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SYFY WIRE video games

Gaming: March smashes $10B sales record; Fortnite foregoes fighting with ‘Party Royale’ & more

By Benjamin Bullard
Animal Crossing New Horizons island

Big screens may have gone dark for a while, but small screens everywhere are lit up like never before. The month of March saw the biggest reported money haul for digitally-downloaded video games ever, as people weathering the coronavirus pandemic at home spent their cash on social distancing-friendly entertainment.

Nielsen’s SuperData game tracking division noted an 11 percent jump in digital games spending in March versus the same time a year ago, reflecting a surge in gaming demand that’s also led to sold-out Nintendo Switch consoles and hard-to-get physical copies of new AAA games like Final Fantasy VII Remake. In an industry whose revenues already dwarf those of the movie business, last month’s digital-only games spending  — which doesn’t even factor in hardware or physical game media — hit an incredible $10 billion.

Topping the list of console downloads was the Switch-exclusive Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which didn’t even release until March 20, meaning the game blew past all other titles with most of the month already gone. Nintendo’s placid sim of staking out an island home of your own sold 5 million digital copies last month, more “than any console game in history,” according to Nielsen. New Horizons’ sales also “roughly matched the first-month digital sales of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokémon Sword and Shield put together” — an incredible feat that highlights the game’s broad, cross-demographic appeal.

Bethesda’s Doom Eternal, which landed in the 4th spot on the console list, also launched on March 20 — though its multi-platform release meant more overall opportunities to snag a digital copy of the game. Nevertheless, Eternal’s 3 million downloads tripled the the number of digital copies that Doom, its 2016 predecessor, managed to sell during its launch window. More interesting, perhaps, is the success of Valve’s VR-only Half-Life: Alyx, which released on March 23 and still managed to crack into the top-10 list of PC-only digital sales. Though the 860,000 digital copies that Alyx moved in its first week may pale in comparison to Nintendo’s big numbers, Alyx “was a blockbuster by the standards of virtual reality (VR) exclusive titles,” notes Nielsen. Not bad, Alyx, not bad… maybe VR has finally found its elusive killer app.

As mega events like last week’s crossover concert with Travis Scott show, Fortnite is increasingly looking for ways to mean more to players than simply dropping in and shooting up the place. With Epic Games’ battle royale phenomenon entrenching itself ever deeper in the pop culture zeitgeist, perhaps it was inevitable that Fortnite would eventually turn into more than just a game.

That’s pretty much what’s happening with the arrival of the new “Party Royale” mode, a Fortnite zone that centers on a chill-out island map where players don’t compete at all: instead, they just get together and hang out. After word of the new mode leaked out through the game’s thriving social community, via Kotaku, Party Royale quietly went live on April 29 with an intentionally laid-back slate of non-competitive activities designed to let fans congregate and relax online.

Doing away with the frantic run-n-gun fray, Party Royale’s “All Chill, No Sweat” ethos features low-stakes time trials for fun stuff like ziplining, playing soccer, racing, and even heading to a movie theater of concert venue. That last bit might come in especially handy as Fortnite looks ahead, we’re guessing, to more non-gaming virtual events like Scott’s “Astronomical” show — which roped in a staggering 27.7 million unique players.

Wait ’til Henry Cavill hears about this: You don’t need Witcher senses or X-ray vision to guess at how stoked Cavill and other fans of the Warhammer franchise will probably be when one whopper of a tabletop crossover arrives later this year. Hasbro and Warhammer maker Games Workshop are partnering to merge two iconic gaming names with Risk: Warhammer 40,000 — a completely re-themed version of the epic strategy board game that will swap Earth and its territories for 40K’s planet Vigilus.

Risk Warhammer 40K game box
Risk Warhammer 40K game tabletop set

Yes, this means that you can play Risk as an Ork or one of four 40K-based factions (Chaos Space Marines, Aeldari Craftworlds, Gestealer Cults, and Ultramarines). Via The OP, where the game is already up for $49.99 pre-order, the game will unfold during the Battle of the Beasts, and features a “unique planet map that has been customized for Warhammer fans.”

Risk has already gotten the crossover treatment with mega-franchises like the MCU, Star Trek, and even Rick and Morty, but the chance to pair up with Warhammer 40,000’s lore-steeped universe sounds like a match made in outer-space heaven. There’s no firm release date yet, but watch for Risk: Warhammer 40,000 to crash the tabletop party sometime this fall.