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Forums - Sales Discussion - February NPD 2021: Switch~614k, PS5 ~300K, XBS <175k

Ryng said:

Switch basically at 614.000 from the last ERA estimate (613-615k range lol)
PS5 range now 288k-307k ( was 288k-322k before)
XBS somewhere under 175k

Is it good if we do launch aligned comparison ?



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Mar1217 said:
Ryng said:

Switch basically at 614.000 from the last ERA estimate (613-615k range lol)
PS5 range now 288k-307k ( was 288k-322k before)
XBS somewhere under 175k

Is it good if we do launch aligned comparison ?

For the same month, PS5 is slightly above the PS4. 285K vs 288K+. For XSX, it's quite a bit lower. 258K vs <175K.



Shadow1980 said:

Before I start with the replies, the best-guess predictions are up at Era if anyone's interested.

Sogreblute said:

There is no way Nintendo would release the Switch successor in 2027. It will be before that (2024 is my guess). The Gameboy was on the market for 12 years before the GBA came out. Some people say that the Gameboy Color was the successor, but it wasn't. It was the "upgraded system". Switch sales are amazing now and it will pass PS4 and the Gameboy, but passing PS2 and DS is still doubtful. 

That's what I said, more or less. I think March 2024 is the most likely release date for the Switch's successor. IcaroRibeiro is the one wanting to compare the Switch to the Game Boy and its totally unique and bizarre life cycle.

curl-6 said:

That's the thing, we cannot rule out the contribution of other factors. We cannot rule out the cultural phenomenon and huge expansion of demographic reach of New Horizons, the expansion of Nintendo's manufacturing capacity, the compounding word of mouth as more Switches get out into the wild, households buying their second Switch so family members don't have to share, people who could initially only find a Lite upgrading to the Switch proper as it becomes available again, etc.

Was covid a factor? Sure. To say it's the only reason though is just not logical.

And again, trying to explain Switch's sales by insisting it can only repeat patterns of past systems doesn't work as there is no real precedent for the Switch.

If the primary reason is not the pandemic, then the timing is damn peculiar, as is the degree of growth.

The Switch was essentially flat from 2018 in the June-August period of 2019, got a decent bump from the Lite in September (not nearly as big as it got in Japan, though), with some residual effect that put October up about 21%. But November was barely up even with Pokemon, though December was up about 15% (maybe that Cyber Monday bundle, or maybe stock issues that weren't resolved until December?). Then January & February 2020 were down YoY. Whatever caused the modest boost early in 2019 was done by June, the Lite's effect was short-lived, Pokemon didn't seem to do much, and the system was down at the start of 2020. The PS4 & XBO were already slowing down rapidly in 2019.

The PS4 was down 27.4% YoY in 2019, while the XBO was down 29.7%. In the January-February period of 2020, they were down even more, 45.7% and 42.1%. Normal enough, considering the 360 & PS3 were down 27% and 24% respectively in 2012, the year before they were replaced. The 360 & PS3 were also down considerably through most of 2013 (-42.5% and -36.5% respectively for the year as a whole, -33.5% and 28.3% for the non-holiday period, and that's with Sept. & Oct. getting boosts from GTAV and the 360 getting holiday bundles). Again, quite normal considering it was getting closer to the releases of the PS4 & XBO.

So, no real indications that the Switch was going to experience any appreciable long-term growth any time soon, and relatively normal declines for the PS4 & XBO.

Then March happened.

The Switch experienced growth in weekly average sales of over 140% from February, making that March the second-best non-holiday month ever at the time for a system in the U.S., even in terms of weekly averages (March is a 5-week period), bested only by the DS's performance in April 2009. The PS4 & XBO both experienced relatively huge increases from February as well, with combined weekly average sales of the two being up nearly 75% from February. Even though both systems were down YoY by over 40% in the previous two months, they were both up 25% in March.

