On Thursday of last week the retail-tracking firm, the NPD Group, released its estimates of new U.S. physical retail video game sales for the month of September 2011. With EA Sports' Madden NFL 12 pushed into the September retail calendar, and the release of Microsoft and Epic's Gears of War 3, it was no surprise that software sales were up 3% compared to last year.
However, that modest growth was outweighed by 9% and 14% declines in the hardware and accessory segment revenue, leaving the retail video game industry down by a full 4% relative to September 2010.
Below we will break down the figures into a bit more detail, including a detailed examination of console hardware sales in terms of both units and average prices. We also look into some specifics of the software segment, including a three-year view of the changing share of software dollars among the leading consoles.
Finally, we look beyond retail and into the NPD Group's Games Industry: Total Consumer Spend report, which attempts to produce a more comprehensive view of consumer spending on video game content from a variety of outlets. We express some skepticism and ask some questions about the report's figures, and get a response directly from the president of the NPD's Games Group, David McQuillan.
Industry at a Glance
After an extremely disappointing July and August, it was refreshing to see some positive figures in the September report. In particular, software revenue was up $18 million over September 2010, an increase of approximately 2.9%. Software units were up an even healthier 4.4% to 14.5 million units, although the average price of the software sold did drop by 1.6%.
To put those software figures in context of the weak summer months: software revenue increased 90% from August to September, on a weekly average basis, while software units increased 30% and software prices jumped 37%.
We estimate that hardware unit sales were around 1.55 million units for the month, a modest drop from the 1.62 million in September of last year.
A year ago Sony launched its PlayStation Move system for the PS3, and it is possible that some of the decline in the accessory segment this year stems from a comparison to that launch.
Below are the key revenue figures for September 2011, according to the NPD Group's report.
The NPD Group highlights to the media that the data above represent physical retail revenue figures, and that there are separate estimates for video game content sold through other means. They are providing quarterly estimates of those extra-retail sales, including mobile games, downloadable content, and casual games, along with other segments.
We examine the latest of those quarterly estimates, with some historical context and comments from the NPD Group itself, in the final segment of this article.