U.S. console video games (finally) grow 1 percent in October

U.S. retail video game sales finally showed some life in October, when sales grew 1 percent from a year ago, according to market researcher NPD Group.

That comes after a 6 percent drop in September, a 23 percent drop in August, a 26 percent drop in July and a 10 percent drop in June, NPD reported.

The main reason for the boost was strength on the Xbox 360 platform and good sales for new titles such as Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 3.

It’s not an impressive gain, but the numbers represent only retail sales and don’t count other digital sales. Those other parts of the business – including used games, rentals, online games, mobile games and social games — have shown constant growth.

Total video game hardware, software, and accessory sales at retail stores were $1.08 billion in October, up 1 percent from $1.07 billion a year ago. Overall console video game sales (excluding PC games) were $1.05 billion, up 3 percent from $1.03 billion a year ago.

Game hardware sales were $295.6 million, up 6 percent from $279.9 million a year ago. Game software sales were $621.3 million, up 3 percent from $604.8 million a year ago. Accessory sales, which in earlier months this year were up thanks to strong sales of Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing system, were $135.9 million, down 5 percent from $142.4 million a year ago.

If you throw in the sales of PC, console and portable games, the total is $649.5 million, up 1 percent from $643.9 million a year ago. That still means PC sales have been weak.

The bright spots of the month were some of the big new releases such as Battlefield 3, which was the top-selling title of the month, with more than 2 million units sold. Warner Bros.’ Batman Arkham City came in at No. 2, with more than 1.5 million units sold.

The next hot titles of the month were Take-Two Interactive’s NBA2K 12, Bethesda Softworks’ Rage, Ubisoft’s Just Dance 3, EA’s Madden NFL 12, Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport 4, Microsoft’s Gears of War 3, and EA’s FIFA Soccer 12.

Anita Frazier, analyst at NPD, said that the Xbox 360 showed dollar growth across hardware, software, accessory, and store software sales compared to a year ago. Overall, the whole category could come in flat to down 2 percent for the full year. The strength in October was helped by the fact that it was a five-week retail month this year, compared to four weeks a year ago.

Frazier said that seven of the top 10 titles were new releases and they sold 23 percent more units than the top 10 percent last October. The dance category was up 135 percent from year ago due to the launch of Just Dance 3 and Dance Central 2. Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, a new hybrid toy-game from Activision Blizzard, came in at No. 11 for the month. November is expected to be a huge month for game sales because of launches such as Uncharted 3, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and the Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword.

Microsoft said it held 44 percent of the console market share in October, selling 393,000 Xbox 360s, up 21 percent from a year ago. Total spending on Xbox 360 products was $490 million, the most for any console in the U.S. Xbox titles held six of the top ten console game titles during the month. Microsoft said it will have more than 75 new Kinect titles for the holidays, or four times as many as a year ago.

David Dennis, spokesman for Microsoft, said that the numbers may not be showing dramatic overall industry growth, but they are certainly indicators of a healthy ecosystem in spite of headwinds such as a tough economy and stock market uncertainty.

Nintendo said it sold more than 675,000 hardware units in October, including 250,000 3DS units, 250,000 Wii units, and 180,000 older DS units.