That's was... not normal. March sales in the U.S. are, at least in terms of weekly averages, almost always down from February, and on nearly ever case where March's weekly average was better than February's, it wasn't by much, maybe a few percent. The only other times prior to 2020 we've seen March be significantly up from February was with the N64 in 1997 (price cut issued that month), the PS2 in 2001 (restocks following supply issues), the GBA in 2003 (the releases of both the SP model and Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire), and the Wii in 2008 (the release of Smash Bros. Brawl).

With the Switch, at least it had the excuse of Animal Crossing, but even then that was an unusually large jump. The best month-to-month increase (excluding October-to-November), in terms of both percentage and absolute numbers, that can be attributed solely to a single game was the PS4 in Sept. 2014 when Destiny caused weekly average PS4 sales to increase 126.5%, or from an average 47.5k/week to 107.6k/week, an increase of 60k/week (that month was the best non-holiday month of the generation until March 2020, and was also the best one since Feb. 2011). The Switch completely shattered that record. The aforementioned >140% increase from February translated to an increase in weekly average sales of least 117k/week over February. That was odd considering Animal Crossing was never huge in the U.S. at that point. New Leaf sold decently (505k copies) and boosted the 3DS to 45k/week in June 2013, up from 28.5k/week in May. But that's a far cry from what New Horizons did (definitely well over 2M copies sold in March, maybe 3M or more, and likely a vastly bigger impact on hardware). Could Animal Crossing's popularity have surged that much all on its lonesome? Maybe. That can't be ruled out. But I still doubt that all of that growth we saw with the Switch in March was attributable to Animal Crossing. A lot of it? Yes. A majority of it? Possibly. All of it? No chance.

The PS4 & XBO had nothing going on to boost sales that month. No games big enough to drive growth of that scale. No price cuts. No nothing. So what's the deal? Why did every system experience a big jump in March 2020?

The answer is obvious: the pandemic was declared in March. Everything started shutting down. Movie theaters. Sports venues. Bowling alleys. People's options for entertainment were suddenly limited to things they could do at home... like video games. The pandemic perfectly explains the surge in demand for consoles. Without the pandemic, the PS4 & XBO would have had a March that was likely even worse than February. It stands to reason that if the PS4 & XBO were getting huge boosts from the pandemic, the Switch must be benefiting from it as well. There's absolutely no reason to think it was uniquely insulated. And comparing the Switch to them, it's possible that at least half of the boost in Switch sales may have been attributable solely to the effects of the pandemic. The Switch probably would have sold over 700k in March regardless, if AC's surge in popularity was wholly organic and not also itself largely attributable to the pandemic (something impossible to determine one way or the other), so it still would have likely been a very good month without the pandemic, just not a record-setting one.

And this is just March, before any stimulus checks went out. Those first started coming in April, which saw an even larger surge in PS4 & XBO sales, and the Switch maintaining its weekly average instead of declining like what one would expect for the month after the release of a big system-seller. May saw relatively soft drops, and demand was still elevated. Even the PS4 & XBO were still up a bit YoY. While the XBO suffered from depleted stock probably in late June and never fully recovered, the PS4 had enough stock to last it through September.

The PS4 sold about 863,000 units in the U.S. in the May-September period of 2020, the second most about of units sold of any console in the same period in its replacement year after the PS2. This is a decline of only 8.5% for the May-September period of 2019, where the PS4 sold 943,000 units. This is the lowest decline in baseline sales of any system ever in its replacement year in the U.S. For reference, the Xbox 360 sold 626,000 units in the May-Sept. period of 2013 compared to 1,083,000 in the same period of 2012, a decline of 42.2%. Under normal circumstances, throughout all of 2020 the PS4 likely would have been down from 2019 on average by at least 30-40% given what the 360 & PS3 were doing in 2013 and where it was at itself at the start of 2020. Even the PS2, which declined slower than pretty much every other system ever, declined 19.1% in the May-Sept. period of 2006 (its replacement year) compared to the same period in 2005, far more than what we saw with the PS4.

