April Video Game Sales Plunge, Splinter Cell Leads

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Sales Downturn

From famine to feast to famine again, April 2010 retail video game sales plummeted 11 points in year-on-year numbers after last month's rally. According to NPD Group analyst Anita Frazier, April was the industry's worst year-on-year decline since July 2009 and the fourth worst in year-on-year percent declines since September 2000.


Frazier attributes some of the falloff to the shift in Easter timing, since the holiday fell in April last year and March this one. Thus March 2010 sales rose 6 percent year-on-year to $1.52 billion, though year-to-date revenue comparisons were still 7 percent in the hole against 2009. April 2010's slump raises that year-to-date deficit to 11 percent.

While Sony continued to stalk Microsoft in hardware sales--181k versus 185k units respectively--Frazier called the PS3 the only platform "to have enjoyed growth over last year for both the month of April and year-to-date" in hardware, software, and accessories sales.

Why the precipitous drop overall? Blame the portable industry, which "contributed more than its fair share to the industry decline," according to Frazier--a share equal to 25 percent of total industry dollar sales, but an astonishing 61 percent of the overall industry downturn.

April 2010's video game hardware sales, with growth compared to April 2009:

441k - Nintendo DS (-58%)
277k - Wii (-19%)
185k - Xbox 360 (+6%)
181k - PlayStation 3 (+43%)
66k - PSP (-43%)

NPD says that all platforms declined between 37 and 63 percent compared to March 2010 in average sales per week, noting that inventory constraints could be partly responsible.

Bright points: The PS3 and Xbox 360 both increased year-on-year, while the PS3 can lay claim to 84 percent of the total unit sales increase. And while the Nintendo DS took the lion's share of platform declines (71 percent), it's about to flank and pass the PS2 as the bestselling game system ever. NPD predicts that'll happen by October or November this year.

Note that NPD finally pulled the PS2 out of contention this month, and--sadly--if PSP sales continue at the current pace, I can't imagine it's far behind.

April 2010's video game software sales:

486k - Splinter Cell: Conviction (Xbox 360)
243k - Pokemon Soulsilver (DS)
200k - New Super Mario Bros. (Wii)
193k - Pokemon Heartgold (DS)
180k - God of War III (PS3)

Wii Sports Resort, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (360), Wii Fit Plus, Just Dance (Wii), and Super Street Fighter IV (PS3) slotted 6 through 10, respectively, but NPD didn't offer sales figures at time of publication.

NPD's Frazier said sharp declines in sales of March 2010 debuts (e.g. God of War III for the PS3, crashing from 1.10M down to 180k) contributed to the decline. Where March 2009 releases dropped 54 percent in April 2009 sales, March 2010 sales fell 75 percent from April 2010's numbers.

In the "who knew?" category for April, the bestselling accessory for the second month in a row was Microsoft's Xbox LIVE 1600 point game card. A sign that some of these declines might be offset by digital sales? No one really knows, since NPD only reports retail and not online revenue.

Stay tuned for the company spin breakdown tomorrow.

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