Nintendo's Wii and DS topped US March hardware sales, but Microsoft's Xbox 360 was the only system that managed year-over-year growth, according to the latest NPD data. Total console hardware sales were $456 million, down 17% over last year's $551 million, while software sales â€” bolstered by Capcom's Resident Evil 5 â€” totaled just $793 million, also down 17% over last year's $952 million.
Wedbush Morgan's Michael Pachter called March 2009's video game sales "surprising," attributing the decline to "tough year-over-year comparisons" and suggesting that "double-digit negative sell-through [implies] that the video game consumer has 'rolled over'."
Of course it's important to bear in mind mitigating year-over-year comparison factors. "While it might be tempting to jump to the conclusion that the sky is starting to fall on the video games industry given this months results, it's important to remember that two very big things are different this year than last," cautioned NPD analyst Anita Frazier. "First, Easter fell in March last year whereas it fell in April this year, and last March included the release of Super Smash Bros.: Brawl, which went on to become the fourth best-selling game in 2008."
Frazier says consumer data shows that 8% of industry unit sales were purchased around Easter last year, accounting for $121 million in March 2008 sales. "We expect that most of Easter sales this year fell into the April reporting period," she explained. Look for it to factor in May's numbers, in other words.
Remember September 2008's numbers, which Halo 3's September 2007 sales performance undercut? Frazier says March 2009's numbers are similar, adding that "Besides March 2008, this month's sales are 31% higher than the previous highest March which was March of 2007, so it was a pretty healthy month for sales, overall."
601k - Wii563k - Nintendo DS330k - Xbox 360218k - PlayStation 3168k - PSP112k - PlayStation 2
The Wii declined 17 points over 2008, where it sold 721,000 units, and the PS3 was off 15 points for the same period, where it sold 257,000 units. Microsoft's Xbox 360 on the other hand increased 21 points over last March's 262,000 units. While Sony and Nintendo's numbers make slightly more sense if you factor in Frazier's Easter logic, it conversely makes Microsoft's March 2009 Xbox 360 increase seem even more impressive.
"If there was one area that surprised me this month, it was hardware sales," said Frazier. "While it's not unusual for March hardware sales to be lower than February, I thought we'd see higher unit sales on most platforms."
If you're wondering why the PS2's numbers seem low given its recent price drop, remember that it occurred just four days prior to March's sales tracking period. Frazier says to wait for April to see the cut's sell-through impact.
And while Nintendo's sales were down, it's hard to argue with over half a million units sold given the number of months the company's competition's struggled to sell even half as many.
Adds Frazier: "It's important to keep in mind that the Super Smash Bros. Brawl effect from last year impacted hardware sales as well, so while the year-over-year comps are down for the Wii, the sales are still impressive."