Analysts split on September hardware leader

Industry watchers agree on a $600-650 million haul, but no consensus reached on whether Halo 3 propelled the 360 past the Wii.

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There's no denying that September was a big month for the games industry. Between the launch of a newly redesigned PlayStation Portable, Heavenly Sword, World in Conflict, several sports franchises, and, of course, that whole Halo 3 thing, consumers had plenty of reasons to dig deeply into their wallets regardless of their gaming platform of choice.

With the industry-tracking NPD Group expected to release its monthly sales statistics later this week, analysts have begun issuing their monthly notes and investor advisories. Last week, Lazard Capital Markets' Colin Sebastian projected the industry to ride Halo 3 to a 30 percent year-over-year climb in software sales, with Microsoft's Xbox 360 also seeing a substantial boost in units sold as a result of Bungie's shooter. Not entirely earth-shattering in light of the industry's double-digit growth this year during the traditionally slow summer months, the analysis from Sebastian noted that September 2006 was no slouch itself, having posted a 26 percent year-over-year increase from 2005.

Today, three more analysts have cast their lots on how September will shake out. Although all foresee industry sales to be in the neighborhood of $600 million to $650 million, there is some contention as to whether Halo 3 pushed the Xbox 360 past the Wii for the first time since December 2006.

Taking the most aggressive stance, Wedbush Morgan Securities guru Michael Pachter believes that the industry's September haul, which runs from September 2 to October 6, was $665 million, a 47 percent year-over-year increase. Driving the industry, unsurprisingly, was Halo 3. "We estimate that Halo 3 accounted for over $200 million (3 million units) in sales this month (up from Halo 2's $169 million)," he said. Pachter believes Microsoft will feel the Halo effect on hardware sales, with the Xbox 360 edging out the Wii 450,000 units to 420,000, and the PlayStation 3 rounding out the console race at 150,000 units.

Prediction market The simExchange sees a slightly more reserved outcome, with $630 million in sales, a 41 percent year-over-year increase. Jesse Divnich, a simExchange analyst, cited Halo 3 as a primary source for the sales gain, but noted that Xbox 360 sales are still not being forecasted to beat the Wii. "Despite the release of Halo 3, the title forecasted by the prediction market to be a dramatic console mover in September, the Nintendo Wii still successfully holds the number one spot for home consoles again at an expected 485,000 units sold," he firmly stated.

The simExchange has Microsoft moving 415,000 consoles and the PS3 shifting 164,000 units. Reflective of Pachter's projection, Divnich sees relatively stagnant PS3 sales, despite two much-hyped console exclusives: the critically panned Lair and the well-received Heavenly Sword. "These titles are not driving hardware in a way typically expected from exclusive titles," he noted.

Pacific Crest's Evan Wilson makes today's most cautious prediction, with the industry's take at $600 million, a 35 percent year-over-year rise. Short on solid hardware numbers, Wilson's industry update pegs Halo 3 as the software sales leader with 3.3 million units sold, and Phantom Hourglass shifting an impressive 450,000 units in the six days it was part of the September accounting period.

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