Video Game Sales Surge Once More in November

"Black Ops" brought some black ink for the video game industry in November.

Retail software sales posted impressive growth over 2009 numbers, marking the first time the industry has posted back-to-back gains this year.

Call of Duty Black Ops
Source: Activision
Call of Duty Black Ops

Software sales climbed 4 percent last month to $2.95 billion, led by Activision’s blockbuster “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” according to the NPD Group, which tracks video game sales. That’s the best month on record for retail.

Even better for the industry, unlike October’s retail sales numbers, which were something of a mixed bag overall, the increases were across the board in November. Hardware sales were up a surprising 2 percent—while consumers snatched up new motion control devices on the market.

NPD no longer breaks out console sales individually, but it did note that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 had a tremendous month—seeing sales increase 68 percent over last November. The Nintendo DS handheld system was once again the top-selling hardware device, spurred on, in part, by Black Friday price cuts.

"We expected a big jump in sales in November due to seasonality and the influence of holiday, but the change this November over October is bigger across most platforms than it was last November,” says NPD analyst Anita Frazier. “This could point to the impact of aggressive retail promotions during the critical Black Friday week."

“Black Ops,” to no one’s surprise, was the month’s top selling game, moving 8.4 million units at US retailers. In its first five days on shelves, it generated sales of $650 million, making it the most successful launch of any entertainment property in history—regardless of medium. (That sales figure, incidentally, is $100 million higher than “Modern Warfare 2,” last year’s “Call of Duty” title, and the previous holder of that record.)

"Black Ops accounted for 25 percent of all video game software units sold in the month of November,” said Frazier. “With only one month of sales, it has become the seventh best-selling game of all time, life-to-date."

Activision wasn’t the only publisher with something to celebrate, though. Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” was the industry’s second biggest seller, with the company’s “Just Dance 2” coming in at number 3. Electronic Arts saw extended strength in “Madden,” which came in at number four, despite being on shelves for several months.

Consumers are also embracing the new wave of motion control devices from Microsoft and Sony . The “Accessories” category, which includes both Kinect for Xbox 360 and PlayStation Move, was up 69 percent in November. NPD did not provide detailed breakout information, but Microsoft in November announced that Kinect had sold 2.5 million units in just 25 days. Sony has not released sales numbers to consumers, but shipments to worldwide retailers have been strong, largely in Europe.

Year-to-date, the industry is now just 5 percent off of last year’s pace, a dramatic improvement from a month ago. Software sales, which are generally looked to as the best barometer of the industry’s health, are down 5 percent—which is 3 points better than they were in September, but still discouraging. Hardware sales are off 11 percent.

The seasonal boost is causing some hope for a strong finish to 2010, though.

"Gains in November offset a good portion of the year-to-date declines," said Frazier. "Based on typical seasonality trends, new physical retail sales should come in between $18.8B-$19.6B. The higher end of that range would essentially be flat to last year."

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