US March game sales slip 4%, DS top hardware - NPD

[UPDATE] Xbox 360 sells 433,000 units as Pokemon Black & White combine for 2.4 million; 3DS first-weeks sales hit 400,000; Homefront and Dragon Age II also medal in weaker-than-expected retail software market.

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Today, the NPD Group reported its sales results for the March 2011 reporting period, which saw a mild decline versus February's slight uptick. Overall during the month, retail sales of software, non-PC hardware, and non-PC accessories declined 4 percent to $1.53 billion. However, for the first quarter of the year, sales were nearly flat, declining just 1 percent according to NPD analyst Anita Frazier.

Record Pokemon sales helped boost the DS into first place.
Record Pokemon sales helped boost the DS into first place.

As one might expect during the month that saw the March 27 launch of the 3DS, hardware sales were up, rising 12 percent to $494.5 million. However, Frazier said that surprisingly, the top hardware platform during the month was the original DS family of systems, not its three-dimensional successor.

"The 3DS launch compares quite favorably to that of the best-selling dedicated handheld gaming platform of all time, the Nintendo DS," Frazier said in a statement. "While the 3DS sold about 100,000 units less than the DS did in its launch month, we must consider that the DS launched in November and had holiday seasonality and a price differential of about $100. Because of the price differential, the 3DS generated greater revenues than did the DS in its launch month in November 2004. In addition, the 3DS was launched in an environment where there are more devices that can support the portable gaming experience such as tablets and smartphones."

Though NPD no longer releases specific monthly hardware sales figures, Microsoft was more than happy to announce the Xbox 360 was once again the top-selling home console of the month, selling 433,000 units. Sony released a statement saying that the PlayStation family of systems saw "double digit growth across hardware and peripherals," but did not release hard sales figures.

As of press time, Nintendo had not commented on its systems' sales performance. However, one reason the DS did so well last month was the fact that Pokemon White and Black launched on March 6. "Pokemon White is the best-selling Pokemon SKU in its debut month at retail of any Pokemon to date, and the Black version is third," said Frazier. "Combined they break previous sales records held by Pokemon Silver and Gold in October 2000."

[UPDATE] Following the publication of this story, Nintendo delivered its own response to NPD's retail sales report. According to the publisher, the 3DS sold just shy of 400,000 units during the one-week period party to NPD's March reporting window. As indicated by NPD, that figure was less than the 460,000 units that the DS sold during March.

Nintendo also provided word on its chart-topping DS duo, Pokemon Black and Pokemon White. The White version proved to be far more popular than the Black game, selling 1.3 million units to 1.1 million units. Though largely the same, the two different versions of the game feature exclusive Pokemon that can be traded through the DS's wireless functionality.

Lastly, Nintendo also detailed the Wii's sales performance, saying the flagging console shifted just 290,000 units during the month. The Wii may receive a sales boost next month, when Nintendo is rumored to be cutting the price of the console by $50.

Overall, retail software suffered a worse-than-expected 15 percent decline in March, falling to $790.9 million. Pokemon White finished first, followed by Pokemon Black and THQ's near-future military shooter Homefront. BioWare's latest role-playing game, Dragon Age II, finished in fourth followed by perennial bestseller Call of Duty: Black Ops in fifth place.

The number-six slot belonged to LucasArts' blocky entry Lego Star Wars: The Clone Wars, followed by Electronic Arts and Crytek's visually slick shooter Crysis 2. Take-Two's NBA 2K11 continued to benefit from a lack of competition, landing in eighth place five months after its October 2010 release. Rounding out the top 10 were Sony's MLB: The Show and EA Sports' Fight Night Champion.

MARCH 2011 US GAME SALES
OVERALL RETAIL DOLLAR SALES
Total sales: $1.53 billion (-4%)
Non-PC hardware: $494.5 million (+12%)
Total software: 790.9 million (-15%)
Non-PC software: $735.4 million (-16%)
Accessories: $241.3 million (+13%)

TOP 10 GAMES
Title (Platforms) - Publisher
1. Pokemon White Version (DS) - Nintendo
2. Pokemon Black Version (DS) - Nintendo
3. Homefront (360, PS3, PC) - THQ
4. Dragon Age II (360, PS3, PC) - Electronic Arts
5. Call of Duty: Black Ops (360, PS3, DS, Wii, PC) - Activision
6. Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (Wii, 360, DS, PS3, 3DS, PSP, PC) - LucasArts
7. Crysis 2 (360, PS3, PC) - Electronic Arts
8. NBA 2K11 (360, PS3, PS2, Wii, PSP, PC) - Take-Two Interactive
9. MLB 11: The Show (PS3, PSP, PS2) - Sony
10. Fight Night Champion (360, PS3) - Electronic Arts

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