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Which new Switch games are winning the discovery war?

We’re always trying to get more info on console game sales at GameDiscoverCo, especially for platforms that a) don’t offer a lot of public charts or b) officially or unofficially NDA developers on their sales numbers. (They should be more transparent, btw.)

Simon Carless, Blogger

February 3, 2022

5 Min Read

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Welcome to Wednesday, at least in the U.S. - with time zone apologies to you international folks who are ‘not working’ or ‘sleeping’ when you get this, or any of those good things. This is your second newsletter check-in this week from us.

Switch third-party games: how can we rank them?

We’re always trying to get more info on console game sales at GameDiscoverCo, especially for platforms that a) don’t offer a lot of public charts or b) officially or unofficially NDA developers on their sales numbers. (They should be more transparent, btw.)

And Nintendo Switch is especially interesting, since the platform has gone from ‘not many games & crowded/rabid fan base’ back in 2017 and 2018 - at that point, many vanilla titles were selling 100-200,000 copies or more in the first few months - all the way to ‘30-40 games released per week, darn it’s crowded out there’ in 2021 and 2022.

While it’s not easy to see absolute sales number on Switch - there’s no ‘review to sales’ ratio or ability to look at owners via profiles - we have been keeping a twice-weekly chart for our Plus subscribers. In it, we use eShop search to look at the top new games in the U.S. (and U.K.) Basically, we do the following:

  • Grab a ranked list of ‘most downloaded games’ on the eShop, including free and paid games.

  • Filter only by games released in the last 3 months at the time of the chart.

  • Further filter solely by third-party games, since Nintendo-published games can otherwise dominate.

This gives you a list of titles in the same order as the ‘Top 30 games’ chart you can see on your Switch dashboard. It’s ranked by total downloads over the last 14 days. But it allows you to go much lower in the rankings and see more games than the Top 30 - where there’s often only 3 or 4 ‘new’ games shown.

Anyhow, thanks to our data whiz Al, we compiled a list of ‘new’ Switch games released in the U.S. between June and December 2021, ranked by the number of weeks they appeared in the Top 100 most-downloaded games. Which gets you this, in part:

And indeed, if you compare to Nintendo’s ‘top selling indie titles of 2021’ across the entire year, you’ll see quite a lot of overlap. (If we’d been checking this data for the whole year, we bet it’d be near-100%, depending on Nintendo’s definition of indie.)

Before we talk about the methodology, here’s what we think the range of new third party titles and their success shows:

  • Standout ‘indie’ titles are probably ones that you’d expect: Slime Rancher has been a gigantic hit on PC and is ‘Switch-friendly’, vibes-wise, Unpacking has been a bit of a phenom, and Eastward also has hella Switch-positive vibes. Oh, and nice going, Doki Doki Literature Club & Jackbox Party Pack, both original indies doing well.

  • There’s definitely a set of ‘Switch player love Japanese games using classic franchises’ games up there - Castlevania, Super Monkey Ball, Sonic, Ace Attorney, Monster Hunter, for example. Not sure if all of these are outperforming PC sales on Switch, but I bet some are.

  • There was a point where there were near-zero ‘bigger games’ coming to Switch - which coincided with the golden age for indies, I suspect. Nowadays, there’s a fair amount of titles - Diablo, Tony Hawk, GTA, Quake, FIFA - that show up in the biggest games of H2 2021, at least in the U.S. Switch charts.

  • A number of these titles - especially on the indie side - have got coveted Nintendo ‘Featured’ buttons in the eShop interface, or were on a Nintendo Direct/Nindies Showcase. We’re pretty sure the Featured button in particular helps sales. But this is a bit chicken/egg like - was it big because of the feature, or big anyhow, thus the feature? So… just get featured? :P

Finally, to clarify the above data: ‘Highest chart position’ is using data that includes evergreen ‘free to download’ titles like Fortnite, Apex Legends, Knockout City & so on. So the above paid titles may have got to #3 in the high-profile eShop charts you are used to, which exclude free games, but only #30 in overall download counts.

And the # of weeks on the Top 100 works so that if your game was a big hit for the whole time, you could max out at 12-14 weeks - all 3 months since your release. Games like Mario Golf: Super Rush (first-party paid, below) & Pokemon Unite and Trove (free to play, in full doc) have done this:

Also, some of the top third-party (Unpacking, KotOR, Just Dance) are still charting in the Top 100 in 2022. So they would be even higher up, if we allowed them to continue their streak into this year. But this chart is already complicated enough, haha…

Anyhow, there are about 60 games on the full third-party chart linked above. We’re guesstimating that their worldwide LTD sales to date range from the low five figures (in units) to somewhere in the mid six-figures, with the majority being on the lower end of things. (But with the ability to discount aggressively to spike sales, of course.)

And with just under 1,000 Switch games digitally released in H2 2021, according to my laboriously manual adding-up of the ICO Switch Newsletter numbers, you’re looking at… around 5% of games doing five figures worth of units before the discounting starts? That sounds about right, given what we’ve heard.

We’d recommend taking a close look at the full list for smaller games further down it, too - especially if you are quite Switch focused, or are trying to do more ‘traditional’ Nintendo genres like 2D platformer, etc. Not convinced titles like that are keeping the sales buoyancy they did back in the day. But research/data will tell you.

[We’re GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]

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About the Author(s)

Simon Carless


Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency and creator of the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter. He consults with a number of PC/console publishers and developers, and was previously most known for his role helping to shape the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference for many years.

He is also an investor and advisor to UK indie game publisher No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw), a previous publisher and editor-in-chief at both Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and sits on the board of the Video Game History Foundation.

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