As many analysts predicted, September was the month when the United States' retail console video game industry pulled itself out of its ongoing monthly year-over-year revenue declines.
Still, despite predictions of growth, the industry essentially stayed flat, with revenues rising only one percent (from $1.27 to $1.28 billion) compared to September 2008.
What growth there is is due to retail game software, which rose five percent to $649.32 million, and Bungie's Halo 3: ODST was at the top of that heap with 1.5 million units sold. Hardware fared worse, down six percent to $472.78 million from last September -- but up considerably from last month, thanks to price cuts.
The ranking of consoles by unit sales this month was similar to last month, with one major exception: the PlayStation 3 jumped up to second place, approaching the sales volume of the Nintendo DS, which in the five-week month of September actually saw a 24 percent drop in per-week units from August.
Nintendo DS: 524,200
PlayStation 3: 491,800
Xbox 360: 352,600
PlayStation Portable: 190,400
PlayStation 2: 146,000
The home consoles all saw considerable benefit from their recent price cuts. As Frazier wrote, "The PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360 realized an increase over August of 87 percent, 33 percent, and 31 percent respectively, on an average sales per week basis, keeping in mind September was a 5-week month compared to 4 weeks in August."
But, of course, Sony had the most to gain: "Compared to last September, the PS3 was the big winner, more than doubling last year's sales. This portrays a very strong consumer reaction to the price decrease [to $299], as August and September both realized a lift of more than 70% over the prior month. This is the first month that the PS3 has captured the top spot in console hardware sales."
However, Microsoft's home console provided the most significant contribution to overall industry performance this month, with NPD analyst Anita Frazier pointing out in an analyst note, "Across all categories, the Xbox 360 platform 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."
This month's software chart looks dramatically different to last month's -- rather than a downward slope starting from the top, September saw Halo 3: ODST dominate, with a dropoff of more than a million units before the second-place game, a still strong-selling Wii Sports Resort.
In Frazier's view, ODST's performance continues the Halo series legacy of sterling early performance: "Halo 3 certainly impacted the industry two years ago (Sep'07) when it was launched, and this year, Halo 3: ODST realized impressive sales making it the 6th best-selling SKU launch of all time," she wrote.
Bungie's latest effort served as a fitting ambassador for its host platform this month, as Xbox 360 games took half of the top ten software slots.
1. Halo 3: ODST (Bungie, Microsoft), Xbox 360 - 1.52 million
2. Wii Sports Resort w/MotionPlus (Nintendo), Wii - 442,900
3. Madden NFL 10 (EA Tiburon), Xbox 360 - 289,600
4. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (Alphadream, Nintendo), NDS - 258,100
5. The Beatles: Rock Band (Harmonix, MTV Games/EA), Xbox 360 - 254,000
6. Madden NFL 10 (EA Tiburon), PS3 - 246,500
7. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 - Fusion (Vicarious Visions, Activision), Xbox 360 - 236,000
8. Batman: Arkham Asylum (Rocksteady, Eidos/Square Enix), PS3 - 212,500
9. Guitar Hero V (Neversoft, Activision), Xbox 360 - 210,800
10. The Beatles: Rock Band (Harmonix, MTV Games/EA), Wii - 208,600
Another particularly interesting datum is the presence of the PlayStation 3 version of Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum, but not the Xbox 360 version. Last month, the edition for Microsoft's console slightly outsold its Sony-bound counterpart, but as the weeks go by, it seems the PS3 version has slightly stouter legs -- perhaps due to the inclusion of the platform-exclusive Joker playable character.
(Update: A Microsoft representative told Gamasutra that Batman: Arkham Asylum for the Xbox 360 was the next-highest-selling home console game outside of the top 10, but did not share specific unit sales.)
As far as publishers go, Electronic Arts was responsible (or co-responsible) for four of the games on the top ten, the most on the chart.
Conclusion: 2009's Numbers So Far
Overall, revenues for the U.S. game retail market for 2009 thus far reached $10.36 billion -- still an impressive figure, but down 13% on last year's $11.85 billion at this time. Hardware is down a notable 16% to $3.57 billion, and software dipped 12% to $5.36 billion, with accessories making up the remainder.
Although analysts are hoping that the remaining three months of the year will help close the gap, it seems likely that 2009 will be a down year compared to 2008 for this sector. This is even as significant growth appears to continue in the burgeoning, much harder to track online and social gaming space.