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December 2011 NPD Monthly Videogame Sales Figures and Analysis
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December 2011 NPD Monthly Videogame Sales Figures and Analysis

December sales disappoint industry observers and retailers alike with startling declines across the board.

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December 2011 would represent the last month of the last full year of the 7th Generation of Home Consoles. This exciting generation started on November 22, 2005 with Microsoft’s upstart console sequel the XBox 360. Incumbent market champion Sony sought to continue the PlayStation dynasty with its Cell-powered PlayStation 3 set for a November 2006 release. But nearly no one expected old Nintendo to quake the videogaming world when they began their Revolution. Nintendo’s Wii disrupted then drowned its competition under the tidal waves of their Blue Ocean strategy. And in the handheld fights, Nintendo’s Touch Generations-powered DS embarrassed the gaming ghetto savior known as Sony’s PlayStation Portable bringing forth the force of the WiiDS Phenomenon.

The market tracker known as The National Purchase Diary Group, Inc. gained an even higher profile as they detailed the monthly scoreboard between the Big Three. Renegade startups like VGChartz.com also got in on the sales-counting action. Human tribal tendencies got more entrenched than ever before as we saw the self-proclaimed “hardcore” berate and belittle the supposed “casuals”. And this deep chasm between players was reflected in every videogaming publication both online and in print with journalists taking sides. The evergreen vs. the blockbuster. The new audience vs. the established audience. Versatile motion controls vs. ‘next-gen’ HD graphics. Good clean fun vs. Game Fuel. Watching the ups and downs and back and forths gave us endless surprises as we saw inevitable champs become irreparable chumps. Nothing was ever certain in Generation 7.

And that uncertainty spread to those heavily counted-on yet disappointing holiday season sales figures tallied by The NPD Group. The videogame industry couldn’t count on Santa, Jesus, Hanukkah Harry, or even Kwanzaa Mfume to pull out a retail miracle for the December holy days. NPD’s favorite representative Anita Frazier offered this comment on sales situation:

“December was very rough for new physical sales of video games hardware, software and accessories. Because of the great slate of content that came to market during the fourth quarter, I had expected December sales to represent a larger portion of total year sales than what occurred. This year, December accounted for just 23% of annual sales, while the average for the past ten years has been 28.”

Wedbush Morgan Securities mouthpiece Michael Pachter paints the picture more vividly in this comment to the Los Angeles Times:

“Lots of people rushed in to stores on Black Friday to buy games, but they disappeared in the first three weeks of December. The stores were empty. They only came back during the week just before Christmas. Consoles in particular are way down. It’s weird, but people don’t seem to see them as gifts anymore…

…Consumers bought just 6.3 million consoles last month, down from 8.4 million a year ago. That’s the lowest level since 2005.”

Clearly Nintendo’s sudden abandonment of the Wii combined with the decline of the DS and rough start of the 3DS is showing just how dependent the industry is on the Kyoto gamemaker’s success. Nintendo has been the pole propping up this industry tent since the beginning of this generation but who knows what’ll happen with Wii U as they begin the 8th generation. The uncertainty continues. But try to get a clearer picture from these NPD guesstimates if you can.

Microsoft’s XBox 360 put the star on top of the Christmas tree with (WOW!) over 1,700,000 duty callers sold in the month Christians celebrate the birth of Yeshua. In the month Americans celebrate the Veterans, the Call of Duty box sold 1,700,000 first-person sureshots showing such a marginal increase it might as well be no change. Well…can we finally say it? For the first time since its launch, the XBox 360 has become the BEST-SELLING U.S. home console of the YEAR! Hooray! Stymied at first by the still-dominant PlayStation 2 in 2006 then repeatedly foiled by Wii every year since (can’t forget the upset last year!), the 360 at last can say it commanded a year on the market. It goes without saying that it has also become the best-selling U.S. home console of 2011 (which was a cinch). And this month’s sales give the 360 the 2nd best monthly sales it has ever had! But most importantly of all, 2011 was the BEST-SELLING YEAR WORLDWIDE in XBox 360 history!! Impressive!

