Video Game Sales Down, But Old Favorites Hold On

The midway point of 2010 is fast approaching, and so far there’s not a lot to cheer about in the video game world.

Modern Warfare 2
Source: Activision
Modern Warfare 2

Sales of software titles are down 8 percent year to date—a shortfall of more than $200 million, according to the most recent numbers from the NPD Group, which tracks video game purchases.

Year to date, software sales have topped $2.5 billion. Nintendo, not surprisingly, continues to top the charts, with five of the top-selling games. Electronic Arts has two, while Sony, Square Enix and Activision each hold one spot.

The rankings do indicate that last year’s top titles have strong legs at retail. “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” holds the top spot, while “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” which set sales records in its November 2009 launch, is firmly entrenched in the number two position this year. Sales of downloadable map packs for that game have likely kept it relevant for players, who typically have notoriously short attention spans.

Similarly, the Pokemon franchise is showing no signs of deceleration, despite its age. Now in its 14th year, the game series holds two of the year’s best selling games—“Pokemon HeartGold Version” and “Pokemon SoulSilver Version.” Incredibly, the games are simply enhanced remakes of titles that were released in 1999, yet have still become two of the strongest-selling games in the franchise’s history.

While, on the whole, the early numbers for 2010 are hardly cause for cheer, there are some encouraging signs for the remainder of the year. NPD’s initial sales figures aren’t yet in on “Red Dead Revolver,” a Western-themed action game from the developers of the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise that has been a constant topic of conversation in gaming forums since its May 3 launch.

Take Two Interactive, the game’s publisher, says it’s a hit. In its earnings announcement Tuesday, the company said over 5 million copies of the game have been shipped—and retail checks by analysts indicate demand is not letting up.

Similarly, sales of “Alan Wake,” a psychological action thriller that was five years in the making, have not yet been totaled. Retailers have reported heavy demand for that game.

Beyond that, the back half of 2010 has the potential for some significant hits of its own, including a new “Call of Duty” game from Activision, Disney’s “Epic Mickey” and “Halo: Reach” from Microsoft —which saw 2.7 million people log in to play the public beta test of the game.

Microsoft and Sony will also be introducing motion control devices later this year, which could bring in more casual players. And Nintendo is working on a handheld gaming system that projects 3D images without the need for special glasses. The company has not yet announced the on-sale date for its 3D system, but is expected to do so at the upcoming E3 trade show.

If Nintendo’s new system goes on sale this year, as some expect, the curiosity factor alone could drive one or two of its titles into the year-end list of best-sellers.

One thing that likely won’t happen in 2010 is a new sales record—whether for software in general or any individual title. The industry is still feeling the effects of the recession, and no industry insiders expect sales to match the 2008 numbers, the industry’s best year on record.

Similarly, going into E3, there’s not one title that has “Modern Warfare 2”-level buzz—making it unlikely any publisher will top that game’s sales record.