Nov 15, 2023 - Technology

U.S. video game spending drops in October, but year is still ahead of 2022

U.S. video game industry sales in October <span style="color:#9d88da;">2022</span> and <span style="color:#421ab3;">2023</span>
Data: Circana (mobile data, factored into total sales and content vis Sensor Tower); Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Americans spent $4 billion on video games, hardware and accessories in October, down 5% from the same month last year, sales tracking firm Circana reported today. That's partially due to a November release of the latest Call of Duty, which had its prior release in October of last year.

Why it matters: The video game industry, which boomed during the COVID era, then slumped, has returned to at least meager growth this year.

  • Overall spending on games in the U.S. in 2023 through October reached $43.4 billion, compared to $42.7 billion in the first 10 months of 2022, according to Circana.
  • Those tallies are far smaller than the $46 billion the games industry pulled in during 2021 through October but still ahead of pre-COVID totals. (2019's Jan.-Oct. tally was $32.4 billion.)

Details: Marvel's Spider-Man 2, a PlayStation 5 exclusive, was the best-selling full-priced game of the month, according to Circana's report.

  • Switch exclusive Super Mario Bros. Wonder followed.
  • Nintendo doesn't provide Circana with per-title download totals, which can comprise half or more of a game's sales. But the firm's gaming analyst, Mat Piscatella, tells Axios that Nintendo's typical physical/digital sales ratio shows that Mario would still have fallen short of the top spot.
  • Coming in third, ranked by dollars, was Assassin's Creed Mirage, a game that publisher Ubisoft intentionally made smaller than prior installments in the franchise. Ubisoft sold the game for $50, as opposed to the now-standard $70.

Between the lines: While the later release of Call of Duty helped explain October's drop in games sold, sales also dropped 23% for hardware, with all three major consoles in decline.

  • Monthly hardware drops have been a recent trend, Circana's Piscatella said, because 2022 had been awash with consoles after two years of pandemic-related supply drought.
  • "We had all that pent-up demand being satiated in the second half of 2022 when the new consoles were basically selling as fast as they could be shipped," Piscatella told Axios. Now, he added, people can buy them when they want.
  • Sony's PlayStation 5, which was October's top console, is building its lead ahead of PlayStation 4 at this point in the consoles' life-cycles, Piscatella said. Microsoft's Xbox Series machines are slightly behind the pace of last generation's Xbox One.

The big picture: Video game studios have produced an unprecedented stream of great games this year.

  • But the industry has also seen sweeping layoffs as companies become more conservative in their spending, following hiring and acquisition binges in recent years.

The intrigue: The video game industry is stingy with reporting its sales data, especially for individual games, but Circana is now publicizing a "player engagement tracker" to rank the most-played games per month on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series consoles and Steam.

  • The most-played game on PS5 and Xbox Series for the month was 2022's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II.
  • Roblox, which launched on PlayStation that month, came in fourth on that platform. It was sixth on Xbox, where it's been available for years.
  • The most-played game on Steam was Valve's Counter-Strike 2.

What's next: The holiday rush will reveal whether 2023 is indeed a growth year for gaming in the U.S.

  • As for next year, which will see the aging Nintendo Switch celebrate its 7th anniversary, Piscatella notes: "The market would really benefit from new Nintendo hardware in 2024."

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