The COVID-19 pandemic forced a rethinking of how even the most basic of tasks was performed. Getting groceries, going to a doctor's appointment, or buying a video game. Not only did visiting a physical store seem less appealing, but with everyone locked up, video games became the go-to way to pass the time. After a report revealed that digital game sales in Europe were up in 2020, it looks like that same pattern is holding true for the UK as well.
With folks looking for something, anything, to do to pass the time, video games quickly emerged as the perfect hobby for these unprecedented times. It reflects in numbers across the board that people flocked to their consoles, picked up a controller, and got cozy on the couch. The Switch was the top-selling console of 2020 in the UK, outselling all other consoles combined. Riding on the success of games new and old, like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the resilient Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the Switch had a big year.
Now that more sales data has been tallied, it appears that the pandemic has changed the landscape with regard to game sales. Over 85% of game purchases in 2020 in the UK were digital, a number that had been trending upwards anyways, but COVID-19 helped push to new levels. Gaming also accounted for 48% of entertainment spending in the UK, with the huge dips in revenue for movies a likely reason why video games made up a bigger portion of the pie in 2020. With gamers moving to digital purchasing, it makes sense that Cyberpunk 2077 was the biggest digital launch of all time.
What will be really interesting to see is if these numbers hold and if digital game sales continue to represent a high percentage of purchases going forward. It feels like it could be a shift that doesn't revert back. Digital sales were up nearly 20% year-over-year compared to boxed products, which saw a still-healthy 7% increase.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt, as the virus has not gone anywhere, despite vaccination efforts underway to eradicate it. Events that looked like they could possibly be held in the coming months are once again considering a move online instead. E3 2021 is being planned as a digital event, and a number of esports tournaments that would be live, have been postponed or are online now. The huge percentage of game sales that digital purchases make up fits right in with the narrative of 2020.
Last year was unusual for the video game industry in more ways than one. The COVID-19 pandemic led to many games being delayed, but other games received more attention than they would have otherwise. It has also led to certain platforms growing in popularity, and there's perhaps no better example than in Japan. A recently released list of Japan's top-selling 100 games for 2020 provides insight into one of the most interesting years for video games yet.
Embodying this list and the year of 2020 was the top-seller of the year in Japan: Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch. It sold nearly 6.4 million units in 2020, according to Famitsu, which is almost 5 million more than the runner-up. It's a casual, relaxing game, perfectly suited for the stresses of the pandemic, and the Switch allows users to play on the go or from bed. Add in that Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched as the pandemic really began to spread and it's easy to see why it succeeded.
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