Hopeful signs for video game sector

Ubisoft latest to post better-than-expected numbers

After months of declines, not even blockbuster franchises like “Call of Duty” or new hardware such as Microsoft’s Kinect could help sales rebound for the videogames biz in 2010.

Overall, sales fell 6% for the industry, earning $18.6 billion, with software off another 6% to $9.4 billion and hardware down 13% to $6.3 billion, according to the NPD Group.

While December has typically been lucrative for gamemakers, given that games and consoles are often given as gifts, sales fell during the month, off 9% to $5.06 billion compared with 2009.

Activision Blizzard’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops” was the top-selling title of December and all of 2010, with the military shooter moving more than 12 million units across all platforms, which is more than twice as many as the second best-selling title of the year, “Madden NFL ’11,” from Electronic Arts.

Microsoft’s “Halo: Reach,” Nintendo’s “New Super Mario Bros. Wii,” and Take-Two Interactive’s “Red Dead Redemption” rounded out the top five bestselling games for the year.

The release of Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft: Cataclysm” expansion pack sent sales for PC games soaring 62% in December, and helped boost PC game sales by 3% in 2010. “WoW:C” and “Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty” repped 14% of PC game sales last year.

While NPD no longer releases unit sales for hardware and software, it did reveal that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 was the year’s fastest-growing gaming console, up 42%, and the only system to enjoy a year-over-year increase in unit sales over 2009, NPD said.

Consumers spent $6.3 billion on the Xbox 360 platform last year, more than any other console, NPD said.

In fact, Microsoft is saying demand was so strong for the system that powers the motion-sensing add-on Kinect that retailers ran out of the consoles in December.

Larry Hryb, Xbox Live’s director of programming, tweeted, “I found out we ran out of consoles at end of the month (!) so don’t expect to win Dec.,” referring to its battle with Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii. “Jan/Feb supply is tight as well.”

Analysts estimate 2.5 million Xbox 360 units sold in December, behind Nintendo’s Wii that moved 2.6 million units.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer said it sold 8 million Kinect sensors in its first two months and has sold 50 million Xbox 360 consoles to date.

NPD said 2011 will feature a variety of revenue opportunities for gamemakers.

“The dynamics of games content purchasing changed dramatically in 2010 with options ranging from the physical product to digital downloads on connected devices as well as in-store digital kiosks,” said NPD analyst Anita Frazier. “The increasing number of ways to acquire the content has allowed the industry to maintain total consumer spend on content as compared to 2009, and we should expect 2011 to be a growth year in the games industry as the consumer demand for gaming continues to evolve.”

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