While April saw a healthy 20 percent lift at U.S. video game retail, NPD Group said Monday that total U.S. sales for May were down 14 percent to $743.1 million - the lowest recorded monthly retail performance in years, the firm said.
NPD analyst Anita Frazier in a statement reminded industry watchers that the figures do not include emerging digital business models, only traditional physical retail.
"Keeping in mind that these sales figures represent just the new physical portion of the market for video game hardware, software, and accessories and not the growing portion of the industry that is comprised of digital format content distribution, May 2011 was the lowest month of sales for the industry since October 2006," she explained. "A light slate of new releases is at the heart of this month's performance."
Microsoft said that it had the best-selling home console for yet another month, with 270,000 units sold in the U.S. during May. Frazier said, "Overall, the Xbox 360 platform has contributed 34 percent of year-to-date revenues (across hardware, content and accessories) generated by new physical retail sales, gaining 7 share points over last year."
NPD no longer releases hardware sales unit figure every month, leaving that to the discretion of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. But NPD said video game hardware generated $228.9 million during the month, down 5 percent year-on-year.
"Sales of the 3DS were light, but with next Sunday's release of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, we will begin to see a slate of strong content come to market for the 3DS, which should help to significantly boost sales of hardware during the remainder of 2011," Frazier said.
She added, "Combined sales of the PS3 and Xbox 360 (HD hardware) are up 28 percent for the month and 21 percent year to date. Although the declines in console hardware sales in 2011 are attributable to the Wii, the platform remains the best-selling of this generation at nearly 36 million installed in the U.S."
"At the current rate of growth and decline (on a year-to-date basis) for each of the respective console systems, a year from now the Wii will still enjoy the lead in install base in the U.S., although both the Xbox 360 and PS3 will close the gap. Of course, new details on hardware introduction could certainly change the picture," Frazier said.
Software during May generated $375.8 million at U.S. retail, down 19 percent year-on-year. Take-Two's Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game L.A. Noire led sales for the month on the all-platforms list, followed by the Bethesda-published Brink.
While NPD does not typically release monthly sales numbers for software, Giant Bomb reports that L.A. Noire sold 889,000 copies across the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
"This month's story really is about a light new release schedule as compared to last year," said Frazier. "There were 42 new SKU's introduced in May as compared to 58 last May, and 72 in 2009. This is reflected in the share of dollars contributed by May releases, which was 28% in 2011 as compared to 41 percent last year." She added, "As a result of a lighter release slate, promotional activity at retail and in circulars was reduced as well, which undoubtedly affected not only planned but impulse purchases."
Frazier pointed to specific genres that helped drive down new retail game sales: "The top genres contributing to the decline in new physical software sales were Action/Driving hybrid (Red Dead Redemption) and Platform/Scrolling Character (Super Mario Galaxy 2)."
She continued, "Despite strong continued sales of Pokemon Black & White, the RPG genre also declined since the new games did not comp the performance of [Pokemon] HeartGold and SoulSilver last year. Dance games, first-person shooters and general adventure grew, primarily due to notable titles like Just Dance 2, Brink, Portal 2 and L.A. Noire."
Frazier also said that during May, software unit sales were down across all platforms "except for Xbox 360," which was only up by 1 percent year-on-year.
"Keep in mind that purchases of content are increasingly occurring in digital format, and May saw a notable digital release in the second map pack for Call of Duty: Black Ops which was titled Escalation," the analyst noted. "Undoubtedly, this shifted some dollars that might have been spent on new physical content at retail."
Accessories during May were down 6 percent to $114 million for the month. Frazier said four of the top 10 accessories NPD tracked were points or subscription cards.
Top 10 Games (New Physical Retail only; across all platforms incl. PC)
L.A. Noire (360, PS3)
Take 2 Interactive
Brink (360, PS3, PC)
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game (Wii, 360, NDS, PS3, 3DS, PSP, PC)
Disney Interactive Studios
Portal 2 (360, PS3, PC)
Mortal Kombat 2011 (PS3, 360)
Warner Bros. Interactive
Call of Duty: Black Ops (360, PS3, Wii, NDS, PC)
Zumba Fitness: Join the Party (Wii, 360, PS3)
NBA 2K11 (360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, PC)
Take 2 Interactive
Just Dance 2 (Wii)
Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (Wii, NDS, 360, PS3, 3DS, PSP, PC)