December game sales tank 21% - NPD

Hardware revenues drop 28 percent year-over-year; software sales slide 14 percent with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 topping the charts.

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The US retail gaming industry has had a rough go of it in recent years, but the fourth quarter of 2011 was shaping up well. Battlefield 3 and Batman: Arkham City helped push October's retail revenues into positive territory, and the Call of Duty juggernaut's annual deployment the following month did its usual record-setting thing, leading to the best November sales ever for the industry. Today the NPD Group released its US retail sales data for December, dismissing any notions that the industry's economic recovery would be smooth sailing from here on out.

The Call of Duty series continued its years-long assault on the software sales charts in December.
The Call of Duty series continued its years-long assault on the software sales charts in December.

Last month, retailers in the US pulled in $3.99 billion in sales, according to the NPD Group. That's a 21 percent dip from the $5.07 billion posted for December of 2010. No segment of the industry took as proportionately big a dip as hardware sales, which shrank 28 percent year-over-year to $1.32 billion. Accessory sales were down 27 percent to $628.7 million, while software sales were as close to a bright spot as the month's numbers yielded, down just 14 percent to $2.04 billion.

"December was very rough for new physical sales of video games hardware, software and accessories," NPD analyst Anita Frazier said in a note following the numbers' release. "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 percent of annual sales, while the average for the past ten years has been 28."

As for which games sold well, the winners' podium featured three distinctly different games covering a wide swath of gamers. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 topped the charts, followed by Ubisoft's Just Dance 3 and Bethesda's Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. As for other notable games that didn't make the top 10 multiplatform chart, the NPD said that Activision's Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure would have finished fourth overall in December if its ancillary action-figure packs--currently counted as accessory sales--had been folded into its software sales total. Meanwhile, the PC-exclusive Star Wars: The Old Republic finished 14th overall on the multiplatform charts, and the Wii-exclusive The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was the 10th-best-selling single SKU for the month of December.

DECEMBER 2011 US GAME SALES (Oct. 30 - Nov. 26)
OVERALL DOLLAR SALES
Total retail sales: $3.99 billion (-21%)
Non-PC hardware: $1.32 billion (-28%)
Non-PC software: $2.04 billion (-14%)
Accessories: $628.7 million (-27%)
Total software: $2.14 billion (-15%)

TOP 10 GAMES FOR DECEMBER 2011
Title (Platforms) - Publisher
1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (X360, PS3, PC) - Activision
2. Just Dance 3 (Wii, X360) - Ubisoft
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (X360, PS3, PC) - Bethesda Softworks
4. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) - Nintendo
5. Battlefield 3 (X360, PS3, PC) - EA
6. Madden NFL 12 (X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP) - EA
7. Assassin's Creed: Revelations (X360, PS3, PC) - Ubisoft
8. NBA 2K12 (X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, Wii) - Take-Two
9. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) - Nintendo
10. Batman: Arkham City (X360, PS3, PC) - Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

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