Between the two of them, the PS4 & XBO managed to sell about 1,282,000 units in the May-September period of 2020 versus 1,528,000 units in the same period of 2019, a decline of 16.1%. Compare this to the 360 & PS3, which sold 1,186,600 units in the May-Sept. 2013 period versus 1,885,000 units in the same period in 2013, a decline of 37%. Combined PS4 & XBO sales managed considerably smaller drops than combined 360 & PS3 sales and even outperformed them in their respective replacement years despite lagging behind the prior year, and that's with the XBO's stock issues and the PS3 and (to a lesser extent) the 360 both getting a solid bump from Grand Theft Auto V in September 2013. This indicates higher demand for the PS4 & XBO than what one would have normally expected, which appears to confirm that the "COVID bump" was not limited to just March & April. That they didn't do even better was because they were old systems on the verge of replacement, well past peak demand and with insufficient stock to maintain better-than-expected sales for the entirety of 2020.

And if the PS4 & XBO over-performed in the wake of pandemic, then the Switch must have done so as well. The Switch's massive sales even after the initial March-April spike are not simply a case of "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" in relation to the pandemic. There is a clear cause-and-effect relationship, as the rest of the console market showed. The Switch was already down YoY at the start of 2020, started blowing up at the same time the PS4 & XBO, and there was clearly elevated demand for consoles in general throughout the year.

Going by its initial level of sales, had 2020 followed a more normal trajectory following that sort of start, then even if AC got a few hundred extra hardware units pushed through the doors, the Switch might have been merely flat YoY, give or take a few percentage points... like the average predictions made at the start of 2020 were assuming. There's no reason to assume that the Switch would have experienced significant growth without the pandemic "just because." That kind of growth needs a clear cause, something that could generate significant increases in demand, and every usual cause of growth has been ruled out, leaving just the pandemic. The timing fits. The impacts on its spending in general are well documented. The impact of large across-the-board windfalls for taxpayers is well documented. While AC was a definite factor for March and maybe even also April, almost all of the gains in 2020 were due to the COVID bump. It is inescapable. The only reason to deny it is if one feels the need to somehow prove the Switch fully earned those sales primarily on its own merit, with outside factors playing an at best limited role. But if you feel there's good reason to believe the Switch would have still experienced massive growth without the pandemic, that's up to you to prove that demand can grow that much absent factors like a price cut or new hardware revision (and the Lite has already been ruled out, as I've explained before).

And sorry, but I don't have to accept that the Switch is some unique phenomenon that the rules don't apply to.

brute said:

Saying that COVID is continuing to give Switch a boost is non-sensical. U.S is not in lockdown anymore, it's just that Switch has so much momentum going on at the moment.
If COVID was still playing such a huge role then why didnt Switch smash Holiday records? I see Shadow likes to use March-Oct gains to contribute to COVID only but then conveniently leaves out the holiday period...

So now is COVID the factor is stimulus?

Also last years first stimulus wasnt until April, not March. So that means March is all due to Animal Crossing, right? Since we're now saying its due to stimulus.

And even though some were delayed (not just til October, some were delayed until December but you conveniently left this off) the majority received the stimulus in April and May meaning they werent really a factor after that.

In addition to what @Farsala said, regarding the first bolded statement of yours, while most states are now mostly reopened, five-plus months ago was a different story. Much if not most of the country was still closed then. Even now, not everything is reopened even though most things are, and away-from-home entertainment options are still incredibly limited. Many if not most movie theaters remain closed, and the ones that are open are mostly playing non-blockbusters and older movies as all the big films have been pushed back. Sports events still have limited occupancy at best, and many are still not open to the public. And simply being open isn't the only variable at play here, as many people likely still do not feel like it's safe to do the stuff that is available to do.

Yes, the Switch has had a great start to 2021. There's also new stimulus money in the $600 that started hitting at the end of December and the $1400 that's going out now. What happens once everything is fully reopened, everyone is vaccinated and it's safe to go fully back to normal, and no more stimulus money is rolling in? Demand will most likely decline.

In regards to the second bolded statement of yours, did you ever stop to think that I might have a good reason to omit November & December? Like, oh, I don't know, comparing baselines during the non-holiday period? The Switch sold over 3 million units in that six-month period after initial March-April spike and the start of the holiday season. That's a lot in general for sales outside the holidays, especially considering it sold less than 1.8M in the same period in 2019. You rarely ever see growth like that, and never unless there's a price cut or a major hardware revision (as I explained in earlier posts, the Lite can be ruled out as a factor given its very modest impact in the U.S. for the first six months of its release). As for the holiday season, yes, the 2020 holidays were slightly down overall from 2019. But why would that happen regardless of the causes of the boost in the non-holiday period? Stock could have easily been a factor, and that's always a potential limiting factor on sales.

Regarding the final bolded statement of yours, stimulus money clearly wasn't the only factor. There was a general increase in demand for all systems, which started in March, not April, as I explained in my reply to curl-6.

It seems unlikely that pretty much a year after the pandemic hit the Switch is still selling at an unprecedented rate. While yes, most entertainment companies like Netflix saw crazy growth during the beginning of the pandemic between March-May 2020. However, after the first month of two of the pandemic subscription sales quickly dropped back down to earth and even dropped to the lowest point in years for Netflix in the quarter immediately after the pandemic started. This even extends to electronics where smartphone sales were down overall for the year of 2020. Even extending to consoles, ik you could use the argument that PS4 & Xbox One dealt with stock issues so it's difficult to measure how much demand there was for those consoles this year. However, if we take a look at the software side of things we see that the software sales quarterly for the PS4 didn't experience anywhere near as much growth as the Switch after the pandemic hit. Obviously Animal Crossing was a huge release and a huge part of that growth but it helps support the idea that primarily AC has been driving this growth and if the pandemic was the huge reason for Switch sales growth in late 2020 and 2021 then why isn't that growth translating directly to other entertainment platforms like Netflix, smartphones, other subscription services, and even software sales on consoles. In Q2 of 2020 between the months of July and Setember PS4 software sales were only up 13% YoY( https://www.statista.com/statistics/1202202/global-playstation-game-unit-sales-quarter/ and that's with a big game like Ghost of Tsushima releasing and TLOU2 just releasing only 11 days before Q2 2020 started. The Switch in Q2 2020 was up 40% in Software sales YoY (https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/pdf/2020/201105_4e.pdf .

When you look at the data, there is really no other entertainment or electronic platform seeing this much YoY growth this late in the game as the Switch has into late 2020 to early 2021. If the pandemic was the primary driving force of Switch sales there is no way the Switch would still be selling at an unprecedented record breaking rate literally a year after the pandemic hit.

Also Shadow, I'm sure 99% of the U.S population don't ask themselves "Should I buy a Switch for 300$ or go to a movie theater for 15$?" Movie theaters aren't cutting into console sales lol. Most people rarely go to movie theaters as they aren't at all cutting away much of any entertainment time from Americans, just a 2 hour movie in a theater over a one year period isn't cutting time from people to play or purchase video games lol. Most Americans go to the movie theaters once every few months or a year at most. I shouldn't need to link this evidence to you but here are the statistics which show that nearly HALF of Americans typically go to the theaters once a year or less and another 40% go once every few months. Only 14% of Americans go to the movies more than once a month. 

www.statista.com/statistics/264396/frequency-of-going-to-the-movies-in-the-us/#:~:text=During%20a%20survey%20in%20June,once%20or%20year%20or%20less.

And at this point, most of the U.S is pretty much open and now people are willing to go anywhere they want. Restaurants are packed at times, I've seen beaches even more packed at times than BEFORE the pandemic and even airplanes are packed at times. Essentially mostly everything is open.

Last edited by javi741 - on 24 March 2021

curl-6 said:

So we agree that Animal Crossing's impact cannot be ruled out as a factor. Again, I never said the pandemic wasn't a factor, just that it was not the sole or majority factor.

New Horizons massively expanded the system's demographic reach by appealing to non-gamers in a way that nothing on the system did so strongly and compellingly up to that point. Suddenly millions of people who had no interest in the system had a strong reason to buy one. It's the kind of killer app that rolls around only once or twice in even a very successful system's life.

As for past AC games, no Zelda before BOTW crossed 20 million either; unprecedented things do happen.

