Nintendo Switch was the best selling console last month, despite PlayStation and Xbox launches

(Nintendo Photo)

Even in a month that saw record-breaking worldwide launches of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, the Nintendo Switch was the best-selling video game console in November.

That’s the biggest surprise in the NPD Group’s just-released breakdown of the U.S. video game market for last month.

November marked the debut of the ninth generation of console hardware, and with it, the latest installment in the ongoing market drama that analysts like to call the “console wars.” After a month following PS5 and XSX’s launch week, the numbers tell an interesting story, and it’s not what anyone was expecting it would be.

It’s not so much that any company outright lost in November. Both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S enjoyed healthy day-one sales, which were only limited by the limited available supply of consoles, which in turn was constrained by tool-assisted scalpers grabbing all the stock they could for resale.

Microsoft said the Series X|S’s debut was the “largest launch in Xbox history,” with more Xboxes sold at launch, in more countries, than ever before. As per the NPD’s numbers, the PS5 set records of its own, breaking the PlayStation 4’s launch month records from November 2013 to achieve the highest dollar/unit sales for a launch month in U.S. history.

The PS5 was also the best-selling hardware platform in November based on consumer spending.

Between them, Microsoft and Sony helped to fuel an unusually strong November for the games industry, with audience spending reaching $1.4 billion. This is a 58% spike from November 2019, which is most likely a one-time event owing to the two consoles’ launch, but does reflect a continued trend of consistent industry growth.

However, the Switch still beat them both in terms of unit sales, reaching a 24th month as the best-selling console on the market. This can be attributed to some extent to a basic tenet of reality: even companies as big as Sony and Microsoft can’t sell hardware that they don’t have in stock. They both sold out their first runs, and since, have struggled to resupply.

Meanwhile, the Switch has ridden strong game sales, Black Friday bundles, and word of mouth to reach a two-year milestone.

It’s also worth noting that as per market research, the Switch is unusual in that it’s not typically the only gaming console a household has. NPD’s Mat Piscatella released a report back in February that found roughly two-thirds of Switch owners at the time also owned at least one other current-generation gaming console. Among enthusiasts, the Switch is seen as supplementary — not competitive — with other mainstream systems, which probably goes a long way toward explaining Microsoft’s recent willingness to collaborate with Nintendo.

Total consumer spending across hardware, content, and accessories reached a record $7 billion last month, up 35% year-over-year.

November 2020 US NPD THREAD – November 2020 consumer spending across video game hardware, content and accessories reached a November record $7.0 billion, 35% higher when compared to a year ago. YTD spending totaled $44.5 billion, 22% higher than the same time period in 2019.

— Mat Piscatella (@MatPiscatella) December 11, 2020

On the software end of the market, the best-selling game of 2020 to date is the latest installment in Activision’s annual military shooter franchise Call of Duty. Black Ops Cold War, the seventeenth entry in the series, came out on Nov. 13 and immediately shot to the top of the charts. That finally dislodged the previous entry in the series, 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

The rest of the top ten for 2020 has few surprises. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons is now at No. 3 overall for the year, followed by the annual football sim Madden NFL 21. Sony’s Pacific Northwest-set revenge drama The Last of Us Part II beat out Sony’s Ghost of Tsushima to become the fifth best-selling game of 2020; this replicates the scene last night at the Game Awards, where both games were nominated in multiple categories, but TLOU2 won almost all of them over Ghost.

The high-profile Star Wars game Jedi: Fallen Order overcame the stigma of having two colons in its title to slide into the No. 7 place. Nintendo’s racing game Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the best-selling game on the Switch, continued its unbroken run in the monthly top ten to secure, appropriately enough, the No. 8 spot.

In a slight surprise, Square Enix’s hotly anticipated Final Fantasy VII Remake, the first installment in a high-definition modern retelling of the landmark 1997 title, was only the 10th best-selling game of 2020, being narrowly beat out by the newly-released open-world Viking adventure Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (No. 9).

annual military shooter
(CD Projekt Red Image)

These numbers aren’t likely to change significantly in December. There is one big potential spoiler, however, and that’s Cyberpunk 2077. Developed by the Polish company CD Projekt Red, makers of the Witcher series, and based on the tabletop roleplaying game by the Kirkland, Wash.-based R. Talsorian, Cyberpunk is an open-world action-RPG set in a dark, grimy future where cybernetics are commonplace. As the name suggests, it takes much of its inspiration from a particular subgenre of 1980s-era science fiction, as popularized by authors like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.

Cyberpunk 2077 was one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the year until it finally came out this week. Despite multiple delays, reports that CDPR relied heavily on “crunch culture” to get the game done, and shipping with multiple bugs at launch, Cyberpunk 2077 managed to retain enough hype among fans that it is reportedly already a profitable project just on the strength of pre-orders and advance sales. When the final numbers for 2020 come down, it’s safe to assume that 2077 will brute-force its way into the top 10.