But for all the good news on the 360 front, this month’s overall sales prove that the 360 cannot command the leader role like Wii did. Even loaded with 3rd party software blockbusters they could not single handedly prop up the sagging tent of sales. If that’s not bad enough, then think of the coming future. With Nintendo putting an abrupt end to Generation 7.5 with Wii U, how will the 360 be able to stay relevant as the 8th generation gets underway? And how long can Microsoft wait until they deliver their next console to match up with Wii U? Will it catch on and how long will it take? It took the 360 years to get to this level of hardware-selling success. Wii killed the graphics race so where does Microsoft go from here? More HD? Kinect has proven itself NOT to be the game seller nor Wii stopper it should have been. Being a primarily 3rd party game platform has only taken the console only so far. Especially when all those 3rd party blockbusters couldn’t quite match up with Nintendo’s 1st party/2nd party evergreens. And starting over with a new machine is no guarantee they will carry over their previous success. It’s going to be quite a dilemma for Microsoft in the next few years.

But in the meantime, Microsoft has been busy sprucing up the 360’s Dashboard. With a new graphical overhaul, cloud storage capabilities, and enhanced Kinect-ivity, the new 360 Dashboard offers owners lots of radio and cable TV access along with YouTube (just now?) and go-to tabloid gossip source TMZ. And the long-awaited ‘UFC on XBox LIVE’ feature came just in time for Christmas (and Brock Lesnar’s crushing defeat). However, a curious development has emerged with the introduction of My XBox Live…on Apple’s iOS?! What?! The free application basically allows XBox Live members to pass messages to friends, design their Avatars, and check out Achievements right on Apple’s machines! It’s one thing to release an XBox Live Companion on a Windows Phone but to put XBox on iPhones? Ballsy! Then putting a companion Halo Waypoint app on iOS too? Ballsier! What’s this? New XBox Live Terms of Service forbids users from filing class action lawsuits?? Nuts!

Nintendo’s 3DS was as red-hot as Rudolph’s nose with, um…I’m not sure, sold in the month of National Egg Nog Day. In the month of Thanksgiving Day, the rescued 3D princess sold over 795,000 portable Marios showing unclear results. It wasn’t just an NPD Blackout this month. It might as well have been an NPD Eclipse! No sales number given was solid. They were either presented as “more than such and such number” which could mean anything or deciphered from percentages offered by shadowy analyst types.

But I have good reason to believe the 3DS outranked the Wii this month. NPD’s Anita Frazier commented that the 3DS and DS were the only platforms to realize a unit sales increase versus November. Keep in mind that December is a 5-week tracking month vs. November’s 4-week one. November’s 3DS total was “more than 795,000”. Dividing the “more than 795,000” by 4, we get “more than 198,750”. Add this weekly approximation to the original “more than 795,000” and we get “more than 993,750”. That would be the December figure if the rate remained flat. And we know that Frazier’s comment tells that this month’s total was MORE THAN “more than 993,750”. With only “more than 68,250” as the difference between 3DS and Wii, I’m pretty sure 3DS topped Wii. Especially with the power of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 behind it.

Yeah let’s talk about that Mario Kart 7/Super Mario 3D Land combo, shall we? Worldwide these 2 games have resurrected the nearly dying 3DS platform along with the emergency price drop. Mario Kart 7 most especially since it had only launched in December. Whether platforming in 3D or racing on karts with hanggliders, Mario power mushroomed the 3DS presence. Fire flowered it up, you might say. It became Australia’s fastest-selling console in history PERIOD beating the old record set by the DS. With the extra help of Capcom’s Monster Hunter (tri-) 3G in Japan, the 3DS has already surpassed 4,000,000 in lifetime Japanese sales alone. That same 4,000,000 number was surpassed in America too by the end of 2011 according to Nintendo. That little plumber saves the day AGAIN!

The year 2012 looks like it will be much more hopeful for the handheld. Nintendo is ready to unleash that trademark 1st party power on ‘em all year long. The anciently-awaited Kid Icarus: Uprising finally shows up on March 23rd and you can expect Luigi’s Mansion 2 (yes!), the new Animal Crossing, the new Paper Mario, and much more to lock down 3DS resurrection. And yes the Super Smash Bros. series will be making its first visit to the handheld world in the future. Hopefully Nintendo isn’t planning to start that pay-for-downloadables gimmick like a recent Nikkei report claims they will do for the new Fire Emblem game. They will definitely lose respect points from me if they go this nickel-and-dime route.

