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NPD: Behind the Numbers, September 2010

October 18, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Software Highlights for September and 2010 YTD

As expected, Microsoft's Halo: Reach was the best-selling game in September 2010, with sales of 3.29 million units. This compares favorably with the launch of Halo 3: ODST a year prior, which moved 1.52 million units.

In terms of reaching out to a larger base of players, however, we would note that when Halo 3 originally launched back in September 2007 it also moved 3.3 million units, and on an installed hardware base about one third the size of the current Xbox 360 base.

If Microsoft has enlarged its base of core
Halo fans, the initial sales figures for Halo: Reach don't demonstrate that. To put it in percentages, Halo: Reach was bought by 15% of the Xbox 360 installed base at launch, while Halo 3 was bought by 49%. (For completeness, ODST was bought by 9% of the installed base at its launch.)

That said, Halo 3 went on to 4.8 million sales by the end of 2007, and there appears to be an opportunity for the same to happen with Reach in 2010. That is, we expect that consumers will find the new Xbox 360 S model an attractive device this holiday, and that those consumers will pick a popular game, like Halo: Reach, to accompany their new system.

So while Microsoft will no doubt be pushing Kinect, Halo: Reach will also be a top-seller alongside those new console purchases. We would not be surprised to see Halo: Reach top 5 million in sales by the end of 2010.

The other titles in the top 10 chart released by the NPD Group are listed below. (At this time the NPD Group is not releasing a top 20.)

We wish to dwell briefly upon two additional single-platform titles which made the chart.

In what is probably the last hurrah for the all-but-abandoned PlayStation Portable (PSP), Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep sold an impressive 225,000 units. Unlike some other high-profile PSP releases this year, Birth by Sleep was not sold through Sony's online PlayStation Store.

Even with a top 10 title, PSP hardware sales were down 44% from last year, according to Wedbush's Pachter. There are still titles planned for the PSP, including Sony's own God of War: Ghost of Sparta launching in November with a special edition of the PSP system itself, but we agree with Pachter's assessment that there appears little that Sony can do with the system. The launch of the 3DS by Nintendo in five or six months makes Sony's handheld future even more difficult.

The second title we'd like to single out is Nintendo's Metroid: Other M, developed in conjunction with Team Ninja. Having moved only 173,000 units, the title serves to highlight the ongoing challenges in the Wii market, even for Nintendo itself. Even a first-party title with a well-known property on the current generation with the largest installed base may not set the market on fire. With several other high-profile Wii releases coming out soon (Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby's Epic Yarn, and Activision Blizzard's Goldeneye, to name a few) we feel confident that their sales will again drive many interesting, and heated, discussions.

Finally, as we enter the final quarter of 2010, we'd like to look back at the first nine months and identify the top 10 best-selling games of the year so far. (Specifically, we're looking at the top 10 SKUs. SKU is industry jargon for a particular version of a game.)

It is interesting to compare to the same list from the first quarter of 2010, originally published by Gamasutra in May of this year.

While a front-loaded title like Halo: Reach leads the chart as of September 2010, supplanting New Super Mario Bros. Wii which led in March and has fallen to second for the present, we should be mindful that evergreen titles, especially on the Nintendo Wii, can eventually pull ahead given enough time.

Notice, for example, that Ubisoft's Just Dance for the Wii was not a top 10 SKU in March (it fell just outside the chart, in the eleventh spot), while Final Fantasy XIII for the PS3 did make seventh on that older chart. However, as noted at the time, sales of Final Fantasy XIII were almost entirely in the first month and have probably been practically nonexistent since summer. By comparison, Just Dance sales have been relatively strong and will probably end only with the rise of the sequel, Just Dance 2.

[As always, many thanks to the NPD Group for its monthly release of the video game industry data, with a special thanks to David Riley for his assistance and Anita Frazier for her helpful analysis. Additional credit is due to Michael Pachter, analyst for Wedbush Securities, for his perspective and instrucive conversations. We also wish to thank Doug Creutz of Cowen and Company for his insights. Finally, many thanks to colleagues at Gamasutra and particularly regular commenters on NeoGAF for many helpful discussions.]

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Leon T
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I always enjoy reading this feature.

It would be great to actually know the unit sales in software. Going by tie ratio and dollars all we have are guesses.

Corey Sharpe
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I'd like to comment on what they've said about Metroid: Other M for a brief moment.

"Having moved only 173,000 units, the title serves to highlight the ongoing challenges in the Wii market, even for Nintendo itself. Even a first-party title with a well-known property on the current generation with the largest installed base may not set the market on fire."

I can guarantee you that number of units, if assumed that one unit equals one customer, is hardly a fraction of the whole fan base. I blame for what they did to Samus as a character and the aggravating controls, that caused most of the hardcore fan-base to not buy this title. Which in turn they may have convinced other people to not buy the game either. So who knows how many sells Nintendo lost due to the risks they took with the franchise.

Russell Carroll
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Lots of interesting points there.

Nintendo has long been accused of milking franchises, releasing new games in their franchises that are seen as being too similar to the old games. It's interesting how the tables have turned, and that it hasn't benefited Nintendo do do things differently. Microsoft released the 3rd Halo shooter (4th overall) in the last 4 years, furthering the story, but not straying far from the classic game play. The result has been epic sales on more of the same game play (COD has followed an even more aggressive approach to the same path). Nintendo has been redesigning its franchises of late (Zelda w/o a tri-force or Ganon, Kirby that doesn't ingest enemies, Metroid with ninja moves). It's been interesting to see the results.

I think it is pretty clear that a FPS styled Metroid would be a better seller and review higher (though the average FPS reviews higher than the average non-FPS game, which likely speaks more to deep-set reviewer bias than any specific quality mark).

In addition to higher review scores a new FPS Metroid would have also sold better.

However, does selling better really have to be the number one goal?

I guess maybe it is for game companies, but for me, I'm soo happy to get games that try something different, and I hope that video game makers don't give in and just make one formulaic sequel after another.

The reality of trying new things is that they sometimes don't work out, and selling something different to core game fans who have come to expect something specific, is unlikely to be met with success (I'm sure there may be an example of a success with this tactic, but I actually couldn't come up with a single one in thinking about it).

Personally I'm always interested in trying something new, and though I didn't really enjoy Other M for the first 4 hours, since that point, I've really enjoyed it. It's not as good as Prime 1 or 3 in my personal estimation, but it is a very good game. I bristle at the negative opinions about it and seeing people label it as horrible. In playing it, I just can't see a horrible game. It's a very good game that is very different, and I think that change is always met with opposition. Perhaps in the future it will be remembered differently...that outcome wouldn't surprise me.

Corey Sharpe
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I agree that companies making different games as oppose to keep making the same game over again is great. Especially when the risks work.

Though I think Metroid does not need to be a FPS to sell well or review higher. I think they just needed to decide whether it needs to be a FPS or an old-school side scroller.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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People making games that are different is fine. It is only a problem when people make games for themselves rather than their audience and then feel entitled to make money doing so.

DanielThomas MacInnes
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Agreed. Metroid: Other M was Sakamoto's personal vanity project. And he's simply not interested in making videogames. He wants to make Italian horror movies and comic books.

I do agree with Russel that innovation and new ideas are essential in games, and should be encouraged whenever possible. Heck, the Nintendo Wii arrived on the promise of new and exciting motion-control videogames. But I don't want endless cut-scenes and badly-acted movies starring plastic Barbie Dolls. And I certainly don't want a Metroid that is obsessed with "maternal feelings." Ugh, no thanks.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go outside and shake my fist at some clouds. Dadgummit, you clouds killed Mr. Cunningham!