The video game industry saw massive growth during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. However, 2022 brought declines in consumer spending and companies like Netflix, Sony, Microsoft, and others reported losses. With major delays for games like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Starfield, many said 2022 was a weak year for new video game releases.
By The Numbers — New Games Breaking Into Monthly Sales Charts
But what do the numbers say about 2023 so far? I analyzed data from market research firm Circana on the top-selling new games each month. Here are the key stats:
- 47 new games made the top 20 sales charts in the first 10 months of 2023. This is well above the 2010-2022 average of 40.4.
- 2023 saw 35 new games break into the monthly top 10 sales charts. The 2010-2022 average was just 32.3.
- Only 2018 had more top 20 charting new releases in the same period, with 48.
These figures show that the flow of hit new releases has bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, 2023 is one of the strongest years this decade for major new game launches.
But Are New Hits Driving Higher Sales?
However, the number of hit releases doesn’t always align with total spending. For example, between 2016-2019, top 10 new games declined while sales grew.
In the first 10 months of 2023, US consumer spending on video games was up just 1% year-over-year. With so many new hits, we would expect more growth.
In the past, spending has risen and fallen regardless of how many new games topped the charts. This suggests the quality or quantity of new releases has limited impact on overall industry fortunes.
The Economy — Not Much Correlation With Game Sales Either
What about the state of the wider economy? Since 2004, overall US consumer spending has steadily grown almost every year. The only declines were in 2009 and 2020.
Yet over the same period, video game spending swung up and down, more than doubling from 2004-2008 before declining and then recovering through 2018. Game industry sales don’t follow the overall economic trends.
Review Scores Paint a Similar Picture
Looking at the number of new games each year scoring 90+ on Metacritic also lines up fairly well with sales figures, with some caveats around tracking digital and mobile.
In 2023 so far, 25 new releases have averaged 90 or higher, the most in 20 years. This aligns with the view that 2023 has been a standout year for major releases.
The Need for Better Data
The analysis shows new hit games and a booming economy don’t reliably predict spending on games year-to-year. So what does drive industry fortunes?
The truth is, we lack the consistent, comprehensive data needed to draw firm conclusions. Tracking spending across platforms has radically changed in the past decade. Digital disruption transformed data gathering and reporting.
The switch from NPD to Circana in 2020 aimed to modernize measurement. But transparency has declined and methodology relies more on estimates. Still, Circana likely offers the most accurate picture available now.
More Subjective Factors at Play
Rather than any one metric, it seems a mix of complex factors shape spending in a given year, including:
- Delays or timing quirks that push major releases between years
- Subjective game quality, not just review scores or sales
- Competing entertainment options and consumer media habits
- Macro economic trends that affect discretionary spending
- Console cycles and shifts between platforms
The interplay between these elements resists simple correlation analysis. Better data could improve our understanding, but some degree of unpredictability may be inherent.
Cautious Optimism for 2023 and Beyond
In 2023, strong reviews and chart-topping hits signal a creative rebound for the industry. But weaker than expected sales growth shows the dynamics driving the market remain complex.
Still, with indicators pointing towards a stellar year for new high-quality releases, there is reason for optimism about the health of the industry, if not necessarily straightforward revenue growth.
Q1: What were the key data sources used?
A: The main sources were Circana’s monthly reports on US video game consumer spending and Metacritic’s database of review scores.
Q2: How did you identify new chart-topping game releases each year?
A: I looked at the number of games appearing for the first time in Circana’s monthly top 10 and top 20 sales charts.
Q3: What were some limitations of the analysis?
A: The inconsistency of historical spending data makes longer term comparisons difficult. Also, review scores are subjective.
Q4: Did you look at data like number of games released per year?
A: No, I focused on major new hits rather than total output. The goal was assessing if more acclaimed new releases drove higher consumer spending.
Q5: What about the impact of the pandemic since 2020?
A: The pandemic clearly skewed data, so I focused the detailed analysis on 2016-2019 and 2023 as more typical years.
Q6: What could improve analysis and predictions in the future?
A: More transparent, consistent and comprehensive data on consumer spending would help identify clearer correlations and causation.