Wii and DS set sales marks; ‘Modern Warfare 2’ 2009 top-seller

A flourish of holiday video game hardware sales — and the biggest sales month for video games ever — could not prevent the industry from suffering its first sales decline in five years.

Sales in December topped previous top month December 2008 by 4%, hitting $5.53 billion, according to market tracking firm The NPD Group, which just released its report covering December 2009 and the entire year. Overall, sales of video games fell just short of $20 billion ($19.66 billion), an 8% decline from the industry’s 2008 record sales of $21.4 billion.

“December marks just the fourth month of the year where the industry saw an increase over last year,” said NPD’s Anita Frazier. “January and February were both up, and since the decline that began in March, only September experienced growth.  The big sales this month, particularly on the hardware front, is a positive move for the industry headed into what will hopefully be a recovery year in 2010.”

The Nintendo Wii ended the year with a bang, selling about 3.8 million systems during December, setting a new monthly sales mark for console systems sold. The Nintendo DS handheld sold 3.3 million units in December, boosting it to 11 million sold in 2009, a record for systems sold within a year.

As to its success in 2009, Nintendo’s Cammie Dunaway said, “I think the main thing is consumers understand that Nintendo really delivers the best value in video games, not only because of the attractive price points but because of the innovative software, game control and social interaction.”

Frazier noted in the report that “there are a lot of hardware records this month. The PS3 realized its biggest month of sales ever (1.36 million sold), and the first time sales have exceeded 1 million units.  The Wii and the DS also had their biggest sales months ever, and in fact the two platforms hold the top two spots in sales of any hardware device in a single month.  Overall, it was the biggest month of sales for hardware on both a dollar and unit basis.”

Another highlight: Infinity Ward’s blockbuster Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 hit another milestone in becoming the top-selling video game of 2009. The Xbox 360 version of the game sold more than 5.8 million copies. “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has become the fourth best-selling game of all time. In fact, three of the top 10 games of all time are Call of Duty games,” Frazier said.

The top-selling games of 2009 (with publisher and platform in parentheses):

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision, Nov. 2009, Xbox 360)
Wii Sports Resort (Nintendo, July 2009, Wii)
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Nintendo, Nov. 2009, Wii)
Wii Fit (Nintendo, May 2008, Wii)
Wii Fit Plus (Nintendo, Oct. 2009, Wii)
Mario Kart Wii (Nintendo, April 2008, Wii)
Wii Play (Nintendo, Feb. 2007, Wii)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision, Nov. 2009, PS3)
Halo 3: ODST (Microsoft, Sept. 2009, 360)
Pokemon Platinum Version (Nintendo, March 2009, DS)

Sales of PC games also declined 23%, generating $538 million. The top-selling PC games of 2009:

The Sims 3 (Electronic Arts, June 2009)
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Expansion Pack (Activision Blizzard, Nov. 2008)
The Sims 2 Double Deluxe (Electronic Arts, April 2008)
World of Warcraft: Battle Chest (Activision Blizzard, Sept. 2007)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision Blizzard, Nov. 2009)
World of Warcraft (Activision Blizzard, Nov. 2004)
The Sims 3: World Adventures Expansion Pack (Electronic Arts, Nov. 2009)
Spore (Electronic Arts, Sept. 2008)
Dragon Age: Origins (Electronic Arts, Oct. 2009)
Empire: Total War (Sega, March 2009)

Back to console video games, Frazier said that this current generation of console hardware has outsold the previous one by more than nine million units during the first 50 months in the market. “Hopefully, the big increase in the overall install base of hardware systems will bring good things for software sales in 2010,” she said, “especially with the incredible line-up of content coming out early in the year.”

December 2009 hardware sales (with lifetime-to-date sales)

Nintendo Wii (3.81 million; 27.21 million)
Nintendo DS (3.31 million; 38.87 million)
PlayStation 3 (1.36 million; 11.14 million)
Xbox 360 (1.31 million; 18.68 million)
PlayStation Portable (654,700; 16.81 million)
PlayStation 2 (333,200; 45.41 million)

Jesse Divnich, an industry analyst with Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR), highlighted as a culprit for 2009’s sales decline, a lack of purchases by the wave of casual and non-traditional video game consumers who helped drive the industry growth in 2008.  Sequels such as Boom Blox Bash Party, The Bigs 2 and Rabbids Go Home did not sell as well as their predecessors, he said. “The trend we are seeing with sales declining is going to continue until something innovative comes out, something that is going to capture a lot of these non-traditional gamers. That likely won’t come until we see these new motion control devices from Sony and Microsoft,” he said. “So we should expect these trends to continue.”

Another factor, said Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter, was decreased sales of music games. “I think that music obfuscated things and made it look worse than it is. I think the decline in casual sales (and)  the attach rates on the Wii is responsible for more than all the rest of it,” he said. “The takeaway is that the hardcore gamer is fine and thriving. And the good news for industry watchers is that the hardware gamer has tons of things to choose from in the next few months and they are all great. I think last year (2009) the hard-core gamer kept the year from falling apart and in 2010, he drives the year.”

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