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Videogame sales are tame

Sony, music gaming take biggest hits

The videogame biz is returning to Earth, with Sony and the music gaming category taking the hardest hits.

U.S. industry growth was 10% in November according to data from market research group NPD. While still high compared to most other sectors during the current recession, that’s a huge drop from a 52% gain last year during the month when publishers release many of their biggest games in anticipation of holiday shopping.

Comparison is complicated by the fact that there were seven extra post-Thanksgiving shopping days last November on NPD’s calendar. Nonetheless, this year’s figures are off by so much that there’s little doubt videogame hardware and software sales growth is slowing significantly.

Sony actually saw sales of its consoles fall from November 2007, with the PlayStation 3 off 20% at 378,000. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 grew a modest 8% to 770,000, fueled by a September price cut.

But the biggest winner, once again, is Nintendo’s Wii. Sales of the motion sensing console aimed at the casual market more than doubled to 2 million units in November.

Software sales were up 11%, compared to 62% last year. One of the main contributors was the music category. Activision’s October release “Guitar Hero: World Tour” has sold 1.5 million units so far, less than half of the 3.3 million units that “Guitar Hero III” moved in the same time frame last year. MTV’s September release “Rock Band 2” has sold an even more modest 809,000 units.

Microsoft’s “Gears of War 2” was the No. 1 game of the month, selling a boffo 1.56 million units and reaching 13% of Xbox 360 owners, for which it’s exclusively available. Company has said “Gears 2” has already sold more than 3 million units worldwide.

Activision also saw a very strong launch for “Call of Duty: World at War,” the fifth installment of its hit action franchise. Game sold 1.41 million units on Xbox 360, making it No. 2 on the list. Added to the 597,000 units sold on PlayStation 3, game moved nearly 2 million units, about equal to last year’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,” which went on to sell more than 10 million units worldwide.

Nintendo’s exercise instructor “Wii Fit” continues to show the longest legs of any videogame this year, coming in at No. 4 with 697,000 units. It has been in the top 5 every month since launching in May.

Valve and Electronic Arts’ horror actioner “Left 4 Dead” and Sony’s “Resistance 2” both had decent debuts, with 410,000 units and 385,000, respectively.

NPD reported that Activision Blizzard’s “Wrath of the Lich King” expansion pack to the hugely successful “World of Warcraft” online game sold 1.4 million units. Publisher has already said the game sold more than 2.8 million units worldwide on its first day.

High-profile new games that didn’t make the top 10, meaning no single console version sold more than 297,000 units in November, include Activision’s “Quantum of Solace” adaptation, Eidos’ “Tomb Raider: Underworld,” Midway’s “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe,” and EA’s “Mirror’s Edge.” Particularly poor sales for the latter game, along with the weaker-than-expected performance of “Rock Band 2,” played a role in EA’s recent announcement that it is will miss profit estimates.

Overall videogame industry revenue rose 10% in November to $2.9 billion and is up 22% for the year at $16 billion. NPD analyst Anita Frazier said a surge of holiday sales in December should take the biz to around $22 billion for the year.

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