  • 20. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: Remastered

*Digital sales not included

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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot in the US.