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[Gamasutra's in-depth analysis of November's NPD U.S. game retail sales numbers looks at year-to-date highs and lows, the Xbox 360's surprising sales reversal against the PS3, Wii's 2009 individual Top 10 domination, and much more.]
Each November all of the parts of the video game industry play important roles. The big publishers push out their biggest releases of the year into a frenzy of holiday buying. Retailers across the country offer discounts and deals to lure holiday shoppers.
The platform manufacturers issue chest-thumping, post-Black Friday press releases touting how quickly their systems were flying off the shelves after Thanksgiving. And consumers, the engine behind it all, spend money on games like they never have before.
In a down year – and that is certainly what 2009 will turn out to be – November is the kind of month that one hopes will bring at least a glimmer of hope that things aren't as bad as the past few months have suggested.
Despite phenomenal sales of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the biggest videogame release of all time, the industry still didn't generate more money than it did during November of last year. Even with 16.5 million more current-generation consoles on the market, monthly software sales were down 5% from 33.9 to 32.2 million units.
In this month's survey of the latest U.S. retail data from the NPD Group, we'll check in with the latest hardware figures and just how Microsoft's Xbox 360 moved ahead of the PlayStation 3. We'll then examine how Nintendo's software fortunes have declined from 2008 to 2009, leaving an opening for Microsoft to take the lead.
Finally, we'll look at the top 10 software titles going into the final month of the year and take a final measurement of where the industry will finish the year.
Before we begin looking at larger trends, we get our bearings by looking at the key revenue figures for November 2009.
The hardware segment was hardest hit in November 2009, down 13% from the same month a year earlier. As we have explained previously, lower unit sales and price cuts have driven hardware revenue lower in previous months and the same was in November. Hardware accounts for 35-42% of the revenue in any given month.
The accessories segment – which covers items like controllers and points cards for online purchases – has been relatively robust this year, but actually dropped more relative to last year than did software. However, accessories are a small part of the market and therefore the loss in dollars was not as significant.
Other than a brief increase in year-on-year software revenue in September, the U.S. game console retail software segment has seen double-digit declines in every month since February 2009. By this measure, the 3% decline in software revenue in November compared to the year prior can actually be considered a modest positive sign.
We remind readers that the data above, as with almost all data from the NPD Group, does not cover videogames sold through online distribution services, downloadable content, nor subscription fees.
Such revenue is tracked with varying success by some companies, including the NPD Group, but most data about digital distribution sales is not yet public, and none of it is accounted for here. Some undetermined but potentially significant fraction of the revenue declines in the NPD Group data here is no doubt accounted for by this parallel market.