Basketball Fans Push Digital Game Spending to Record $10.8 Billion in August

“What’s happened since lockdown has started is spending month over month has jumped drastically,” SuperData analyst Carter Rogers tells TheWrap

Photo: Take-Two Interactive/2K

Worldwide spend on digital games totaled a record $10.8 billion in August, up 16% from last year and driven by a surge in simulated sports titles including “NBA 2K20.” Players have been dropping more money on games since April, when the market crossed the $10 billion threshold for the first time and generated an estimated $11 billion, according to revised analysis from Nielsen’s SuperData, which tracks monthly spending on digital video games across consoles, mobile and PC. While some live sports struggle to return to normal play, gamers and fans alike are turning to simulated sports games. A demand for titles that mimic traditional sports boosted overall player transactions in August — spurred by the Aug. 25 early release of the “Madden NFL 21” football game from Electronic Arts, which sold 570,000 units in just a matter of days, SuperData found. This August was the highest-earning August ever measured by SuperData, but it’s on par with June, which totaled $10.8 billion, according to the outfit’s revised estimates. Originally, SuperData’s estimated June digital gaming earnings were $10.4 billion. Players are buying more digital games across platforms than in average years, SuperData analyst Carter Rogers said. “You might see a range of 5-10%, but what’s happened since lockdown has started is spending month-over-month has jumped drastically,” Rogers said. Game publisher Take-Two Interactive and its subsidiary developer 2K, which distributes the popular “NBA 2K” basketball game series, had a particularly good month. A resurgence in interest of “NBA 2K20” basketball title drove that game’s earnings up 165% compared to the revenue its predecessor, “NBA 2K19,” generated at this time last year. SuperData said figures for the newest installment in the 2K franchise, “NBA 2K21,” aren’t available yet as the game launched in early September. The NBA was one of the few national pro sports leagues to return to play in July, despite a few positive coronavirus tests and brief player strike over the league’s response to civil rights issues. Rogers said that resuming basketball caused more people to want to continue the sporting experience in-game. “The game likely benefited from the unprecedented circumstance of the NBA season continuing during the summer,” Rogers wrote of “NBA 2K20.” “You almost never see this much revenue for the previous version of the game right before the new one comes out.” Players on consoles also gravitated towards the newly-released “PGA Tour 2K21,” rebranded last year from its previous title, “The Golf Club Featuring PGA Tour,” which came out August 21 and sold 580,000 digital copies by the end of the month. “PGA Tour is a new franchise, obviously nowhere near as big as the NBA, but there’s been a real resurgence of golf interest because it’s one of the socially distant leisure activities you can do,” Rogers said. “It was surprising to see that chart in the top 10 in console (rankings).” Epic Games’”Fortnite” continues to be a top earner each month, despite the company’s extremely public legal spat with Apple and the game being taken off the iOS App Store Aug. 13 after Epic began encouraging players to buy in-game currency on the mobile app directly through its own payment platform. Epic argued that Apple’s customary 30% cut of each mobile transaction is “exorbitant,” and Apple retaliated by booting “Fortnite” from the App Store and terminating one of Epic’s mobile developer accounts. Epic’s legal troubles extend to Google, which kicked “Fortnite” off its Google Play app marketplace the same day as Apple, and Epic has filed a nearly identical lawsuit against Google in retaliation. While Epic and the two app store owners are gridlocked in court, “Fortnite” — usually a regular chart-topper on SuperData’s monthly lists — remains notably absent from the mobile rankings. Though overall revenue was up, mobile earnings from “Fortnite” tanked 62% after Apple and Google removed the app. Despite this, Rogers said the title continues to perform well on PC and consoles, where it was originally launched. Booting “Fortnite” from the app stores didn’t force an influx of players towards other battle royale shooter games available on mobile. One “Fortnite” competitor, “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” better known as “PUBG” — was the eighth highest earning PC game out of 10 surveyed, behind “Fortnite” which was sixth. Epic Games’ recent limited partnership with Marvel, which offers new Marvel-themed missions and gives players access to all the classic comic book hero skins to dress their characters in if they purchase a pass, and Rogers said the event “rejuvenated interest, and more than offset any drop in mobile interest.” Despite the lack of “Fortnite” presence on the charts, fans continue to buy mobile games and make in-game purchases, Rogers said. “While we see almost always year-over-year growth for gaming, mobile gaming is still very fast growing and one of the fastest growing entertainment mediums,” Rogers said. Niantic’s mobile “Pokemon GO” game broke an all-time earnings record in August, generating 25% more revenue than its previous peak in 2016. The popular augmented reality game, which encourages players to meet outside for virtual Pokemon “duels,” usually experiences an uptick in engagement during the warmer summer months, but Niantic also worked to create ways for players to engage indoors and without in-person contact. Rogers noted that while “Pokemon GO” is doing well now, it usually experiences a “seasonal decline in either September or October.” App intelligence outfit SensorTower reported in July that “Pokemon GO” has been downloaded over 576 million times worldwide since it’s 2016 launch, with nearly 78% of those installations coming from Android users. SuperData expects spending to continue to trend upward as next-generation consoles go on sale. Pricing was recently released for the next-generation consoles — both Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony Interactive Entertainment’s PlayStation 5 will cost $499 — and pre-orders on most major gaming retail websites sold out extremely fast. Console launches always propel player demand for new games, which is why both Microsoft and Sony are teasing games specifically exclusive to their new hardware. SuperData estimates that the later months of this year — particularly November and December, when pre-ordered consoles will begin to ship — will also see an increase in demand for games on these new consoles. “Spending’s definitely going to be up due to the new systems,” Rogers said. “In this economy, $500 is a lot — but you have a lot of people that, for example, aren’t going to be taking that trip to Europe anytime soon. so they have more discretionary income to spend.” Rogers said that looking toward the holiday season, he’s keeping close watch on Polish game outfit CD Projekt Red’s upcoming title “Cyberpunk 2077,” which features Keanu Reeves and comes out Nov. 19. “All eyes are on ‘Cyberpunk,’ there’s so many expectations on it and that’s definitely the one to watch,” Rogers said. “If there’s one thing that’s going to disrupt the annual charts, that’s it.”

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