Global game software sees slight hike in Q3

NPD, GfK, Enterbrain collaborative survey finds July-Sept. game sales eek 1% growth due to Japan weakness, Madden NFL 09 top seller; smartphone gaming on the rise.

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September may have been a shock of cold water for many who believe that the gaming industry has nowhere to go but up. Wrecking a 29-month streak of positive growth, September saw software sales decline 6 percent from a year ago, thanks largely to the tough comparison against Bungie's money-minting release of Halo 3. Nevertheless, game sales remained up a sizable 36 percent from last year in the US, with companies banking more than $6 billion so far in 2008.

However, it's important to note that though the US market is a key player in industry economics, it is far from the only player. That fact was reflected in Top Global Markets' third-quarter sales report, which found that worldwide software sales rose a marginal 1 percent during the July-September period. The tally was arrived at by compiling data from notable stat-tracking organizations The NPD Group, GfK Chart-Track Limited, and Enterbrain, Inc.

The UK contributed most heavily to the industry's growth, according to Top Global Markets' findings. In all, software purchases in the region were up 15 percent year-over-year, with the 26 percent growth in console sales more than compensating for handheld's 1 percent decline. That climb was nearly double what was seen in the US, where third-quarter software sales rose 8 percent from a year prior. Providing a composite of that figure, Top Global Markets said that console software growth stood at 6 percent while portables gained 10 percent.

So what provided the counterbalance to the US's and Europe's gains? In a word: Japan. During the July-September period, Japanese software dipped 21 percent from last year, with console sales skidding to a 33 percent decline and portable-game sales seeing a 13 percent loss.

"Japan did experience sales declines in both software categories, but it is important to keep in mind that not only is Japan a more mature market than the U.S. and UK, but 2007 was a banner year for the Japanese software market, with the titles released in the third quarter of 2008 not being as highly anticipated as those released during the same time period in 2007," said Enterbrain analyst Ricky Tanimoto in a statement.

In a separate study, the findings of which were released today, NPD further delineated usage of handheld devices in the US. According to the industry-tracking firm, at least half of those who own a handheld device are using it as much, if not more, than they were three months prior. Smartphone owners in particular responded favorably, with the NPD's report revealing that 46 percent of the segment is using more of the features on their mobile device.

The report surveyed "feature use and awareness, purchased content, purchase influencers, the frequency of purchases and downloads, and money spent" on a number of portable entertainment devices, including the Nintendo DS, PSP, iPod, iPhone, and various smartphones. Of those nontraditional gaming devices, the NPD found that smartphone users were using their handhelds more for gaming than business-related functions, with iPhone owners seeing the biggest gains in time spent playing games. Curiously, the study also found that usage primarily occurred while at home, belying the portability factor of the handhelds.

TOP-SELLING SOFTWARE WORLDWIDE - Q3 2008
Title / Publisher / Total Units* / US / UK / Japan
1) Madden NFL 09 / Electronic Arts / 2,994,000 / 2,958,000 / 35,000 / 1,000
2) Wii Fit / Nintendo / 2,089,000 / 1,283,000 / 460,000 / 346,000
3) Star Wars: The Force Unleashed / LucasArts / 1,738,000 / 1,417,000 / 321,000 / --
4) Pokemon Platinum / Nintendo / 1,482,000 / -- / -- / 1,482,000
5) Mario Kart Wii / Nintendo / 1,468,000 / 856,000 / 394,000 / 218,000

* Figures include Collector's Editions and non-hardware bundles.

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