U.S. video game sales drop again in February even with big game launches

Video game sales fell 15 percent in February compared to a year ago as the industry struggles to climb out of the recession.

That’s a surprise, given the launch of some very strong titles. But it’s nothing new for the game industry in the past year. Overall U.S. video game sales were $1.26 billion in February, down 15 percent from $1.48 billion a year ago, according to market researcher NPD Group.

Game hardware was down 20 percent to $426 million from $534.2 million a year ago. Software sales were $624.4 million, down 15 percent from $736.7 million a year ago. And accessories were $204.7 million, down 1 percent from $206.1 million a year ago.

Nintendo lost its lead for the first time in a while in consoles. The Xbox 360 sold 422,000 units in February, while the Wii sold 397,000. That was because of a well publicized shortage that came about after the company reported unexpectedly strong sales in December. Nintendo was caught flat-footed by the strong holiday demand and has been unable to fill the pipeline. Sony sold 360,100 PlayStation 3 consoles, 101,900 PS 2s, and 133,400 PlayStation Portables. The Nintendo DS, meanwhile, had a great month with 613,200 sold.

For the month, Take-Two Interactive scored the biggest hit with the Feb. 10 launch of BioShock 2. Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros., launched in November, took second place, while Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 on the Xbox 360 took third place. In the U.S., Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 has become the third-best-selling game of all time, with more than 10 million units sold. There were four Xbox 360 titles in the top 10, three Wii titles, and two PS 3 titles. Mass Effect 2, a big title launched by Electronic Arts on Jan. 26, came in sixth place.

“The industry realized another month of decreased sales as compared to last year,” said Anita Fraizer, an analyst at NPD. “In fact, for most categories, unit sales declines were greater than dollar sales.  Higher average retail prices on all categories except console hardware boosted dollar sales performance somewhat. Honestly, I had expected the industry to perform somewhat better this month.  Nonetheless, strong new releases, and Easter gift-buying bodes well for industry performance in March.”

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