Report: Digital game spending increased by 17% in April (SuperData)

Animal Crossing, Call of Duty, and remakes dominated last month. GameDaily chats with SuperData's Carter Rogers.

SuperData has released its report examining digital video game sales for the month of April, and the numbers hit a record-breaking $10.5 billion thanks to increased engagement brought about by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Digital spending last month was 17% higher than April 2019, with console, PC, and mobile revenue all receiving significant bumps.

“COVID-19 lockdowns are continuing to result in higher spending since players have limited alternatives for entertainment,” Carter Rogers, principal analyst at SuperData told GameDaily. “Even though April was slightly slower than March in terms of new game releases, spending was even higher.”

It was Animal Crossing: New Horizons that led the way. According to the report, 3.6 million digital units were sold during April, earning it a place as the best-selling Switch game in lifetime digital sales and digital revenue after only two months on the market. 

“Before the COVID-19 outbreak went worldwide, we predicted that Animal Crossing would be the biggest game launch of the first half of the year, but we certainly didn’t expect it to blow games like Pokémon and Super Smash Bros. out of the water,” Rogers admitted. “The series had been growing in popularity, but it was never Nintendo’s biggest franchise. However, by the time New Horizons launched, it really was the perfect game for the time.”

This is an analysis shared by much of the industry, including Mat Piscatella of NPD Group. Last month, Piscatella noted that New Horizons has become the epitome of “right place, right time” thanks to the pandemic. The world has aggressively latched onto the game, and it’s become a bonafide pop culture touchstone as illustrated by Gary Whitta’s Animal Talking

Elsewhere in SuperData’s report, the emerging trend of remakes and remasters has made itself known. Both Resident Evil 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered broke into the top 10 on consoles, which Rogers said illustrates the marketing power of nostalgia.

“We’re really in the time of peak remake,” he explained. “We already know Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 and Mafia: Definitive Edition are coming later this year. So many games are being remade now because enough time has passed for people to feel nostalgic for games from the late 90s and 2000s. In the US, gamers aged 13 and up have an average age of 39 years old, so there are plenty of people who played these games as kids and now have the disposable income to spend on nostalgia.” 

These remakes, Rogers said, can also introduce younger players to older games that were released before they were even born, thus capturing a brand new audience for these legacy titles.

Interestingly, Rogers predicts that the trend of remakes and remasters will become less prevalent as time goes by. This is due to the rise in live-service, evergreen titles that make up the most lucrative portion of the market. 

“Since live-service games like League of Legends are gradually updated (even with graphical improvements), they continue to hold up well against the latest releases and stay in the public consciousness,” he said.

Regarding the live-service sector, League developer Riot Games stands to increase its foothold in coming months. Team-based tactical FPS Valorant launched its closed beta last month to cacophonous enthusiasm, breaking viewership records on Twitch. Granted, Riot was able to increase its audience by offering beta access to random viewers, but that doesn’t diminish the popularity of Valorant or its impressive streaming milestone.

Despite this initial popularity, Rogers has doubts about Valorant’s staying power.

“Two big things will hold Valorant back initially: PC exclusivity and--potentially--access in China,” he explained. “Apex Legends holds the record for the biggest launch in terms of revenue and users of a non-mobile free-to-play game, and is the title Valorant would have to beat. However, the majority of Apex Legends launch earnings ($91.6 million) and players (49.2 million) were on console.”

Regarding the title’s Chinese audience, there are doubts that Valorant will be available in the country when it launches in the US. This is due to China’s notoriously strict approval process. The prospect of a late launch almost certainly doesn’t sit well with Riot; more than 80% of League of Legends players and revenue comes from Asia, with China boasting the lion’s share. 

“If the game is not in China in June, first-month performance in line with April numbers for CS:GO is certainly feasible, but not necessarily [on the level] of League of Legends, which had more than three times the players and revenue of CS:GO that month,” Rogers said. “This also means it’s unlikely to beat the total launch numbers of Apex Legends.”

At the end of the day, though, the big story is that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to impact the games industry in a big way. While being encouraged to stay indoors, people are increasingly turning to games as a primary form of entertainment. The digital market in particular is thriving thanks to quarantine mandates. It will be interesting to see how it responds in the coming months as lockdown orders are eased.

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Editor-in-Chief

Sam, the Editor-in-Chief of GameDaily.biz, is a former freelance game reporter. He's been seen at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, Unwinnable, and many more. When not writing about games, he is most likely taking care of his two dogs or pretending to know a lot about artisan coffee. Get in touch with Sam by emailing him at  sdesatoff@rektglobal.com or follow him on Twitter.