Stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic sharply increased demand for video game consoles, as people looked for more entertainment options at home. But among the many companies within the industry that experienced growth in sales, one has achieved particular success. Japanese gaming giant Nintendo saw its profits to more than triple in the 6-month period ending in September 2020.  For comparison, in March 2020, sales of its main console Nintendo Switch more than doubled, while Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation 4 had an increase of “only” 25%. During the holiday season, Nintendo’s console – which had been in the market for already three years, surprisingly sold twice as many units as did Sony’s newly released and long awaited PlayStation 5.
Perhaps the most obvious reason for this outstanding performance was the fact that Nintendo’s console provides more options for a family to play together, while its main competitors have focus on titles to be played by a single player at home. As people found themselves locked down with their entire families, they turned to gaming options that allowed multiple household members to participate. Also, Nintendo’s tradition of famous, easy-to-play titles such as Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros made it attractive for casual players who didn’t play video games before the pandemic and wanted to explore a new entertainment alternative.
Being a console manufacturer and a game studio at the same time allows Nintendo to build and distribute lots of Switch-exclusive titles. Because of that, when one of these titles becomes massively popular, it helps to boost console sales. More consoles, in turn, lead to higher sales of other titles, in a very profitable virtuous cycle. A good example of this was the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons game in March. The title is a social simulation game in which players collect and builds items on an island, while they interact with other players. Right after its release, sales of the game skyrocketed, exceeding 13 million copies in the first 6 weeks. The game became the fastest-selling title for Switch. Animal Crossing showed itself particularly appealing to gamers and non-gamers who enjoyed this form of socialization, as they couldn’t meet people in the real world during lockdowns. In the game, players have a chance to reconnect with friends and get to know more people, while having a very casual and collaborative experience and performing activities such as decorating houses, fishing exotic fish, digging up fossils and looking for messages in bottles.  Additionally, Animal Crossing was a hit on social platforms like Twitch and YouTube, as digital influencers streamed their actions in the game to their legion of followers. This, in turn, created one more entertainment opportunity for people at home and added more awareness to the newly released game.
Later in the year, Nintendo released another game that seemed to fit perfectly the new covid-19 reality. Launched in October, Mario Kart Home Circuit is a racing mixed-reality game, in which players build racetracks at their own home and control a real-life toy car, while seeing the race on the TV or on Switch’s screen. It’s the same Mario Kart race, but with a real stage, built by the player. Through augmented reality, gamers can see the racing opponents, special items, and visual effects, interacting on their own house. People now had one more reason to enjoy their increased time at home. The game was an instant success and boosted console sales even further. The following video shows the game experience.
As the pandemic possibly declines, Nintendo’s main challenge is to keep their newly converted gamers from switching to competitors or abandoning gaming whatsoever. A possibly good strategy is something that Nintendo knows very well how to do: mixing famous brands and repeating experiences that have proved to be successful in the past. That way, the pandemic-acquired customers will keep enjoying the familiarity and casualty which they have learned to appreciate during times of isolation, increasing their chances to stick to Nintendo’s brands.