Earlier this summer, I read a take—not naming names, as I’m not in the interest of shaming specific people—bemoaning how dry 2021’s video game release calendar is. I have just one thing to say in response: Hahahahahaha [deep breath] hahahahahaha. Also, the numbers say otherwise.
Last night, Mat Piscatella of the NPD Group, an analytics firm, shared a chart on Twitter detailing just how many more games have come out in 2021 compared to 2020. Over a year-to-date period—January 1 to October 7—the Nintendo Switch catalogue jumped by 34 percent, up from 1,152 releases to 1,543. PlayStation and Xbox, meanwhile, saw even greater leaps: 66 percent (704 to 1,171) and 61 percent (551 to 889), respectively.
These figures have steadily ticked up for years. In 2019, for instance, 1,097 games came out on Switch, 692 on PlayStation, and just 453 on Xbox, according to NPD data—all lower than the 2020 tallies, but not by much. 2021, so far, is a notable standout in how much these libraries have swelled year over year.
Piscatella told Kotaku that 2021 is “likely” the biggest year on NPD record, but noted that he hadn’t pulled the data for every single year so couldn’t say for sure. Though the holiday season looms, bringing with it a raft of marquee games—like Forza Horizon 5, Back 4 Blood, Battlefield 2042, and Halo Infinite—the total annual tallies probably won’t shift much.
“The big driver of the count are the many small releases that are put into the market with little fanfare or pre-launch marketing, so we may see the gap expand further,” Piscatella said. “A bit tough to say.”
In other words, quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality. Digital storefronts are flush with shovelware and the ever-persistent menace of asset flips—basically, completed game assets that are licensed on a dime and sold for slightly more—which Nintendo’s eShop is currently awash in. And then there’s Steam, the PC storefront that’s seen a staggering uptick in releases over the past few years. According to the tracking site SteamSpy, 9,724 games launched on Valve’s platform last year. That’s up from 7,907 in 2019. In 2016? Fewer than 4,500.
“One could argue that this could potentially be flooding the market with lower-quality titles, or that having so many releases come to market in such a short period of time may make it more difficult for hidden gems to find an audience,” Piscatella said. “Clearly, however, the software market on consoles has become much more competitive even as the market overall has continued to grow.”