As several analysts and publishers have pointed out, console transitions can be tough. That's clearly evident looking at today's January retail game sales report from The NPD Group. NPD noted that January 2013 was a five-week reporting period, so everything has to be multiplied by 0.80 to normalize the data. With that in mind, total industry sales in January 2014 resulted in a one percent decline at $664 million (down 21 percent if you don't normalize) and the big culprit is software. Total software sales were just $232 million, and even when normalizing that represents a 26 percent drop from last year.
As industry analyst Liam Callahan noted, the problem is that the big releases from the holiday period just failed to hold their momentum the way they did in January 2013. On top of that, there just weren't many compelling new titles on the market.
"A major factor in the decline in software this month was the slide in performance of November and December 2013 launches during January 2014 compared to how November and December 2012 launches performed in January 2013. These November and December launches collectively decreased 36 percent, or 20 percent when normalized to account for the 5-week January 2013," Callahan said.
He added, "There were about half the number of SKUs launched this January versus January 2013, leading to a 52 percent decrease in sales for new launches (or 39 percent when normalized for the 5-week January 2013). DMC: Devil May Cry and Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch were particularly strong launches in January 2013, causing a poor comparison for launches in January 2014."
The good news for the industry is that the new consoles are selling better than their predecessors as both Xbox One and PS4 got off to great starts. The hardware numbers in January ($241 million) definitely reflect consumer enthusiasm for the new platforms, as sales climbed 47 percent over last January, on a normalized basis. PS4, which has had a lead on Xbox One from the start, outsold Microsoft's platform in January, NPD said.
NPD estimated that the total consumer spend in January, when including digital purchases, mobile, used games, rental and subscriptions, comes to approximately $1.3 billion.
Here's the top 10 games chart for January, led by Call of Duty and NBA 2K on a combined SKU basis: