[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Another month, another red number.
The general trend for console and handheld hardware sales continued to slide for the month of February, as did the industry as a whole. Retail revenue – digital sales not included – sank by 25% versus a year ago, shedding more than $200 million from 2011. The hardware sector plunged by 36% to $244.2 million in revenue. Retail software revenue declined by 27% to just shy of $370 million, and even the accessories sector posted a 3% drop. All in all, despite notable releases like Dead Space 3 and Fire Emblem and the hope for continued strength from DmC, the results were worse than many analysts projected and signals continued weakness in the traditional video game sector which is slated to last for much of 2013 at the very least.
There are several factors at work here that may help to explain these declines. For starters, disposable incomes have been down thanks to increases in payroll tax withholding. This decreases take-home pay for workers and leaves less money to spend all around. Another factor is the delay of the tax filing season and delayed receipts of tax returns. February is typically a stronger month for video game sales because tax returns often lead to more luxury purchases… including video game software and hardware. This year has seen tax returns going out later, and many consumers are electing to save that money or use it to pay down debt. It remains to be seen if delayed tax returns will lead to stronger March spending, especially with several key games seeing release this month.
Finally, as this “longest generation” continues, fewer are buying new hardware because saturation is being reached – especially at current price points. If price drops occur, it’s possible that consumers may bite and buy additional hardware; however, after 6-7 years, most who want a particular console or consoles have acted already.
Editor’s Note: The hardware sales numbers referenced in this column are culled from both official NPD data and unofficially shared extrapolations and unit sales ranges via reliable sources on NeoGAF. Please be aware that NPD data is available on a subscription basis and not all data is released to the public, so some numbers cannot be verified and are accepted by the author as credible for this piece.
Let’s break down the specifics:
The Xbox 360 continues to be unstoppable here in the United States. Although 302,000 units sold was 29% lower than February of 2012, it’s still a pretty good number considering the age of the platform and the price point, which is still high. Of the ten best-selling games at retail for the month, seven sold the most on the Xbox 360 platform, including the top four games overall. There’s no question that the Xbox 360 has peaked and is in gradual decline leading up to and shortly after the release of Microsoft’s follow-up platform, but there aren’t any signs of Microsoft losing the top spot anytime soon. March could see potentially closer competition from the PlayStation 3 (thanks to MLB 13: The Show and God of War: Ascension) and the 3DS (thanks to a new skin/color for the 3DS XL and limited-time price drops for some retailers), but until one of these two knocks the 360 from its perch, there’s no reason to confidently predict another repeat this month.
The PlayStation 3 finished in the second spot once again, moving a decent 263,000 units. It is a 27% decline from last year, but, like the Xbox 360, the platform is getting long in the tooth and still selling respectably. A surprising boost came from Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, which came in ninth on the retail software chart and a decent showing for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance for the PlayStation 3 likely helped. It seems as though the PlayStation 3 is getting nestled into the second spot with some consistency, though it will be interesting to see how the two key exclusives for March in MLB 13 and God of War affect the standings. A price drop most likely helps move the sales needle on the PlayStation 3, but questions of timing and how much the drop should be remain. It’s not an open-and-shut case to justify a price drop given that sales results for 2013 haven’t really been that bad. It’s something to watch as we move into the spring months and the second quarter of 2013.
Nintendo fans aren’t going to like this, but 3DS sales continue to be unimpressive as the platform ranked third overall once again. February’s showing of somewhere close to 190,000 units sold marks the eighth straight month of YOY declines for the handheld, and that’s not a positive trend. It’s fair to expect that the string will end this month, as the 225,000 YOY target isn’t unrealistic and significant releases like Luigi’s Mansion and Monster Hunter should inject some life into the platform… but there’s been far too much inconsistency in terms of when software gets released. Little-to-no new compelling software gives consumers no reason to be interested in a 3DS, especially since the mobile sector is the growth market right now in terms of sales trends and popularity. I don’t deny that Fire Emblem was a pretty remarkable success, given the narrow demographic that the game is aimed at, but it didn’t amount to much in terms of selling hardware. Hopefully the period of weakness is over and sales begin to tick meaningfully upwards as we move forward and more new games finally see the light of day.