But overall 3DS is planting the seeds to crowd out Sony’s PlayStation Vita and head off Apple’s game plans. American airports and the Louvre from France are already catering to the 3DS with free airport Wi-Fi access through provider Boingo and the famous art museum replacing its audio guides with the 3DS guiding in their place. You think it’s good now, wait until the inevitable 3DS revision. Hopefully with much better battery life this time!

Nintendo’s Wii got with Adam Sandler to sing The Chanukah Song with about 1,062,000 Just Dance players sold in the month Jews celebrate the Festival of Lights. In the month Mexicans finish memorializing El Día de los Muertos, Wii sold over 860,000 Skyward Zeldas showing an increase much more modest than expected. Well, at least they still broke the 7-digit barrier. Time for the weekly differential math game! Take November’s “more than 860,000”, divide it into 4 weeks and get “more than 215,000”. Take that weekly approximation, add it to the original “more than 860,000” and get “more than 1,075,000” for a 5-week December total. Wii’s December figure was actually slightly less if we go by Michael Pachter’s “less than 55%” comparison to last December.

As much as I went on and on about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword this year, that game wasn’t the one that really pushed Wii this holiday season. That honor goes to Just Dance 3, a title I’ve been overlooking in my analysis for way too long. While Zelda sold very well, it has been the Just Dance franchise keeping Wii propped up especially this year. No matter that Just Dance 3 broke Wii exclusivity to go to 360’s Kinect and, this December, the PS3, Just Dance is a Wii franchise. In fact the games were so strong that Just Dance 3 ranked #2 on this ‘all platforms combined’ chart of multiplatform blockbusters for the month AND the year!! WHAT!! Just Dance 2 being all Wii ranked #9 for the year! They even got President Obama buying Just Dance 3 at Best Buy for Malia and Sasha! POWERFUL! I talk about the WiiDS Phenomenon all the time. Should I start talking about the Just Dance Phenomenon? Amazing, Ubisoft. Amazing.

I could bring up some more Zelda: Skyward Sword talk like the Save Data Update Channel for fixing an in-game glitch but there’s more serious business to go over. MIYAMOTO RETIRING?!?! The gaming world was ABSOLUTELY SHOCKED with even the hint that Shigeru Miyamoto would be stepping down from Nintendo. He represented one of the main pillars of Nintendo’s everlasting success as the Artist, the late Gunpei Yokoi representing the Engineer, and former President Hiroshi Yamauchi representing the Businessman. All people within the company are defined by at least one of these pillars. Quality software, quality hardware, and the ability to sell them best. That’s what made Nintendo the force and now The Great Miyamoto is leaving??? Turns out he was just stepping down from his General Manager position to return to more active hands-on game making. Whew! Scared the ‘sheets’ out of me! We all know that day’s coming one day but let’s hope that’s a day way far from tomorrow. To take off on a Dave Chappelle bit on the late great Michael Jackson: “He made Mario…Mario.”

Before 2012 starts the hype machine for Wii U in full, old Wii still has some unfinished business to attend to. Operation Rainfall has scored a win with Nintendo officially confirming that Xenoblade Chronicles will be released in America within April 2011. The Last Story (from Hironobu Sakaguchi of Square’s Final Fantasy fame) has a specific February 24th release date in Europe and it shouldn’t be too much to make a stateside debut. Jury’s still out on Pandora’s Tower but with more rainfall buyers should get some sunshine. Rhythm Heaven Fever comes on February 13th (for $30) and Mario Party 9 finally delivers its unique sequel-itis on March 11th. Nintendo’s going to have to sprinkle any other Wii releases strategically because it’s a long time until Wii U’s holiday season launch. The past mid-year Wii droughts will have nothing on this coming mid-year famine!

