Killzone 2's rate of fire slows in April

NPD reports Sony's long-awaited FPS sells only 58,000 in its third month on the US market--roughly 9,000 units less than Halo 3; US total now 677,000.

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Last week's release of the April NPD numbers revealed that the US gaming market saw a 17 percent decline in sales for the second month running. One game apparently hit hard by the decline was the PlayStation 3 exclusive touted as a "Halo killer" by Sony loyalists, Killzone 2. After years in the making and a reported $21 million budget, the game sold just 58,000 units last month, down from just more than 323,000 units in March. Add in the 296,000 units the game sold in two days on the market in February, and its US sales total stood at 677,000 as of April 30.

Helghan's coffers are not filling as fast as before.
Helghan's coffers are not filling as fast as before.

Drops like Killzone 2's are not uncommon. As explained by game-industry analyst Jesse Divnich in his analysis of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars' now-flat sales, most AAA games tend to fall off sharply after their first one or two months on the market.

That said, Microsoft partisans in the verbal console wars were quick to point out that Killzone 2's April sales were less that those of the 21-month-old Halo 3. The Xbox 360-only shooter sold 67,000 units domestically during the month, including limited and collector's editions, reported NPD. (Killzone 2 did not come in a collector's edition.) In its first three months on the domestic market, Halo 3 sold just more than 4 million units, with its life-to-date US total topping 6 million units as of last month.

The discrepancy between Killzone 2 and Halo 3 is eyebrow-raising, given both have roughly the same very high Metacritic scores. However, it has several rational explanations that don't reflect poorly on the PlayStation 3 or the game itself.

Even before it was on the Xbox 360, the Halo series was a cultural phenomenon, with a fan base much larger than that of the original 2004 Killzone for the PlayStation 2. Halo 3 is by far the most popular exclusive on the 360, which had a US installed base nearly twice that of the PS3 as of March--14.9 million to 7.5 million consoles, respectively. Microsoft has also aggressively discounted its error-prone hardware, with the cheapest (and hard-drive-less) model now $200 less than the $399 PlayStation 3.

Furthermore, Microsoft pulled out all the stops promoting Halo 3 in the weeks leading up to its $170 million launch day. With a marketing budget of more than $10 million, the game's trailer was attached to summer blockbusters, and its artwork appeared on everything from soda cans to junk-food bags.

Halo 3 also had the benefit of not launching in the midst of an economic downturn and shrinking game market. The lowered demand for games was reflected by NPD's top 10 list, particularly in 10th-place finisher The Godfather II (PS3), which sold only 91,000 units. In March, the tail-end game on the chart was 2K Sports' Major League Baseball 2K9 (360), with 205,000 units.

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