Video game sales plummeted another 17 percent in NPD's April report, dropping to $1.03 billion compared with $1.24 billion in April 2008. Recall the industry fell by 17 points in March as well, making April the second consecutive month of sales declines after a substantial period of unprecedented growth. Depressing? Don't reach for that tissue just yet.
In accord with Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter's take earlier this week, NPD analyst Anita Frazier suggests year-over-year comparisons are misleading, noting that April 2009 runs against a month — April 2008 — that realized almost 50 percent growth over April 2007. "This year's performance still represents the second-best performance for the industry in the month of April, besting April 2007, which is the previous second-place holder, by 26 percent," she says.
Pachter hinted at lingering year-over-year comparison wonkiness in the months ahead, something Frazier echoes. "Given how strong the growth was in the industry last year, there are still some months ahead where year-over-year comparisons may be difficult," she says, but notes that May "should be an easier comparison than the last two months have been."
The April upside? A bunch of notable albeit relatively lower profile titles drove software sales and hardware purchases in tandem. "April 2009 was down only 5 percent on a unit sales basis, with the remainder of dollar sales decline coming from reduced average selling prices," explains Frazier, adding that the Easter holiday's return to April "helped cushion the decline."
1.04m - Nintendo DS
340k - Wii
175k - Xbox 360
172k - PlayStation 2
127k - PlayStation 3
116k - PSP
No surprise, Nintendo's DS led April thanks to the April 5th release of its camera-toting DSi. According to NPD, DS sales overall represented 31 percent of total unit sales across all categories.
On the other hand, though April DS sales were roughly double the prior month's number (563k), Wii sales fell nearly 50 percent — from 601k in March to 340k in April. NPD's Frazier fingers last year's release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Kart as the culprits...which either excuses Nintendo's poor performance, or lands the company in even hotter water for failing to chart a single new software release last month.
Sony edged a trifle closer to Microsoft over last month's set-top console numbers, but lost to its own last-gen sales barn-burner (the PS2) which surged from 112k units in March to 172k in April, probably owing to its budget $100 price. It's getting old pointing out just how wrong Sony's been on its PS3 pricing plan, and April's PS2 sales only reinforce the point. Watch what happens with the PS3 gets its inexorable price cut (see the latest scuttlebutt — E3 2009?) then consider what might have been had the company pulled the trigger (and taken the cost bullet) six months to a year ago.
471k - Wii Fit / Wii
433k - Pokemon Platinum / Nintendo DS
210k - Mario Kart / Wii
170k - Wii Play / Wii
155k - The Godfather II / Xbox 360
122k - Resident Evil 5 / Xbox 360
119k - New Super Mario Bros / Nintendo DS
112k - Mario Kart / Nintendo DS
110k - Guitar Hero: Aerosmith / PlayStation 3
91k - Godfather II / PlayStation 3
NPD's Frazier observes (insightfully) that "April would have been a great month to release a big new game because there weren't a lot of high profile new releases," adding that the top 10 list is flush with games that have haunted the list "for months, if not years."
What's missing here? Online console software sales. In May so far, for instance, we've seen the release of both the Fable 2 "See The Future" and Fallout 3 "Broken Steel" downloadable expansions. Tracked by NPD? Nope — not one penny. That goes for all such expansions and/or download filler — not to mention game pics, wallpapers, themes, and other online miscellany — released in recent years. Is that a problem? Yep. A huge one, actually. Fallout 3 has to-date sold millions in its console incarnations. Say combined Xbox 360 and PS3 sales are in the vicinity of four million units. If even a third as many gamers shell out $10 for the Broken Steel expansion, that's roughly 1.3m downloads, or $13m in untracked sales. Extrapolate for everything else game-related and sold through Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo's online services.
It's therefore not merely reasonable, but critical to ask: Do NPD's numbers really reflect a games industry downturn? It's increasingly difficult to say, as the retail sales epoch continues to decline, and the online sales epoch picks up speed.
For more gaming news and opinion, park your tweet-readers at twitter.com/game_on.