March 2016 NPD: Ubisoft, Nintendo shake up sales chart with The Division, Zelda

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Gamers aren’t spending more than they did last year, but that’s only because many of them already have the latest hardware from Microsoft and Sony.

New video game products generated $964.1 million in sales at United States retailers in March, according to industry-tracking firm The NPD Group. That is relatively flat from $968.4 million in spending during the same period in 2015. Hardware sales continue to decline in terms of currency because the average system is selling for less than it was in 2015. Gamers are instead shifting that budget into bumping up their spending on software and accessories.

Here are the numbers:

Software was up quite a lot year-over-year considering it had a tough comparison to a March 2015 when Sony released Bloodborne for PlayStation 4 and Electronic Arts launched the somewhat disappointing Battlefield: Hardline. And, of course, accessories — which includes interactive toys like Amiibo — continue to generate more money every month.

“Sales of new launches, driven by Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division, helped propel March 2016 video game physical software sales 8 percent higher than last March,” NPD analyst Liam Callahan said. “Overall sales of new launch titles grew by 26 percent, with those launched in Q1 2016 collectively selling 28 percent higher in March than Q1 2015 launches performed during the same time period last year. This speaks to the strength of this year’s launch slate so far.”

The NPD’s numbers for software sales are a small segment of a much larger industry. It only tracks new games sold at brick-and-mortar retailers in the United States. No Europe. No digital. Nothing used. With that in mind, you can take this data and use it to better understand why the companies that solicit this information from the NPD still pay for it.

OK. Let’s get to the games.

Ubisoft and Nintendo both had a good month.

In particular, the French company responsible for The Division and Far Cry had the top two best-selling games in March. The Division’s strong debut isn’t that surprising, as it had a huge marketing blitz and some fairly positive word-of-mouth throughout the reporting period. But it is a bit surprising that Far Cry: Primal, which launched in February and topped the sales chart for that month, was still No. 2.

“Tom Clancy’s The Division had the best launch month for any Tom Clancy title to-date, having sold 40 percent more than the next best-selling Tom Clancy title, March 2008’s Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 when adjusted for number of days sold within the month,” said Callahan. “Stemming from strong launches of Tom Clancy’s The Division and Far Cry: Primal, Ubisoft is the number one software publisher for Q1 2016, with a unit sales increase of close to 130 percent, and a dollar sales increase of over 200 percent.”

Nintendo, however, got back into the chart with an HD remake and a third-party partnership. Zelda rose to No. 3, which is excellent for a platform exclusive on a console with the smallest base of owners. That suggests that Twilight Princess HD has a seriously high attach rate in the States. Pokkén Tournament is a co-production between Nintendo and Bandai Namco that paid off. The two companies were able to match Street Fighter V’s February debut at No. 7 on the sales chart, which maybe says something about the weakness of the Street Fighter scene on Sony’s console.

As for the other new games on this chart, UFC 2 is EA’s sole entry on this list, but it outperformed MLB 16: The Show from Sony Interactive Entertainment. Sony holds the exclusive rights to make blockbuster MLB games, which has historically made this a tough time of year for EA Sports as this is traditionally when Madden slips off the charts. But UFC 2 is helping it fill that gap in its schedule.

The rest of the list are familiar favorites.

Minecraft will just never leave this chart. It continues to sell like mad, and it will probably keep doing that until the universe expands into a fine mist that can no longer support life.

Grand Theft Auto V at No. 4 is also astonishing. The game originally came out in 2013, and it has finished each year since then as a top 10 seller. It could potentially do the same again in 2016.

Finally, this list is heavy on PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U, and that’s because games aren’t selling well on other platforms.

“Software unit sales for [current-generation] consoles increased 36 percent, offsetting the [last-generation] decline of 55 percent,” said Callahan. “This resulted in overall console software unit sales increasing 4 percent, with revenue up 10 percent compared to last March.  For Portable software, unit sales and revenue were down 19 percent and 16 percent, respectively, in March 2016 compared to last year.”

GamesBeat has reached out to Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to ask for their sales data. As usual, the companies are hesitant to share that information, but we’ll include any statements we get from the companies on the matter here.

Hardware sales are starting to decline overall. This is no longer just because Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii are no longer selling. We’ve moved past that phase of the generation. At this point, we’re looking at the same consoles selling $250 to $350 instead of $350 to $450. That’s driving revenues down, and it’s could be one reason why Sony and Microsoft are rumored to be considering upgrades to their current systems.

“Video game hardware dollar sales declined by 19 percent in March 2016, with unit sales dropping 17 percent,” said Callahan. “The difference in trends was due to some softening of average retail prices of 2 percent versus last March.”

The 3DS and Vita handhelds are the biggest trouble spot for the industry right now.

“Portable hardware sales had the highest dollar sales volume decline versus last March, followed closely by [current-generation] consoles,” said Callahan. “Seventh generation consoles had a steep percentage decline of 78 percent, though those sales now represent only 2 percent of the month’s sales.”

For now, however, PlayStation 4 continues to outsell the competition, according to a statement from Sony Interactive Entertainment:

Microsoft marketing boss Mike Nichols provided a statement regarding the popularity of Xbox Live:

“In March, global hours spent gaming on Xbox One increased 89 percent compared to last year. Xbox Live engagement was driven by the greatest games lineup, including new titles released in March like ‘Killer Instinct: Season 3’ and ‘Tom Clancy’s The Division.’ ‘Killer Instinct: Season 3’ has seen record engagement across Xbox One and Windows 10 since it launched on March 29, making March the best month ever for the franchise with more than 6 million unique players.Last week, on April 5, we launched ‘Quantum Break’ to critical acclaim and it became the best-selling Xbox game around the world, and is now the biggest-selling new Microsoft Studios published IP this generation. We can’t thank our fans enough for their continued support and we’re looking forward to bringing more unprecedented experiences on Xbox One, Windows 10 and Xbox Live later this year.”

Nintendo did not provide an update on its hardware or service use.

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