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Nintendo powers up as pandemic drives unprecedented console boom

That in turn means a larger install base for Nintendo games: the platform sold nearly 80 million software units in the final calendar quarter of 2020, and it had the strongest first quarter the Switch has seen in 2021.

Jess Zammit, a writer and researcher living in Sydney, said over the course of the pandemic she had noticed more and more of her friends and colleagues were starting to pick up controllers.

“It’s the first time that I’ve been able to talk to my co-workers about the games that I’m playing. They’re all psychology academics, and they used to all look at me weird like, ‘oh, whatever, Jess is off playing video games by herself’,” she said.

“But now I can have conversations with them, and we can play together like, ‘oh come to my Animal Crossing island’. It’s like this whole new level of connection with people that I couldn’t really connect with before.”

Jess Zammit with her Switch and PlayStation 5 controller. She says she’s working on tracking down an Xbox Series X.

Jess Zammit with her Switch and PlayStation 5 controller. She says she’s working on tracking down an Xbox Series X.

And it’s not only Nintendo enjoying unprecedented success; the number of people playing video games on dedicated consoles has been growing in Australia and worldwide for years, despite claims as early as the mid-2000s that mobile and streaming tech would ruin the industry. And lockdowns have only accelerated the upwards climb.

The general lack of availability of 2020’s new next generation systems — the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X — may make it seem as though there aren’t many of the consoles in homes. In fact, the systems are selling faster than any of their predecessors. The frequently sold-out PS5 for example hit 10 million units sold last month, making it the second-fastest console to hit that milestone (behind only the Wii), and that’s despite supply chain issues and component shortages because of COVID-19.

The Xbox Series X, Series S and PlayStation 5.

The Xbox Series X, Series S and PlayStation 5.

Microsoft said last month the Series X — taken together with the cheaper and much more available Series S — were also the fastest-selling Xbox consoles ever, though it declined to give a sales number. Its previous fastest-selling system over the same period of time was the Xbox One at 5.7 million units, so it’s higher than that.

“A lot of people are coming back to gaming. People who might not have played since the Nintendo 64 or original Xbox, who might have skipped a few generations because they didn’t have the time to keep up the hobby,” Ms Zammit said.

“But a lot of the other commitments they had in their lives, they no longer have. They have to find something to do inside. I know quite a few people that have done that.”

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