And you are of course free to continue to view Switch only through the lens of past system's patterns, but that why your predictions on it have been off base, you're measuring an apple by the standard of oranges.

For March? Yes. For April? Big games often have a residual effect into their second month. For the rest of the year? No chance. Just so we're clear on that regard, that way nobody misrepresents my point.

No one game has ever caused a long-term increase in baseline sales, not even modest growth. Every single instance on record of a game causing a boost in sales has always been a very short-term one. Pretty much everybody that buys a system for a specific game does so within the first month or two of that game's release. AC gave an assist for the first month or two after its release, but there's no reason to think it was moving any appreciable amount of surplus hardware going into late spring/early summer and beyond. Prior to the pandemic, the only things that have been proven to cause substantial long-term increases in sales were price cuts and major hardware revisions. Both of those can be ruled out for the Switch. Meanwhile, we saw clear evidence of an across-the-board increase in demand not just for the Switch, but for the PS4 & XBO as well.

Also, there's another good argument against the idea that AC was still driving the majority of growth well beyond its release month. While numbers have been scarce for the U.S., we do have numbers for Japan, and they show what we see with every other game in the history of ever: declining sales over time. As with hardware, there's only a certain number of of people out there willing and able to buy a particular game. Software is almost always extremely front-loaded, with often times half or more of lifetime sales coming in just the first month. Sometimes you get games with decent legs, but even those see sales months down the road that are vastly less.

Animal Crossing is no exception.

While in absolute terms it's still selling well enough to remain on the charts, relative to its initial sales it has declined substantially. It sold more in its first three weeks than it has in the past ten months. Assuming its digital sell-through consistently averaged around 50% of total sales (that was the overall figure as of August from what I've read), it sold over 3.7M copies its first week alone. It took that to drive the Switch to 392k units in the same week. That means that over 9 copies of AC sold for every single Switch sold. At best, of those 3.7M people that bought a copy of AC that week, maybe 9% of them bought a Switch just for that game. The remaining ~91% of copies were bought by preexisting Switch owners. And the ratio of copies of AC sold per Switch unit sold declined rapidly over time, especially after April. By September, there were fewer copies of AC sold than Switches sold. In the NPD-equivalent January sales period, maybe 260-270k copies of AC sold against 563k Switches sold (the Switch's best non-holiday month for hardware since March, perhaps not coincidentally the same month the Diet declared a state of emergency in response to increasing COVID cases). If it took well over 3M copies to push the Switch to nearly 400k in one week, what do you think a mere 7% of that sales level is going to do? Unless its system-selling power has increased exponentially to the point where the vast majority of people who are buying a Switch are doing so just for AC, there's no way in hell AC is still a driver of HW sales growth. And there almost certainly isn't some ludicrous digital ratio that has materialized in the past few months that has kept total sales insanely high relative to initial sales, making up for the declines in retail sales, as shipment figures corroborate the decline in sales.

While we are lacking a lot of data for the U.S., it appears that AC probably sold over 3M in March physical+digital (it could be substantially higher as we never got the actual retail sell-through; it's highly likely to be more comparable to Japanese sales). Physical-only declined to 180k in both August and September, so again assuming a roughly constant 50% digital sell-through rate, that's only 360k, give or take, a decline of 88% or more from March (retail sales in Japan in the September period were only 5.3% of what they were in March, so 88% could be a bare minimum). To echo the question I proposed for the Japanese side of things, if it took 3M or more copies of AC plus the start of the pandemic to shift at best an extra 600-700k units, what is a tiny fraction of that going to shift months afterward? I honestly doubt any serious commentator would sit there with a straight face and tell me that essentially all of the improvements we saw in August & September over the same months in 2019 were due to just AC.

We see this story repeat for other games we have sales information for. Sales start off very high for a popular game, but the vast majority of those copies went to preexisting owners of a platform. It sells millions of copies but moves maybe at most a few hundred thousand extra hardware units, far less than that the next month if there's any residual effect at all. There's no reason to think that the Switch was somehow mostly insulated from the effects of the pandemic and somehow, nor that Animal Crossing has seemingly supernatural system-selling capability. To reiterate the point I've made over and over, there's a reason why the average prediction assumed at best flat sales in 2020, even with AC being a known factor at the time those predictions were made. Nobody in their right mind in Jan. 2020 would have dared to propose that a single game could move that much hardware.

If you think something besides the pandemic was the primary driver, you need to prove it. Prove that AC was the primary reason there was a large surge in demand, that over 2.5M people in the U.S., over 1.3M of that in the May to October, period, were driven to do so not because of general increased demand for at-home entertainment, but mostly for one game in specific. Also, can you rule out conclusively that AC's surge in popularity itself wasn't attributable in large part to the pandemic, that its popularity relative to other entries in the series was purely coincidental?

Last time I asked for proof that a single game was capable of moving millions of surplus hardware units by itself, nobody had any real evidence to offer. Most of it boiled down to "It's a popular game!" Lots of games have been popular. Some have set new records. Some have managed ridiculously high attach rates (and note that buying a game with a system is not the same as buying the system for that game; see also GTAV's ridiculous legs on PS4 & XBO). None, not even the biggest killer apps in history, have ever produced anywhere near the level of growth that some people want to attribute to Animal Crossing.

I think the people who want AC to be the rule-breaker and record-destroyer do so purely for reasons of optics, because attributing the vast majority sales growth we've seen over the past year (and essentially all of it since probably May) to an external factor apparently diminishes the Switch's success in some people's eyes. It's an artifact of the nature of online discussions about electronic toys. That's my honest opinion. I keep repeating the same data points only for people to dismiss them out of hand for reasons not supported by any kind of real counter-evidence. This has been going on for months. Going this in-depth requires a considerable time investment on my part (several hours for just this thread, including both writing and data collection), and I'm done repeating the same arguments. You know where I stand, and I've presented all the data I possibly can. If you or anyone else has any new data to add, I'm all ears. Until then, I'm moving on to other topics of discussion.



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In accordance to the VGC forum rules, §8.5, I hereby exercise my right to demand to be left alone regarding the subject of the effects of the pandemic on video game sales (i.e., "COVID bump").

You say that then there are games like Monster Hunter (for psp), Pokémon for GBC, GTAV for literally multiple systems, Mario Kart, etc. 

ACNH is the fastest selling game ever I think after GTAV, 30mil+ in 9 and half months. 11mil with initial launch and 20mil+ throughout the rest of the year.

Shadow1980 said:
curl-6 said:

So we agree that Animal Crossing's impact cannot be ruled out as a factor. Again, I never said the pandemic wasn't a factor, just that it was not the sole or majority factor.

New Horizons massively expanded the system's demographic reach by appealing to non-gamers in a way that nothing on the system did so strongly and compellingly up to that point. Suddenly millions of people who had no interest in the system had a strong reason to buy one. It's the kind of killer app that rolls around only once or twice in even a very successful system's life.

As for past AC games, no Zelda before BOTW crossed 20 million either; unprecedented things do happen.

And you are of course free to continue to view Switch only through the lens of past system's patterns, but that why your predictions on it have been off base, you're measuring an apple by the standard of oranges.

For March? Yes. For April? Big games often have a residual effect into their second month. For the rest of the year? No chance. Just so we're clear on that regard, that way nobody misrepresents my point.

No one game has ever caused a long-term increase in baseline sales, not even modest growth. Every single instance on record of a game causing a boost in sales has always been a very short-term one. Pretty much everybody that buys a system for a specific game does so within the first month or two of that game's release. AC gave an assist for the first month or two after its release, but there's no reason to think it was moving any appreciable amount of surplus hardware going into late spring/early summer and beyond. Prior to the pandemic, the only things that have been proven to cause substantial long-term increases in sales were price cuts and major hardware revisions. Both of those can be ruled out for the Switch. Meanwhile, we saw clear evidence of an across-the-board increase in demand not just for the Switch, but for the PS4 & XBO as well.

Also, there's another good argument against the idea that AC was still driving the majority of growth well beyond its release month. While numbers have been scarce for the U.S., we do have numbers for Japan, and they show what we see with every other game in the history of ever: declining sales over time. As with hardware, there's only a certain number of of people out there willing and able to buy a particular game. Software is almost always extremely front-loaded, with often times half or more of lifetime sales coming in just the first month. Sometimes you get games with decent legs, but even those see sales months down the road that are vastly less.

Animal Crossing is no exception.



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Shadow1980 said:
curl-6 said:

So we agree that Animal Crossing's impact cannot be ruled out as a factor. Again, I never said the pandemic wasn't a factor, just that it was not the sole or majority factor.

New Horizons massively expanded the system's demographic reach by appealing to non-gamers in a way that nothing on the system did so strongly and compellingly up to that point. Suddenly millions of people who had no interest in the system had a strong reason to buy one. It's the kind of killer app that rolls around only once or twice in even a very successful system's life.

As for past AC games, no Zelda before BOTW crossed 20 million either; unprecedented things do happen.

And you are of course free to continue to view Switch only through the lens of past system's patterns, but that why your predictions on it have been off base, you're measuring an apple by the standard of oranges.

For March? Yes. For April? Big games often have a residual effect into their second month. For the rest of the year? No chance. Just so we're clear on that regard, that way nobody misrepresents my point.

No one game has ever caused a long-term increase in baseline sales, not even modest growth. Every single instance on record of a game causing a boost in sales has always been a very short-term one. Pretty much everybody that buys a system for a specific game does so within the first month or two of that game's release. AC gave an assist for the first month or two after its release, but there's no reason to think it was moving any appreciable amount of surplus hardware going into late spring/early summer and beyond. Prior to the pandemic, the only things that have been proven to cause substantial long-term increases in sales were price cuts and major hardware revisions. Both of those can be ruled out for the Switch. Meanwhile, we saw clear evidence of an across-the-board increase in demand not just for the Switch, but for the PS4 & XBO as well.

Also, there's another good argument against the idea that AC was still driving the majority of growth well beyond its release month. While numbers have been scarce for the U.S., we do have numbers for Japan, and they show what we see with every other game in the history of ever: declining sales over time. As with hardware, there's only a certain number of of people out there willing and able to buy a particular game. Software is almost always extremely front-loaded, with often times half or more of lifetime sales coming in just the first month. Sometimes you get games with decent legs, but even those see sales months down the road that are vastly less.

Animal Crossing is no exception.

While in absolute terms it's still selling well enough to remain on the charts, relative to its initial sales it has declined substantially. It sold more in its first three weeks than it has in the past ten months. Assuming its digital sell-through consistently averaged around 50% of total sales (that was the overall figure as of August from what I've read), it sold over 3.7M copies its first week alone. It took that to drive the Switch to 392k units in the same week. That means that over 9 copies of AC sold for every single Switch sold. At best, of those 3.7M people that bought a copy of AC that week, maybe 9% of them bought a Switch just for that game. The remaining ~91% of copies were bought by preexisting Switch owners. And the ratio of copies of AC sold per Switch unit sold declined rapidly over time, especially after April. By September, there were fewer copies of AC sold than Switches sold. In the NPD-equivalent January sales period, maybe 260-270k copies of AC sold against 563k Switches sold (the Switch's best non-holiday month for hardware since March, perhaps not coincidentally the same month the Diet declared a state of emergency in response to increasing COVID cases). If it took well over 3M copies to push the Switch to nearly 400k in one week, what do you think a mere 7% of that sales level is going to do? Unless its system-selling power has increased exponentially to the point where the vast majority of people who are buying a Switch are doing so just for AC, there's no way in hell AC is still a driver of HW sales growth. And there almost certainly isn't some ludicrous digital ratio that has materialized in the past few months that has kept total sales insanely high relative to initial sales, making up for the declines in retail sales, as shipment figures corroborate the decline in sales.

While we are lacking a lot of data for the U.S., it appears that AC probably sold over 3M in March physical+digital (it could be substantially higher as we never got the actual retail sell-through; it's highly likely to be more comparable to Japanese sales). Physical-only declined to 180k in both August and September, so again assuming a roughly constant 50% digital sell-through rate, that's only 360k, give or take, a decline of 88% or more from March (retail sales in Japan in the September period were only 5.3% of what they were in March, so 88% could be a bare minimum). To echo the question I proposed for the Japanese side of things, if it took 3M or more copies of AC plus the start of the pandemic to shift at best an extra 600-700k units, what is a tiny fraction of that going to shift months afterward? I honestly doubt any serious commentator would sit there with a straight face and tell me that essentially all of the improvements we saw in August & September over the same months in 2019 were due to just AC.

We see this story repeat for other games we have sales information for. Sales start off very high for a popular game, but the vast majority of those copies went to preexisting owners of a platform. It sells millions of copies but moves maybe at most a few hundred thousand extra hardware units, far less than that the next month if there's any residual effect at all. There's no reason to think that the Switch was somehow mostly insulated from the effects of the pandemic and somehow, nor that Animal Crossing has seemingly supernatural system-selling capability. To reiterate the point I've made over and over, there's a reason why the average prediction assumed at best flat sales in 2020, even with AC being a known factor at the time those predictions were made. Nobody in their right mind in Jan. 2020 would have dared to propose that a single game could move that much hardware.

If you think something besides the pandemic was the primary driver, you need to prove it. Prove that AC was the primary reason there was a large surge in demand, that over 2.5M people in the U.S., over 1.3M of that in the May to October, period, were driven to do so not because of general increased demand for at-home entertainment, but mostly for one game in specific. Also, can you rule out conclusively that AC's surge in popularity itself wasn't attributable in large part to the pandemic, that its popularity relative to other entries in the series was purely coincidental?

Last time I asked for proof that a single game was capable of moving millions of surplus hardware units by itself, nobody had any real evidence to offer. Most of it boiled down to "It's a popular game!" Lots of games have been popular. Some have set new records. Some have managed ridiculously high attach rates (and note that buying a game with a system is not the same as buying the system for that game; see also GTAV's ridiculous legs on PS4 & XBO). None, not even the biggest killer apps in history, have ever produced anywhere near the level of growth that some people want to attribute to Animal Crossing.

I think the people who want AC to be the rule-breaker and record-destroyer do so purely for reasons of optics, because attributing the vast majority sales growth we've seen over the past year (and essentially all of it since probably May) to an external factor apparently diminishes the Switch's success in some people's eyes. It's an artifact of the nature of online discussions about electronic toys. That's my honest opinion. I keep repeating the same data points only for people to dismiss them out of hand for reasons not supported by any kind of real counter-evidence. This has been going on for months. Going this in-depth requires a considerable time investment on my part (several hours for just this thread, including both writing and data collection), and I'm done repeating the same arguments. You know where I stand, and I've presented all the data I possibly can. If you or anyone else has any new data to add, I'm all ears. Until then, I'm moving on to other topics of discussion.

There have been past cases of games have acted as system sellers for extended periods beyond a month or two; Pokemon, Wii Sports, Halo... 

Just so we're clear, I never attributed 2020's sales boost entirely on Animal Crossing, as I've said multiple times there are other factors, but we cannot dismiss the impact of a game that became a cultural phenomenon in a way that only a few games per generation or decade ever do, especially when reaching new audiences is such a key part of its success.

I am supremely confident that, had the pandemic never happened, Switch still would have peaked post-2019.

Without Covid after all we likely would've seen games like Monster Hunter Rise and Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury in 2020 instead of early 2021 to counteract the absence of the covid factor, and the system still would've had revisions, price cuts, and system sellers like AC, MH Rise, Pokemon Diamond/Pearl & Legends, Splatoon 3, BOTW2, etc after the three year mark.

There's just no reason for it to have peaked in its first three years given how many of its cards it had (and still has) yet to play beyond that point. And "other totally different devices peaked in their first three years" doesn't constitute evidence to my view.

Last edited by curl-6 - on 25 March 2021

Bet with Liquidlaser: I say PS5 and Xbox Series will sell more than 56 million combined by the end of 2023.