Report: 2018 was the most profitable year for digital game sales ever (SuperData)

Fortnite, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate led the way.

Despite a slight decline in December’s numbers, 2018 was the biggest year ever for digital games, according to a new report from Nielsen’s SuperData research group. The biggest contributor was, unsurprisingly, Fortnite.

“The games and interactive media industry grew 13 percent in 2018 as Fortnite disrupted the status quo,” the report reads. “The red-hot battle royale title generated the most annual revenue of any game in history and popularized gaming video content among mainstream audiences.”

“2018 was the year of Fortnite, plain and simple,” Carter Rogers, principal analyst at SuperData told GameDaily. “The game earned more annual digital revenue than any game in history and had a tangible impact on everything from gaming business models (thanks to the success of its battle pass) to the popularity of certain Twitch streamers.”

Other digital console games that figured into the record-breaking year include Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

According to the report, other factors that helped propel the digital market to its most lucrative year on record include the continued growth of virtual reality, as well as the rise in cross-platform play.

Of note is the fact that free-to-play games generated 80 percent of digital games revenue in 2018. It’s important to know, however, that this report encompasses worldwide numbers, and that regional differences in revenue do exist.

“Free-to-play titles earn a far greater share of total revenue in Asia (93 percent) than in North America and Europe (62 percent),” Rogers explained. “Also, while what we'd call ‘hardcore’ gamers often gravitate to PC or console in North America, many of Asia's top mobile games like Honour of Kings would certainly be considered hardcore titles by North American or European standards.”

In December, Honour of Kings was the top-grossing mobile game worldwide. Pokémon Go was not far behind, however.

“Many might be surprised to see Pokémon Go and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds so high up on the 2018 annual revenue charts,” Rogers pointed out. “There may be a perception that because both games have less mainstream media attention than they once did, they are no longer top-tier titles. However, both are still putting up extremely impressive earnings numbers and made more digital revenue in 2018 than 2017.”

Also on the list of highest-grossing digital games is Grand Theft Auto V, a game released five years ago. With GTA Online consistently one of the top ten earners, Rockstar is likely looking to recreate the formula that has brought in billions of dollars worldwide. Looking forward, SuperData predicts that Red Dead Redemption 2 will figure heavily into the digital market. With Rockstar settling into comfortable monetization methods for Red Dead Online, and the enormous sales numbers for the game, it’s not unrealistic to expect it to make big waves this year. 2018 was the the most profitable year ever for digital games, and it’s unlikely that the trend will slow down any time soon.

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Sam has been freelancing since 2016, and has bylines at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, and Unwinnable. 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@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter.