Video games may not be recession-proof, but they're sporting some enviable economic kevlar. Gloomy economics notwithstanding, NPD Group's February 2009 game sales figures are coming up roses for Nintendo, Microsoft, and — that's right — even Sony.
Upbeat as usual, NPD analyst Anita Frazier writes "The U.S. video games industry continues to post strong year-over-year comps despite the tough economy." In dollars, that comes out to $1.47 billion, up 10 percent over last February's $1.34 billion. Unit sales increased even more than dollar sales did, according to Frazier, which she says reflects a slightly lower average retail price for all categories compared to last year.
So let's run the numbers...
753k - Wii
588k - Nintendo DS
391k - Xbox 360
276k - PlayStation 3
199k - PSP
131k - PlayStation 2
Nothing mind-boggling here. Everyone's in the same positions they've been holding pretty much for the past year. Cue angels chorusing hosannas for Nintendo. Personally, the Wii's games lineup leaves me cold, but I'll never again doubt the power of price and novelty to fashion a pundit-mocking sales juggernaut.
The Xbox 360 was up in units sales 53 points year-over-year. Frazier notes that except for Halo 3's debut in September 2007, the Xbox 360 secured its biggest non-holiday sales month to date. Not bad.
Frazier lauded Sony as well, writing that "the PS3 realized the greatest month-over-month unit sales increase of all platforms."
Microsoft's Aaron Greenberg seems to disagree. He told Gamasutra that "the PS3 is heading south" and rubbed it in by claiming the console was down in February two points despite the launch of Killzone 2. Which assumes certain things about Killzone 2.
Killzone 2's a great game, and I've written as much, but I never saw it as the sales dealmaker Sony did. I've played all the Halos, if only out of a sense of obligation to my profession, but I was MIA on the original Killzone. To be honest, Killzone 2 wasn't even in my rearview mirror until a couple months prior to the game's launch. Killzone has -- or at least had, prior to Killzone 2 -- half the brand recognition of Halo. What's more, Killzone 2's sales (over a million copies to date) have been perfectly respectable, so I'm not sure I see Greenberg's point.
You'd also be cherry-picking if you ignore the fact that the PlayStation brand overall saw 606k units total shipped. No one including Sony would dispute the PS3's in an unenviable position, but it's no longer down and far from out.
And in the end, you'd be just as foolish to make too much of any of these numbers. Long story short, overall industry trending is up for February, but no one's notably pulling ahead or falling behind in expected unit-share here.
644k - Wii Fit / Wii
446k - Street Fighter IV / 360
403k - Street Fighter IV / PS3
386k - Wii Play / Wii
323k - Killzone 2 / PS3
263k - Mario Kart / Wii
193k - Call of Duty: World at War / 360
145k - Mario Kart / DS
144k - New Super Mario Bros / DS
136k - Guitar Hero: World Tour / Wii
However improbably, February 2009 game sales were up 14 percent over the same period last year. Frazier adds that the average retail price for games is four points lower than last year, "which is why the dollar sales increase (only 9 points) is not quite keeping in pace with the increase in unit sales."
Check out those Street Fighter IV sales. 446k for Microsoft, 403k for Sony. A 10 point sales spread. And yet there's a roughly 50 point unit install base spread between the Xbox 360 and PS3 currently in the U.S.
Which suggests...what? That PS3 gamers are proportionately "harder-core"? (If we assume certain categorical things about an arcade-style fighter like Street Fighter IV, anyway.) Venture a guess. Yours is as good as mine.
"March should be another great month for software sales between Pokemon Platinum, GTA: Chinatown Wars, Halo Wars, the two MLB titles and of course, Resident Evil 5," says Frazier, adding that "the sheer quantity of great content coming to market early in the year should keep industry sales humming throughout 2009."
Matt Peckham's been housebreaking a puppy, but promises he'll be back to update-spamming shortly at twitter.com/game_on.