Analysts augur 10-14% August sales slide

Madden launch not expected to prevent sixth straight month of slumping software sales; Pachter predicts Wii price cut by November, industry-watchers split on impact of PS3 price drop.


Dissidia: Final Fantasy
Batman: Arkham Asylum

On Thursday, the NPD Group is set to release its US retail sales figures for August, and analysts are expecting the results to cap off a full half-year of declines for the gaming industry. A quartet of analysts have released investor notes with expectations for the NPD numbers, agreeing that software sales for the month will be down by double-digit percentages.

Despite the price cut and the introduction of the PS3 Slim, some analysts believe sales of Sony's system still fell year-over-year.
Despite the price cut and the introduction of the PS3 Slim, some analysts believe sales of Sony's system still fell year-over-year.

Janco Partners' Mike Hickey was the most optimistic of the analysts, expecting a decline of just over 10 percent for the month. Pacific Crest Securities' Evan Wilson came in at the lower end of expectations, projecting software sales slumping 16 percent year-over-year. Wedbush Morgan Securities' Michael Pachter and Electronic Entertainment Design and Research's Jesse Divnich each weighed in with predictions of game sales down 14 percent from August of 2008.

Much of the August total rests on the performance of Electronic Arts' Madden NFL 10, which was not expected to live up to last year's sales figures. Wilson projected 2.1 million copies sold across all platforms, down from Madden NFL 09's August tally of 2.3 million. Pachter was more conservative, expecting the game to muster sales of just 1.95 million, while Divnich's prediction was roughly in line with Wilson's. As for why the football sim would be down year-over-year, Divnich pointed to the absence of a DS version, special editions, and a PSP hardware bundle, all of which were present for last year's Madden.

With Madden atop the charts, other expected best-sellers include Batman: Arkham Asylum (see below), with Divnich putting Dissidia: Final Fantasy in his top 10 and Pachter name-dropping G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Wolfenstein as significant contributors for the month. Divnich called out Batman specifically, saying the PlayStation 3-exclusive Joker content should shift the usual sales ratio of multiplatform games. Where Divnich said the Xbox 360 edition of a game typically comes close to doubling the sales of its PS3 counterpart, he expects the Xbox 360 version of Batman to hold a much slimmer 52 percent to 48 percent sales advantage.

The PS3 Arkham Asylum's playable Joker levels could upset the usual ratio of multiplatform sales.
The PS3 Arkham Asylum's playable Joker levels could upset the usual ratio of multiplatform sales.

That won't be the only figure of note for PS3 followers in the August NPD numbers. With Sony announcing the PS3 Slim and a price cut for older versions of the system in August, the hardware sales figures will draw plenty of attention. Interestingly, analysts were split on the instant impact of the Slim announcement and price drop.

Hickey projected PS3 sales to receive a significant bump, reaching 241,000 last month compared to 185,000 in August of 2008. Pachter and Divnich were less optimistic, projecting PS3 sales of 160,000 and 140,000, respectively. Divnich told GameSpot he wouldn't be surprised if his estimate proves to be too low, saying it was published for his clients on August 17, when news of the cut had been leaked but before Sony had officially announced it.

"Without the price cut, the PlayStation 3 was on track to sell 108,000 units for August," Divnich said. "We assumed an additional 32,000 units sold due to the price cut. However, given that the price cut was immediate and some PlayStation 3 Slims hit shelves earlier than expected, it is entirely possible that an additional 60,000 units were sold between the announcement and the end of the retail month, putting sales closer to 170,000 units than 140,000."

Sony's PS3 price cut was followed late in the month by Microsoft with the new $299 point for the Xbox 360 Elite, and Pachter expects the cascading cost reductions to continue. In his note, the analyst reiterated his expectations that Nintendo's still-$249 Wii would soon receive its first price drop, saying he expects such a cut by November.

Despite the tempered near-term expectations, there were glimmers of hope in the analyst notes. Wilson, Pachter, and Divnich all predicted that gaming software sales would return to positive territory in September.

"In September, we expect new releases, The Beatles: Rock Band, Halo ODST, Need for Speed: Shift, Guitar Hero 5, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 to drive sales growth into double-digit positive territory," Pachter wrote.

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