Given that my Nintendo Switch contains about two dozen games that I’ve bought and downloaded but never played, I probably shouldn’t spend so much of my time with the system checking out its sales chart, but I can’t help myself.
Since the Switch launched a year ago, I’ve been regularly checking the “Best Sellers” section of the eShop every week or so. Call it an innocent check for news, a curiosity about what Switch owners are actually into, or an unhealthy obsession with data from the man who used to spend one full work day each month crunching play-time numbers for Nintendo Wii games (thank you, former boss Brian Crecente, for one day telling me that maybe I should think about stopping doing that).
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The Best-Seller list tracks “software titles that have been downloaded most frequently over the past two weeks.” Fifteen games are listed. The current list starts with Vs. Super Mario Bros in the top spot and ends with Resident Evil 2 Revelations, now on sale with 25% off, at number 15.
Having looked at this list (too?) many times in the last year, I can tell you some things:
- Vs. Super Mario Bros is always near the top of the list, suggesting that people may really crave Super Mario Bros. on the Switch but may also be falling for what my colleage Chris Kohler called “Nintendo’s meanest trick” (this game is not actually Super Mario Bros.)
- Indie games do really well on the Best Seller chart. Until recently, the indie platformer Celeste was dominating the list and often in the number one spot. It has fallen to the eighth spot. Stardew Valley, Rocket League and Overcooked have been high on the list since launch. In the fall, Golf Story was regularly on the list but fell off a few months ago.
- Minecraft does really well but seems to get outperformed at times by Rocket League and almost always by Stardew Valley, which I’d argue is the king of this best-seller list. It was released in October and rarely drops from the top five.
- Nintendo games do okay on the list, but don’t dominate. Mid-level games like Fire Emblem Warriors and Arms have had brief showings but fell out of the top 15 quickly. Breath of the Wild has always been on there, but seldom in the top three spots, suggesting that perhaps that’s a game people prefer to buy on cartridge. Super Mario Odyssey has similarly charted strongly but was only at the very top shortly after launch.
- The two Bayonetta re-releases have been on the chart since their February launch.
- Big third-party publishers don’t show up much. Skyrim and Doom had solid showings in the fall but faded away some time ago. (Skyrim actually charted really well before its launch, since the Best-Seller list seems to also count games that can be pre-purchased.) Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle pops up from time to time, as do Capcom’s Resident Evil Revelations games. I’ve rarely seen any of Warner Bros.’ four Lego releases on there. The explanation could be that people aren’t buying these games or that they are simply not buying them digitally—big difference.
Since the Best Seller list doesn’t account for physical copies sold, it’s not the purest of Switch game popularity contests. It does hint at some possible trends, though. It suggests that Switch owners love indie games. It suggests the Stardew Valley is a juggernaut. It also suggests, given the success of Vs. Super Mario Bros., that Nintendo’s hesitancy to put its classic games out on the Switch through a Virtual Console may have in fact helped indie games avoid being shunned in favor of the likes of Link to the Past, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Metroid.