There’s really not a lot to say about the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii at this point, except that each managed to sell more than 100,000 units and therefore rank in at fourth and fifth place, respectively. The Nintendo DS continues to be a great handheld gaming option for consumers on a budget, plus there is still a ton of software out there to pick from. The Wii is still the Wii. Kids like it, Just Dance is still huge (Just Dance 4 was 7th overall in retail software, sold best on the Wii), and it’s a relatively inexpensive console option when compared to the HD twins in the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.
The Wii U had another dismal showing in February, moving just 66,000 units. This is better than the less than 50,000 units sold that we saw for January, but it’s still embarrassingly low for a new platform that is the follow-up to the best-selling platform from the prior generation. Marketing for the Wii U continues to be rarer than a Battletoads sighting for the Xbox 360 and new software has been all but non-existent. I see the spin applied to this 66,000 number and how it’s 45% better than last month, but come on… it’s tracking worse than Wii, and worse than the Gamecube in comparable post-launch periods. 45% better than horrendous is what? Less horrendous? Terrible? Nintendo fans are hopeful that Monster Hunter and LEGO City: Undercover can get consumers to pay attention; I’ll believe it when I see it. Until Nintendo shows that it’s actually making an effort with Wii U, there’s no reason for analysts or for consumers to have any faith in its potential whatsoever.
It’s no surprise that the PlayStation Vita is once again in the sales basement, selling less than 40,000 units for the month and showing a YOY plunge of more than 85% from its debut last February. The Vita has become an industry punch line, as sales have been consistently poor and software output has been equally poor. Many view the Vita as being a lost cause already, barely a year into its presence here in the United States. This should be unacceptable to Sony, but the company refuses to make any necessary moves to resuscitate the failing platform here. Japan recently got a significant price drop and has been seeing more software… but here, things are status quo and what little relevance the Vita has is quickly drying up and blowing away. Sure, it’s planned to be an important part of the PlayStation 4 strategy moving forward, but what about now? What about six months from now? Will consumers even care? Will publishers bother with wasting development time and resources for games on a platform that so few own? There are more questions than answers, and after a year, this just should not be.
March has some significant software releases, but is also looking at a retail revenue comp of $1.1 billion for last year. What will this year’s Mass Effect 3 be, if anything, and match its unit sales output of more than 1 million units? Maybe the latest Gears of War title could be that game. Can the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 both crack the 300,000 level for units sold and minimize YOY declines? Will the 3DS bounce back? Are LEGO City and Monster Hunter the tonics for what ails Wii U? Hopefully the answers to these questions and a few others will be interpreted from the numbers when they’re released next month, and I’ll be here to break them down then.
NPD’s Top Hardware Sales in February (Units Sold)
01. Xbox 360 (302,000 units)
02. PlayStation 3 (263,000 units)
03. 3DS (190,000 units)
04. Wii (100,000 units)
05. DS (100,000 units)
06. Wii U (66,000 units)
07. Vita (40,000 units)
NPD’s Top Ten Software Sales in February (Platforms by sales amount):
01. Dead Space 3 (360, PS3, PC)
02. Call of Duty: Black Ops II (360, PS3, Wii U, PC)
03. Crysis 3 (360, PS3, PC)
04. NBA 2K13 (360, PS3, Wii, Wii U, PSP, PC)
05. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PS3, 360)
06. Aliens: Colonial Marines 2013 (360, PS3, PC)
07. Just Dance 4 (Wii, 360, PS3, Wii U)
08. Far Cry 3 (360, PS3, PC)
09. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PS3, Vita)
10. Madden NFL 13 (360, PS3, Wii, PSV, Wii U)