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On Thursday of last week, the NPD Group released its estimates for video game hardware, software, and accessory retail sales for March 2011 in the United States. Sales for all console and handheld products were down 4 percent relative to March of last year, despite the launch of Nintendo's new 3DS platform.
In addition to breaking out the top-line figures, we will look at three specific areas of interest this month. First, we'll examine hardware and software figures for the Nintendo 3DS launch, and give them some historical context. Second, we'll take a look at the software unit sales of the big three consoles, and also provide some insight into the latest growth segment in software: dance games. Finally, we'll look at some figures relating to Sony and its three platforms, and in particular the prospect of a price drop for the PlayStation 3.
Before we get to those areas, let us take a moment to look at the key revenue figures for the month of March 2011.
The hardest hit segment of the retail video game industry in March 2011 was software, which contracted by 16 percent from the level of sales in the previous year. Despite a huge release for Pokémon White/Black, which moved 2.5 million units for the month, there were few other stand-out new titles, in particular on consoles.
The weak software performance was compounded by a comparison to an exceptional set of releases in March 2010. That month saw four new million-sellers: God of War III (PS3), Final Fantasy XIII (PS3/Xbox 360), Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (PS3/Xbox 360), and Pokémon SoulSilver/HeartGold (NDS).
It's worth noting, however, that one needs to go all the way back to 2007 to find a March in which software sales were lower than they were this year. The figure below shows this, as well as a rough breakdown of console and handheld software distributions.
The hardware segment showed significant growth over last year, with sales up about $50 million. Without the additional $100 million generated by hardware sales of the new Nintendo 3DS, it is likely that the hardware segment, like software, would have been down year-over-year.
And, as has become the custom, the accessories segment showed significant growth, up 13 percent or $28 million, fueled by Kinect and Move accessories and increases in sales of cards for the PlayStation Store, Xbox Live Marketplace, and Wii Shop Channel.
The chart below summarizes the latest results, both for March 2011 and for the year-to-date.
For the record, the NPD Group is now clearly labeling their media releases to indicate that the figures include only retail sales. They are providing quarterly estimates of extra-retail sales, including mobile games, downloadable content, and casual games, along with other segments, but those figures are not included in the figures above nor are they considered directly in this analysis.
That said, NPD analyst Anita Frazier did elaborate on the full year figures that the firm produced for 2010. If all segments of the market that they track are considered, sales of video game content were down about 0.5 percent from 2009. Those figures include new and used sales, physical and digital, as well as casual and online games.