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Overall U.S. console game sales shrank 1 percent in July, continuing a weak trend that has persisted for much of the year. But sales of StarCraft II, which went on sale on July 27, were so strong that PC game sales rose 103 percent during the month. That game helped push the overall console and PC game sales for July to 4 percent growth, according to market researcher NPD Group.

The results show that it’s still possible for one hit game to swing the monthly sales numbers in either direction. But it also shows that the console game market is relatively weak, even as there is explosive growth for games on the iPhone, Facebook, and online web sites. StarCraft II sold 721,000 units at retail in the last four days of July. On a relative basis, July sales were better than June sales, when the industry was down 6 percent compared to a year ago. Year to date, overall console game sales are down 8 percent year to date. Part of the reason is the recession and its impact on gamers, who now have many options to play games for free on emerging online and mobile platforms.

Console game hardware, software and accessory sales were $846.5 million in July, down 1 percent from $850.6 million a year ago. Game hardware sales were $313.8 million, up 12 percent from $281.1 million a year ago thanks to the June launch of Microsoft’s slimmer version of the Xbox 360. Console game sales were $403.3 million, down 8 percent from $438.0 million a year ago. Accessories for consoles sold $129.3 million, down 2 percent from $131.5 million a year ago.

For the second month in a row, the Xbox 360 was the top-selling console at 443,500 units sold. The Nintendo Wii sold 253,900 units, while the PlayStation 3 sold 214,500 units. The Nintendo DS sold 398,400 units and the PlayStation Portable sold 84,000 units. Sony said its PS 3 sales are up 45 percent year-to-date in the U.S. and are up 76 percent from a year ago.

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Microsoft said that its hardware has outsold the PS 3 for seven consecutive months and the Wii for two months now. Overall money spent on Xbox 360 hardware, software and accessories in July was $290 million.

Electronic Arts had the top two positions in the top games of the month on consoles, with NCAA Football 11 on the Xbox 360 at No. 1 and on the PS 3 at No. 2. Microsoft’s Crackdown 2 title was No. 3. Nintendo’s Super Mario Galaxy was No. 4 and LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 from Warner Bros. Interactive was No. 5. Red Dead Redemption slipped to No. 6 on the list, which means it sold fewer than 141,000 units in the U.S. Overall, there were four Xbox 360 titles on the top-ten list, three Nintendo Wii titles, one PS 3 title, and two Nintendo DS titles.

“The PS3 and the Xbox 360 platforms both saw significant increases over July ’09,” said Anita Frazier, analyst at NPD Group. “In fact, Xbox 360 was the top-selling hardware platform for the month, driven by sales of the new slim format.  It’s the first time since September ’07 (Halo 3 launch) that the 360 was the top-selling hardware platform.”

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