U.S. video game hardware and software sales grew a modest 1 percent in September, compared to a year ago. That pretty much dashed hopes that strong sales of hit titles released in September would come to the rescue of the console video game industry.
Sales of hardware, software and accessories were $1.28 billion, up 1 percent from $1.27 billion a year earlier, according to market researcher NPD Group. If there is any good news there, it’s that the September sales gain broke a negative growth spree. For the past six months, sales have been down compared to year ago figures.
Software sales were $649.3 million, up 5 percent from $617.5 million. Hardware sales were $472.3 million, down 6 percent from $499.9 million a year earlier. Accessories sold $157.3 million, up 2 percent from $153.8 million a year ago.
One of the surprises is that Sony sold more game consoles (with the PlayStation 3) than its rivals for the first time. Thanks to its introduction in September of the thinner and lighter PS 3 Slim, and a $100 price cut that brought the PS 3 price down to $299, Sony sold 491,800 PS 3 consoles. Nintendo, which didn’t cut its prices until the end of September, sold 462,800 Wii consoles. And Microsoft sold 352,600 Xbox 360s. Sony sold 146,000 PS 2 consoles. On the handheld front, Nintendo sold 524,200 units and Sony sold 190,400 PlayStation Portable units.
Some optimistic predictions were way off. Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter had expected software sales for September to be $750 million, up 21 percent from $618 million a year ago. While year-ago comparisons have been tough for the last six months, this time the year ago figures were much easier to surpass. That’s because this year there were some major launches: The Beatles Rock Band from Electronic Arts; Need for Speed Shift from EA; Halo 3: ODST from Microsoft; and Guitar Hero 5 and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance from Activision Blizzard.
Halo 3: ODST sold 1.5 million units, far and away the best seller of the month. It was also the sixth-best-selling launch of all time. Perhaps the main reason September sales were not higher was that The Beatles Rock Band did not live up to its overhyped expectations. The Beatles title sold just 254,000 units on the Xbox 360 and 208,000 units on the Wii. But NPD noted that the Beatles Rock Band price is 130 percent higher than the previous Rock Band title. Still, it’s not a good showing considering the New York Times game critic Seth Schiesel described it as a cross-generation game that could have extremely wide appeal. Overall, both the Rock Band and Guitar Hero music games saw sales 72 percent above year ago figures in dollars.
Overall, the Xbox 360 contributed the most to industry unit and dollar sales as sales of 360 hardware, software and accessories comprised 32 percent of the month’s revenues, said Anita Frazier, an analyst at NPD. Five of the top 10 titles were on the Xbox 360.
While the year ago comparisons are not that good, September was a much better month than August. The PS 3 sold 87 percent more units in September than in August. The Wii sold 33 percent more units and the Xbox 360 sold 31 percent more units. (Of course, there were five weeks in September and four weeks in August).
Electronic Arts got some good news. Its Madden NFL 10 title had a better month in September. In August, it sold 19 percent fewer units than it did in August, 2008. But with a better September, the deficit compared to a year ago is just 13 percent now.
Will October be a good month? One benefit is that Nintendo cut $50 off the price of the Wii at the end of September. But perhaps we will have to wait until November, with the launch of Activision Blizzard’s Modern Warfare 2, before we can have a truly oustanding sales month in the U.S. video game industry.