Black Ops on top as December sales slide 9% - NPD

Record-breaking performance for shooter can't pull gaming industry to end the year on a high note; Kinect leads accessory sales to best month ever.

The game industry received a lump of coal in its stocking this Christmas, as the industry-tracking NPD Group today revealed underwhelming total US retail sales of gaming hardware and software for the month of December. According to those figures, sales dropped significantly for the month, despite some analysts' hopes for growth. For the month of December, the NPD Group reported that total US retail sales of gaming software, hardware, and accessories were $5.06 billion, down 9 percent from the same period last year.

With sales of 12 million, Black Ops isn't exactly keeping a low profile.

Activision's blockbuster Call of Duty: Black Ops repeated as the best-selling game of the month and has now reached sales of 12 million in the US alone. According to the NPD Group, that's more than double the next best-selling game of the year, EA Sports' Madden NFL 11. Unfortunately, not even Black Ops' continued success could push software sales into positive territory. Console, handheld, and PC games combined to sell $2.53 billion, down about 5 percent year-over-year.

The software charts saw a handful of new faces, led by Cataclysm, the latest expansion to Blizzard's massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft. Cataclysm debuted in third place, behind only Black Ops and Ubisoft's Wii-exclusive rhythm hit, Just Dance 2. Two more new arrivals in the top 10 were technically released in November but arrived too late in the month to top the charts. Disney Epic Mickey claimed sixth place in December, while Michael Jackson The Experience put another Ubisoft dance game in the top 10 at the eighth spot.

While the King of Pop's game came out on the Wii, DS, and PSP, Ubisoft has said nearly 90 percent of the copies sold were from the Wii version, making for an atypically strong showing from a number of third-party exclusives on Nintendo's console. Nintendo itself managed to place only one of its own games in the top 10, the fifth-place Retro Studios-developed Donkey Kong Country Returns.

A number of other titles would have been on a list of the top 10 best-selling SKUs but didn't make the cut for the NPD Group's multiplatform overall sales list. Those games included Microsoft's Kinect Sports and Dance Central, as well as THQ's UDraw Studio for the Wii, which came packed in with the UDraw Tablet peripheral.

Much like the software market, hardware sales were depressed in December, with US retailers moving only $1.84 billion worth of consoles and portables, down 16 percent year-over-year. There were some success stories in the mix, however, as the Xbox 360 posted its best month of sales ever, selling 1.9 million units. It was also the only system to post a year-over-year increase in unit sales. However, Nintendo's DS still topped the hardware charts for the month, pushing its US lifetime-to-date sales to 47 million and surpassing the PlayStation 2.

The only improved market segment for December was accessory sales. Peripherals enjoyed their best single-month sales total ever, raking in $853.2 million, a jump of 10 percent from 2009 levels. The Kinect was the best-selling peripheral for the second month in a row, while online currency and subscription card sales increased the most over last December's numbers.

"December 2010 represented one of the strongest monthly performances the industry has ever had at retail," Entertainment Software Association president Michael Gallagher said in a statement released alongside the numbers. "It was a robust finish to a year marked by innovation and engaging millions of consumers through a multitude of delivery models. Computer and video games led all other entertainment options as we responded to consumers' demands for creative content on every platform from consoles to smart phones to handheld game devices."

DECEMBER 2010 US GAME SALES
OVERALL DOLLAR SALES
Total retail sales: $5.06 billion (-9%)
Non-PC hardware: $1.84 billion (-16%)
Total software: $2.53 billion (-5%)
Non-PC software: $2.37 billion (-8%)
Accessories: $853.2 million (+10%)

TOP 10 GAMES
Title (Platforms) - Publisher
1. Call of Duty: Black Ops (360, PS3, Wii, PC, DS) - Activision
2. Just Dance 2 (Wii) - Ubisoft
3. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (PC) - Blizzard
4. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (360, PS3) - Ubisoft
5. Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii) - Nintendo
6. Disney Epic Mickey (Wii) - Disney Interactive Studios
7. Madden NFL 11 (360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP) - Electronic Arts
8. Michael Jackson The Experience (Wii, DS, PSP) - Ubisoft
9. NBA 2K11 (360, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii, PC) - 2K Sports
10. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3, 360, Wii, PC) - Electronic Arts

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