NPD: U.S. video game sales down 21 percent in December

Modern Warfare 3 tops $1 billion in sales in 16 days

Market analysis firm NPD has released its U.S. video game sales figures for December 2011 (and, hence, the entire 2011 calendar year), and the results aren’t terribly pretty. NPD found that video game sales in the U.S. were down 21 percent in December compared to a year ago, and 2011 came in some 8 percent behind 2010 in overall sales. However, it’s important to note what NPD is actually measuring here: retail sales of video games, gaming systems, and accessories. NPD does not include online game sales, nor does it include games for increasingly popular smartphone and tablet platforms like Apple’s iOS and Android—and when those sales are considered, the video game industry didn’t do too badly in 2011.

Overall, NPD found that total U.S. video game sales for December totaled $3.99 billion, down from $5.07 billion from the same month a year ago. Sales of video game hardware were down 28 percent, while sales of game titles was down 15 percent overall—or just 14 percent, omitting PC games. For the full 2011 year, NPD found sales down 8 percent, including an 11 percent decline in both hardware sales and accessories, with software sales down 8 percent with PC software, or 6 percent without PC games.

In a perhaps more-accurate measure, NPD places total game spending for 2011—including digital downloads, social games, mobile games, downloadable content, used games, rentals, and subscriptions—between $16.3 and $16.6 billion for the year. That’s down just 2 percent from 2010.

NPD’s estimate of the entire U.S. gaming market seem to highlight a change: gamers are increasingly shifting their purchases from physical retail items to online, mobile, and social gaming, although they aren’t quite spending enough money to make up for the decline in traditional retail sales. In part, that could be because online versions of some many games are less expensive than their retail counterparts. This year’s holiday sales may also have been hindered by the lack of fresh gaming systems (the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii are all at the middle or near-end of their lifetimes), and there was no breakout accessory this year to produce the sales momentum enjoyed last year by Microsoft’s Kinect system.

“Overall industry results are not entirely surprising given that we are on the back end of the current console lifecycle, combined with the continued digital evolution of gaming,” said NPD Group analyst Anita Frazier, in a statement. Core gamers continue to be engaged and spend on established franchises across both the digital and physical format using multiple devices for different gaming occasions.”

Although NPD no longer breaks out specific sales figures, it did name its top games for 2011. Not surprisingly, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 took the top slot, with Just Dance 3, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Battlefield 3, and Madden NFL 12 rounding out the top five.