November Game Sales Sag, Modern Warfare 2 Dominates

November retail video game sales sank 7.6 percent under last year's record revenues, but turned in the second best penultimate yearly performance on record, according to NPD data. Microsoft took top software honors, selling a staggering 4.20m copies of Activision's mega-popular Modern Warfare 2, more than doubling Sony's 1.87m share.

Putting a positive face on the year's declines, NPD analyst Anita Frazier pointed out that 2009 remains 7 points up year-to-date, compared to 2007.

"I think we all have to realize the incredible year that was 2008," she said.

Strong promotional activity failed to pay dividends for software sales, which were down more than dollar sales for the category, though NPD notes hardware sales may have benefitted.

Hardware

1.70m - Nintendo DS
1.26m - Wii
820k - Xbox 360
710k - PlayStation 3
294k - PSP
203k - PlayStation 2

Everyone was up in unit sales over October--predictably, given seasonal expectations. Hardware sales were down 13 percent year-over-year, mostly due to the drop in Wii sales (from 2.04m in November 2008 to 1.26m this year). Xbox 360 and PS2 sales were on par with last year's numbers (that the PS2's still registering at all is astonishing). Sony's PSP dropped from 421k to 294k, while the PS3 leapt from 378k to 710k year-over-year.

That said, the Wii continues to outperform the competition, despite suggestions its appeal may be waning. According to NPD, it's still the bestselling console by a 54 percent margin. The Nintendo DS, of course, continues to sell in another galaxy entirely, with sales up 8 percent over November 2008.

While Microsoft managed to push past Sony's PS3 in NPD's unit rankings, Sony's console performed best overall against last November's numbers, turning in its third best sales month ever.

Software

4.20m - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (360)
1.87m - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (PS3)
1.39m - New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii)
795k - Assassin's Creed II (360)
744k - Left 4 Dead 2 (360)
720k - Wii Sports Resort (Wii)
679k - Wii Fit Plus (Wii)
448k - Assassin's Creed 2 (PS3)
362k - Dragon Age: Origins (360)
315k - Mario Kart w/Wheel (Wii)

You can't swing a KRISS Super-V submachine gun or SCAR-H assault rifle without hitting a story about Modern Warfare 2 sales of late. November's sales line up with conventional wisdom about Microsoft and Sony's current install bases--Microsoft over Sony roughly 2-to-1 in US unit sales--which makes that split almost inevitable.

"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has achieved the top spot for first-month sales of any game at the title level," said NPD's Frazier, adding that Halo 3 previously held the spot with 3.3 million units sold over 12 days during September 2007.

"While this year's top-selling item bested last year's by 283%, it couldn't make up for softness elsewhere," added Frazier. "The top 50 games this year sold 5% less units than did the top 50 last year."

Forecast

Expect $20 billion for the year (compared with 2008's record $21.8 billion) says NPD's Frazier, though to hit that number, December would have to be up 11 percent year-over-year.

Unimaginable?

"I don't think so," says Fraizer. "More positive economic news combined with 'frugal fatigue' could positively impact industry sales during these last weeks of the holiday season."

Breaking even, on the other hand, really is inconceivable. Says Frazier: "In order to break even to last year, December sales would have to be up 36% over December 2008."

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