'Wii Fit' springs to top of video game sales charts

Wii Fit is finally in chart topping shape. The game, released in May, did a slow burn that helped it rise to the top of the NPD Group's video game charts for the month of January.

Selling 770,000 copies in January, the $90 game — actually a fitness program that lets you do strength, balance and yoga exercises — has now sold 5.3 million total in the U.S., which puts it in the top 20 all-time best-sellers, according to NPD analyst Anita Frazier. Other recent games that are also in the top 20 (all of which have sold over 5 million units) include Grand Theft Auto IV, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Madden NFL '09.

Along with Guitar Hero III, Wii Fit and Wii Play, Frazier says, "are among the more non-traditional games that are now enjoying success out in the marketplace due to the broadening of the video games market."

Don't expect Wii Fit's momentum to slow anytime soon. Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter expects the game to eventually become the best-seller of all time. "It's novel and now you've got games like Shaun White Snowboarding Road Trip and Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2009 (that use the Wii Fit balance board)," he says. "They are going to turn it into a peripheral."

And the Wii remained the top selling console game system for the 18th straight month, selling 679,200 units, bringing the total installed base of Wii sold in the U.S. to more than 18 million.

"It looks like the Wii hardware continues to drive software for sure," says Denise Kaigler, Nintendo of America's vice president of corporate affairs. As for Wii Fit, she says, "there are a lot of New Year's resolutions that people need to keep and hopefully Wii Fit is helping them do that. It's still hard to find (in stores)."

Nintendo also had the No. 2 and No. 3 top-selling games with Wii Play (415,000) and Mario Kart Wii (292,000).

Overall, video game revenues of $1.18 billion were 13% higher than January 2008. "Even in these tough economic times, the fact that total sales were able to realize a 13% increase speaks to the continued strength of video games as one of the leading entertainment industries in the U.S.," Frazier says.

Pachter expects the industry to continue to be strong despite the economic landscape. With game software sales up 10% that shows "consumers are still buying stuff," he says. "I don't expect double-digit growth all of the next few months because we are going to have a tough comparison with March when we had Super Smash Bros. Brawl (for the Wii) and April when we had Grand Theft Auto IV (for Xbox 360 and PS3). But sales will be solid."

And only two of the top 10 games —Skate 2 (for Xbox 360, No. 7) and Lord of the Rings: Conquest (for Xbox 360, No. 10) — were new releases. "The continued strength of games that have been in the market for some time clues us into just how many new consumers are coming into the industry," she says. "This broadening of the audience for gaming will help buoy the industry through these tough economic times, provided they have enough compelling content to keep them interested."