Call of Duty dominates an awful 2012 for US retail

December totals and the industry for all of 2012 fell by 22% as hardware led the decline, falling 27%

The holiday season has come and gone, we've started a new year, and now we can look back at 2012. The NPD Group has just released its final monthly retail sales report and provided the totals for last year. There's no way to pretty up this car wreck. December saw total industry sales at retail drop by 22 percent, and all of 2012 was also down 22 percent at US retail. Industry sales in December came to $3.21 billion, bringing 2012's haul to $13.26 billion (compared to 2011's almost $17 billion).

Video game hardware was down 20 percent in December, totaling $1.07 billion and down 27 percent for the year, totaling $4.04 billion. Software in December (including PC) fell 27 percent to $1.58 billion while the annual total dipped 22 percent to $7.09 billion. Accessories also fell 8 percent for the year, totaling $2.51 billion.

As usual, NPD reminded us that their numbers for December at retail represent roughly 50 percent of the total consumer spend. When factoring in digital, used, rentals, etc., the total climbs to around $4.1 billion. It's also worth noting that as more and more console gamers look to digital content, point cards fared extremely well. "2012 was also the best year for point card and subscription card sales as gamers sought digital content on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Nintendo's eShop. Games like Journey and Minecraft broke records for number of games downloaded," said NPD industry analyst Liam Callahan.

Callahan believes December 2012 should be compared to 2005 when the previous console generation kicked off. “An apt historical comparison for this this month is December 2005, which was the first December of the previous console generation. As a testament to how much the retail market has grown, overall physical dollar sales in December 2012 are up 10% when compared to December 2005,” he commented.

Callahan also noted that the industry continues to be totally hits-driven and that 2012 also suffered from a dearth of new IP.

“In December 2012, positive trending for many annualized franchises like Call of Duty, Skylanders, Assassin's Creed, and FIFA, points to consumers' increased spending on hits, but that middle-tier games as well as catalog titles are suffering. This is evident in examining the share of December dollar sales that the top ten titles generated, which was 46 percent in December 2012, up 12 percentage points from last December,” he said.

“A major culprit in the decline in retail sales in 2012 was the lack of new releases with 29 percent less SKUs across consoles, portables, and PCs. However, the SKUs that were released generated 8% more units per SKU and 11% more dollars per SKU.”

Looking at the software charts for December and the full year, we can see that Call of Duty dominated, as Black Ops II took first place both in December and for all of 2012. Not only that, but Modern Warfare 3 also managed to make an appearance as the eighth best-selling game of 2012. Other games that were very strong performers included Halo 4, Assassin's Creed III, Just Dance 4 and Madden NFL 13.

Here are the charts for December and 2012:

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Latest comments (8)

Steve Peterson Marketing Consultant 7 years ago
You know it's bad when you have to reach back to 2005 to try to find a comparison that makes this last December look good.

Goodbye to a dreadful sales year for retail... 2013 will probably also be down, but perhaps it won't be quite as bad depending on what happens in the console market with new releases.
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Pier Castonguay Programmer 7 years ago
Physical retail will keep going down, in a few years when consoles will switch to digital distribution there won't be any left. I doubt the actual game sales (all included) went down though.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 7 years ago
The games industry world-wide is booming like crazy.
Vastly more people are playing games than a year ago.
Vastly more games are being made than a year ago.
Our industry has had a paradigm shift for the better.
Creativity, long bottled up in walled gardens, is at long last being given free reign.
These are the best of days for video gaming.
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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam7 years ago
There's been a trend for a few years now of the middle of the market getting squeezed, and this year it seems to have collapsed entirely. The top games (Call of Duty, FIFA, Assassin's Creed etc) are selling more copies than ever, showing that the market for boxed console games is, if anything, bigger than ever, despite booming digital sales on PC, console and app stores. But the bottom has dropped out of the market for budget and mid-range boxed games. It's AAA or nothing now at retail. The market for licensed games in particular has been pretty much obliterated in recent years, which (combined with their ill advised gamble on uDraw) is probably what killed THQ.

Sadly this has resulted in a lot of dev studios collapsing. They were often developing perfectly good games on a tight budget, punching above their weight, but they just weren't able to compete with 100+ man teams with budgets of tens of milions of dollars. And between the recession, changing tastes, and more and more space at retail being given over to used games, leaving less shelf space for back catalogue and a full range of new releases, it seems people just aren't willing to risk 30+ on a game that isn't a triple-A blockbuster these days.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by John Bye on 11th January 2013 10:16am

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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany7 years ago
Vastly more people are playing games than a year ago.
From which 95% a F2P users that only play a game for 10 min and never come again (and do not pay)
Vastly more games are being made than a year ago.
Which only a small percentage give any revenue
Our industry has had a paradigm shift for the better.
We are just re-enacting "game crash 83" on mobile devices and tablets. Read about it and tell me if you can't see the likehood
Creativity, long bottled up in walled gardens, is at long last being given free reign.
Not everything is black or white, sir...
These are the best of days for video gaming.
We are only in the higher part of a bubble; like consoles did in the early 90's, PC games on the late 80's but now with mobile devices.

And I'm sorry if I get annoying; i promise this will be my last comment to you:

As a member of the industry who loves gaming, I cannot help to see people as you as part of the problem; people taking care of marketing NOT unable to see reality, but WILLINGLY DENYING it just to focus in what they like instead of how things are.

Like those 1.4 Million X360 sold only during last month... all of them substitution for broken units, right?
Or that inaccurate 1 Billion mobile downloads, all of em paying customers who give profit, right?

Because of people like you; people in high positions that only believe what they want all out of personal preferences, I feel scared and worried.

Now it's up to you; try to think out of the box (your small box, I mean) or become like the CEO of "On Live". Up to you, I'm done caring.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up7 years ago
@ Alfonso People are entitled to their opinions and interpretation of the industry as they see it. I'm not sure you need to get as personal to make your point. Only part I dont agree with in regard to Bruce's comment is the walled garden thing. Having worked for one of the walled gardens for quite some time, there's no limits placed on your creativity whatsoever. A good idea is a good idea.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 11th January 2013 8:16pm

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Dominic Jakube Student 7 years ago
I think a lot of the declining market at retail is market saturation as everyone who wants a current gen system has one by now.Also I think the extended current generation has also lead to market apathy as well, I know personally I only bought a couple of console games last year as often the same games is available on pc with better tech and I buy pc online so the sales arnt officially counted.
I think in a year or two when new hardware is available and hopefully recessions over we will have a much better idea of the size of the market.
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D7 years ago
People don't have any money, and the current generation consoles have been out too long. Others can go on all they want about FTP, but the fact is we're where we've been before, and FTP has very little to do with it.
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