US physical game sales hit lowest since October 2006

Physical sales decline 14 per cent in May to $743.1 million, LA Noire tops software charts

US boxed video game sales in May 2011 totalled $743.1 million, a 14 per cent decline on the same period in 2010 and the lowest since October 2006.

That's according to data released by the NPD Group, which reported that software sales were down 19 per cent to $375.8 million and hardware down 5 per cent to $228.9 million. Accessories was also down 6 per cent to $114 million.

"Keeping in mind that these sales figures represent just the new physical portion of the market for video game hardware, software, and accessories and not the growing portion of the industry that is comprised of digital format content distribution, May 2011 was the lowest month of sales for the industry since October 2006," said the company. "A light slate of new releases is at the heart of this month's performance."

Sales of the PlayStation 3, PSP and Xbox 360 were all up over May 2010, with 360 seeing the highest increase.

NPD noted that "sales of the 3DS were light, but with next Sunday's release of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, we will begin to see a slate of strong content come to market for the 3DS, which should help to significantly boost sales of hardware during the remainder of 2011."

"Combined sales of the PS3 and Xbox 360 (HD hardware) are up 28 per cent for the month and 21 per cent year to date. Although the declines in console hardware sales in 2011 are attributable to the Wii, the platform remains the best-selling of this generation at nearly 36 million installed in the US."

NPD suggested that at the current rate of growth and decline, the Wii will still maintain the lead in the console space, although the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 will have closed the gap. "Of course, new details on hardware introduction could certainly change the picture," added the company.

During May there were 42 new software SKUs released compared to 58 last year and 72 for May 2009.

"Keep in mind that purchases of content are increasingly occurring in digital format, and May saw a notable digital release in the second map pack for Call of Duty: Black Ops which was titled Escalation. Undoubtedly, this shifted some dollars that might have been spent on new physical content at retail," noted NPD.

The biggest release of the month was Team Bondi's L.A. Noire, followed by Brink, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, Portal 2 and Mortal Kombat.

The top ten best sellers for May follow:

  • 01 L.A. Noire (360, PS3)
  • 02 Brink (360, PS3, PC)
  • 03 LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean (Wii, 360, DS, 3DS, PS3, PSP, PC)
  • 04 Portal 2 (360, PS3, PC)
  • 05 Mortal Kombat (PS3, 360)
  • 06 Call of Duty: Black Ops (360, PS3, Wii, DS, PC)
  • 07 Zumba Fitness: Join the Party (Wii, 360, PS3)
  • 08 NBA 2K11 (360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, PC)
  • 09 Just Dance 2 (Wii)
  • 10 LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (Wii, DS, 360, PS3, 3DS, PSP, PC)

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Latest comments (13)

Kevin Clark-Patterson Lecturer in Games Development, Lancaster and Morecambe College8 years ago
To be fair, the quality of games released this year so far have been pretty poor. Not mentioning names but some of them wouldnt have even got a look in last year and even last year wasnt that great either.

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Paul Evans Programmer, Lionhead Studios8 years ago
Unless you are counting pre-owned versions of nearly new games in these figures, then this is misleading. I would wager if you could see pre-owned next to these new charts the damage pre-owned is doing to new sales would be very clear.
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Hal Helms Studying Computational Media, Georgia Institute of Technology8 years ago
Paul, I don't see why pre-owned game sales would suddenly threaten new game sales, as used game sellers have been around for a very long time. Also, if used game sales are in fact rising at a significant rate, then that would be an indicator that customers do not value modern games enough to hold onto them for several years, and more see them as games to be "rented".
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Russell Watson Senior Designer, Born Ready Games8 years ago
Although preownered sellers have been around for a while it has never been so prevalant. I dont see the argument that preowned titles arent doing any damage holding water when I can walk into a GAME and see -half- their stock being preowned titles.

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Graham Simpson Tea boy, Collins Stewart8 years ago
I would argue that used games sales has helped save the industry. Especially during the recession as trade credits have been used to buy a new game when the customer did not have the cash.
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Frankie Kang Producer / Consultant, First Post LLC8 years ago
Used games sales has helped save the gaming consumer's thinning wallet, but it has not helped the industry at all. 4 or 5 used games for one new game, which means 4 or 5 more games that end up cutting into the revenue of developers and publishers. Coupled that, with the growing 99 cent mobile market and social games, and its obvious that our industry is heading in an all-new direction.

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James Benn Studying Computer Science, University of Portsmouth8 years ago
I agree with Graham, particularly given youth unemployment is so high: 52% in US, 40% in Spain, 20% in UK (adults under the age of 25).

Pre-owned makes it easier to fund purchases, however irrespective, in this climate it's apparent that many titles can't hold their release price for very long before being heavily discounted sometimes within weeks in order to shift units, and these slimmer margins will surely be hitting publishers and retailers alike.

Fortunately the rise of DLC mitigates some of this for the publisher but it's effect is not included in these figures.
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Chris Tux Consultant 8 years ago
I agree with Hal on this. The pre-owned market is as vast as it is because quality has dropped significantly and very few games are worthy of coming back to.
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Haven Tso Web-based Game Reviewer 8 years ago
People will not trade in their games if they have replay value or if they are of high quality for retention purpose. I think before the industry goes all out to attack the pre-owned market, some neutral body should carry out a study of what games people have traded in in the last two years then we will have a full picture. If people are trading in budget titles (tripple A or not) then it reflects that the quality here is the issue.
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Benjamin Seeberger Writer/Translator 8 years ago
There have always been bad games. Back then, bad games didn't sell, and companies disappeared. Today, bad games don't sell, and then don't sell again. Today because the pool of consumers has risen, so has the quality of bad games (and the absolutely beautiful good games). Albeit the focus on triple AAA style has stigmatized the culture somewhat, forcing big companies that want to truly define the market to spend gobs of money on everything from marketing to hiring an army of nerds (programming, art, design, qa, and so on).

The issue today with making game purchases isn't as much quality, though, as information. Back then, Gamepro (or Game Informer) worked as 'objective' forms to guide purchases. Today, everyone has an opinion, and its hard to buy a decent game outside of doing cross-literature research (and the VAST amount of gamer opinion magazines and websites) and/or random sampling (last time I did that was Shellshock: Nam '67).

So used games are often preferable to the process above, since a huge portion of gamers now are actually adults and have to budget income instead of just taking their allowance to the store to screw around with how they like without repercussions.
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Hal Helms Studying Computational Media, Georgia Institute of Technology8 years ago
I agree, I feel that the quality and replay value of games from the games industry in general is declining. Of course, this is a touchy subject because people will argue that quality is subjective, and no individual developer would ever admit to putting out a low-quality title.

Still, the fact that sales are lower now than they were 5 years ago suggests that console gaming is declining rather than expanding. I agree with Haven that some information from a neutral customer survey would be helpful in identifying the big issues.
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Wesley Paisley Chief Technical Officer, Third and Five Games, Inc.8 years ago
Could this be a reflection that casual gamers are starting to fall off? Or as the article is hinting at that more gamer funds are going to online subscriptions? I feel it can be both as more hard-core gamers move to online games and casual gamers fall off till the next trend is launched.
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Paul Evans Programmer, Lionhead Studios8 years ago
Unless the retailers release their pre-owned numbers with the brand-new charts, it is impossible to say for sure either way. Considering recent stories from retailers saying their profits from pre-owned have climbed, is it a stretch to say that is at the expense of brand new sales, which are tracked?
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