Sony’s PlayStation 3 remained non-denominational simply saying Happy Holidays with possibly 936,000 to maybe 940,000 Blu-ray bundles sold in the month of Human Rights Day. In the month of Universal Children’s Day, the plain and simple three sold about 900,000 Kevin Butler boxes showing only the slightest of increases. Again, no one exactly knows what the PS3 sold since Sony neither anybody else is giving any clearcut answers. Microsoft claimed the 360 had a 46% share of the “current generation console market” (presumably leaving out the handhelds) and calculating that with Nintendo’s presumed figures leaves us a range of 936,000 to 940,000, possibly maybe. It could be a little above or below that even since percentages can be rounded up or down and Microsoft’s and Nintendo’s figures are fuzzy in themselves. If the PS3 sold at the same November rate during this 5-week tracked December, it would have had “more than 1,125,000” so PS3 is DEFINITELY down. So much for breaking into the millions column this year.

Well, it’s clear that it’s never going to really get any better for the PS3. For awhile, in worldwide lifetime totals it looked like the PS3 would catch and surpass its direct rival, the 360. But the 360 stays just that much ahead of the PS3 even though 360 only has 2 major regions to make its sales (360 is nothing in Japan). Another price drop may give it a little jolt but it’s too late for this console to get 2nd place anymore. The roles are set. PS3 will always play second fiddle to the 360…except in Japan.

And speaking of Japan, there’s the matter of that little big handheld called the PlayStation Vita which made its debut there on December 17th. In its first 2 days Vita sold 321,407 units according to Enterbrain’s Famitsū magazine. For comparison, Andriasang unearthed the Famitsū’s Japanese sales of the 3DS in its first 2 days—371,326—and the PSP in its first day—166,074 (3DS: February 26-27, 2011; PSP: December 12, 2004). These sales came from an official shipment of 500,000. But by the second tracking week (December 19-25) sales had fallen off of a cliff to 72,479 according to Japanese sales tracker Media Create. That was below the 3DS, PSP, Wii, and PS3! Only above the combined versions of the DS, XBox 360, and the PS2! I’m not going to doom and gloom Sony just yet but this is starting badly for them (yes, even worse than for 3DS). If Sony strikes out 3 times in a row, I don’t know how they’re going to make it in this VG thang. Sony needs Vita to be a success—End Of Story.

To make sure Vita starts strong for its American debut in February, Sony will have 25 launch games ready to purchase like ModNation Racers: Road Trip, wipEout 2048, Touch My Katamari, Dynasty Warriors Next, Lumines Electronic Symphony, Rayman Origins, and Ultimate Marvel vs, Capcom 3 to name a few. Game prices range anywhere from $10 to $50. Also, some fans may be annoyed by Vita’s revealed inability to hold multiple PSN accounts (just one PSN account per console) among other needling issues. We’ll see if the pros outweigh the cons at launch. In other news, a couple of Sony Computer Entertainment America execs (marketing vice president Scott Steinberg and public relations vice president Rob Dyer) have exited the company (either by choice or by force). The Uncharted series has shipped 13 million worldwide. And the amorphous hacker group Anonymous is once again targeting “Sony Company and Associates” for hack attack. They plan to destroy Sony’s network. Good luck in 2012, Sony. You’re gonna need lots of it!

Nintendo’s DS was bahhed by Scrooge’s humbugs selling, uhhh…no clue, in the first month of winter’s cold. In last full month of autumn’s leaves, the double screen sold over 350,000 7-year olds in the 7th gen showing nothing but guesswork. They’re not even talking about the big-time consoles’ sales, forget about the old-head consoles. All we know is that DS in paraphrase of NPD’s Anita Frazier’s words said that DS and 3DS were the only platforms to realize a unit sales increase versus November How much of an increase? You got me. If we do that 4-week to 5-week math thing I did above, DS would have “more than 437,500” for 5-week December if the rate was even. It’s not at all impossible to see DS breaking past half a million (500,000) if not a little more.

One thing I can be certain of in this uncertain scene is that 2012 will mark the last year DS is counted on the sales chart. Like Sony’s PlayStation 2 does even now it will still make sales but NPD’s moving on to bigger and better things. Better prepare my console eulogy for when that time comes. Happy sales, Dual Screen!

Sacked and sleighed together, the U.S. videogame industry presented a mere $3.99 billion ($4.09 billion including PC portion) in total sales for December, a 21% chimney slide from last December. Of this just-shy-of 4 billion dollar figure, total hardware sales avalanched 28% down to $1.32 billion while total software sales flurried 14% down to $2.04 billion. Meanwhile, total accessory sales ‘blizzarded’ 27% down to $628.7 million. Wow. Underwhelming sales this month.

As we wrap up the presence of 2011, the U.S. videogame industry gifted $17.02 billion ($17.46 billion including PC portion) in total sales this year, an 8% snowfall from 2010. Of this 17 billion dollar figure total hardware sales dunked 11% down to $5.58 billion while total software sales coaled 6% down to $8.83 billion. All the while, total accessory sales lumped 11% down to $2.61 billion. Pachter was slightly off. These are the lowest sales since 2006’s $12.5 billion total. It falls behind 2007’s $17.94 billion. At the time, both of those were record-breaking figures but in this day and age they’re beginning to look old hat. Once again, the industry will have to depend on Nintendo to boost numbers with its 3DS and later hopefully the Wii U. I expect 2012 to look like the end of the world sales-wise if Nintendo can’t bring the pain. Gonna be a hell of a year!

Remember this, all percentages in the above paragraph refer to year-to-year comparisons between 2011 and 2010. And all percentages in the paragraph above that refer to year-to-year comparisons between December 2011 and December 2010. Ho ho ho!

There was no surprise what game owned the top spot in December. Yep, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Once again, this franchise beats its own records and dominates the conversation. Like Black Ops did the year before and Modern Warfare 2 did the year before that, expect this game to linger around the chart well into next year. This is definitely one 3rd party evergreen blockbuster. But another is Just Dance 3. The PS3 version debuted this month but this is definitely Wii’s dance party. It reached #2 on the monthly and yearly charts even though it only launched in the beginning of October. Powerful game, that one is. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim also showed some power making #3 on both monthly and yearly charts. But check out the solo platform 3DS entries. Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land interrupted the multiplatform get-together with some strong Nintendo magic. Battlefield 3 couldn’t beat MW3 but it made good rankings on the monthly and yearly charts. Madden is Madden, that’s a gimme. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations sneaks onto both charts. This year’s NBA strike didn’t keep 2K’s basketball game off the monthly charts with Jordan, Johnson, Bird on the cover. And Batman was your personal tour guide through Arkham City. (Shouts out to Cliffy B for getting into gear on the yearly charts)

Another year’s in the book, that much we can be certain. But who can be so sure how the next year is going to turn out? Make acquaintance with the unknown, life’s closest companion.

NPD’s Top Reported Hardware Sales in December

Microsoft XBox 360 – over 1,700,000*
Nintendo 3DS – ???
Nintendo Wii – about 1,062,000**
Sony PlayStation 3 – possibly in range 936,000 to 940,000†
Nintendo DS – ???

**Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter – deduction based on –55% percentage
†deduction based on XBox 360’s 46% console share and Wii’s deducted figure

NPD’s Top Ten Combined Software Sales in December

01. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (X360, PS3, Wii, PC)
02. Just Dance 3 (Wii, X360, PS3)
03. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (X360, PS3, PC)
04. Mario Kart 7 (3DS)
05. Battlefield 3 (X360, PS3)
06. Madden NFL 12 (X360, PS3, Wii, PSP, PS2)
07. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (X360, PS3, PC)
08. NBA 2K12 (X360, PS3, Wii, PSP, PS2, PC)
09. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
10. Batman: Arkham City (X360, PS3, PC)

NPD’s Top Reported Hardware Sales in 2011

Microsoft XBox 360 – over 7,239,000
Nintendo Wii – about 4,536,000
Sony PlayStation 3 – more over 3,865,000*
Nintendo 3DS – way over 2,374,000*
Nintendo DS – more over 2,524,000*

*approximations and rankings based on 2011’s available reported figures and deductions of missing data

NPD’s Top Ten Combined Software Sales in 2011

01. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (X360, PS3, Wii, PC)
02. Just Dance 3 (Wii, X360, PS3)
03. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (X360, PS3, PC)
04. Battlefield 3 (X360, PS3, PC)
05. Madden NFL 12 (X360, PS3, Wii, PSP, PS2)
06. Call of Duty: Black Ops (X360, PS3, Wii, DS, PC)
07. Batman: Arkham City (X360, PS3, PC)
08. Gears of War 3 (X360)
09. Just Dance 2 (Wii)
10. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (X360, PS3, PC)

About the Author: John Lucas