People are playing more video games than before, but one console is markedly more popular than the others. The Nintendo Switch has been in high demand during the pandemic, selling out on multiple websites.
The Switch has even attracted a new wave of fans who were once disinterested in gaming.
"Animal Crossing: New Horizons," Nintendo's latest game release set on an idyllic island getaway, has fueled much of the success. It even has its own version of the stock market, where users can sell their turnips to raccoon characters at five or six times the going rate to get rich. In March, it sold 5 million digital copies, the most digital copies of a console title in a single month, according to Nielsen's SuperData, which analyzes the gaming industry.
"Animal Crossing" was also the best-selling physical game in the US in March, according to Mat Piscatella, executive director of games at research firm NPD Group. Nintendo declined to comment.
I never liked video games ... until now
Stephanie Cheng, a 27-year-old software engineer at a San Francisco solar start-up, told CNN Business that she never used to like video games. She grew up playing the classic arcade game 'Snake' on a Nokia phone.
But her boyfriend works in gaming and she said it's a pretty "big part of his life."
"Any time I would play, I never really got hooked into it. I would always get bored very quickly," said Cheng.
That changed with "Animal Crossing." She bought her own Switch Lite and a copy of the game after trying it out on her boyfriend's Switch.
"I thought it was really fun. I really like to organize things and manage things... You can control every aspect of your island so I found that compelling," Cheng said. "And it's really cute, compared to other video games I've played."
A haven for stay-at-homers
The Nintendo Switch likely sold around two million units in March, according to Michael Pachter, an analyst at private financial services firm Wedbush. Nintendo will release unit sales during its next earnings call which is scheduled for May 7.
"People are confined to their home and the Switch is appropriate for all ages, so parents and children can enjoy the device," said Pachter.
Nintendo is the current market leader, selling more consoles than Microsoft or Sony. The Nintendo Switch was the bestselling console in the US in March, with sales doubling compared to last year, according to Piscatella of NPD Group.
Piscatella said that the Switch has found success for many reasons, but ultimately it's the "breadth and depth of content" that has helped the console find fans.
Nintendo has plenty of exclusives in addition to "Animal Crossing," including "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" and "The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild," and it also has third-party titles like "Fortnite."
A taste of post-pandemic life
The small size and portability of the device's design also makes it a good fit for casual gamers who already enjoy mobile gaming, said Laine Nooney, an assistant professor and historian of video games at New York University.
Marian Diaz, 51, director of thriving in ministry at Catholic Theological Union, a graduate school of theology, said her daughter got her to start playing "Animal Crossing" on the Switch a couple of weeks ago. Diaz said she used to play "Pac-Man" at the arcade within a restaurant or bowling alley but never had a console growing up. The most she did was borrow a friend's Atari.
"In terms of gameplay, I mostly enjoy walking along the beach collecting seashells and fishing. In a strange way, the game is bringing back childhood memories," said Diaz. "Hopefully, the game is a taste of my post-pandemic life!"
In New York, Sharon Yang, 26, a financial analyst, shares a Nintendo Switch with her boyfriend to play "Animal Crossing." Growing up, Yang played mostly Neopets, a web browser game where you care for virtual pets. Before the quarantine, Yang said she had never thought about actually buying a Switch.
Yang "started getting really restless from staying home for the first six weeks" and she noticed many of her friends were posting photos of the game online, so she decided to split the cost of a Switch with her boyfriend in April.
"The best thing about the game is that it's allowed me to stay connected with my friends and even friends that I haven't talked to for a while without needing being forced to talk about everything that's going on," she said. "I don't believe that I would have picked up this game or played for very long if we were still going outside. But in this situation, I'm glad that it distracts me."
New competition is around the corner
People are holding out on buying an Xbox or PlayStation because "everyone knows the next generation of those products drops this holiday season," said Nooney, the NYU professor. Both consoles are still slated for release in holiday 2020, despite the ongoing pandemic.
The Switch was released more recently than its competitors and its novelty hasn’t worn off yet.