From console fatigue to digital content, various factors explain weak April video game sales
The top selling games for the month, which includes all platforms, were Prototype 2 at No. 1, followed by Kinect Star Wars, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, NBA 2K12, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, Mario Party 9, Mass Effect 3, Just Dance 3, and MLB 12: The Show. According to NPD analyst Anita Frazier, the top seven titles from last April outsold the top selling game THIS April. Figures from last year would put Prototype 2 selling somewhere below 236,000. Not good at all.
Microsoft's Xbox 360 sold 236,000 units in April, but we don't have hard figures from Nintendo's Wii or Sony's PS3 consoles. Also nothing for the 3DS or PS Vita handhelds. With no confirmed numbers from Sony and Nintendo, it can't be pretty. We do know that the 3DS is about a million ahead of the DS during the same 14-month time frame after each system's launch in the U.S. So despite lackluster sales in April, Nintendo can still hang their hat on that for now.
There are a lot of arguments with merit explaining why this April is one of the worst sales months on record. I'll get this first one out of the way: The rise of smartphone and tablet gaming. It's been beaten to death, but cheap, cheap prices of these games do take away consumers. But it's not the only thing, and I would argue not the main reason.
To me the biggest reason is console fatigue coupled with market saturation. The Xbox 360 is nearing 7 years old, which is ancient in terms of console life cycles, and has sold more than 67 million worldwide. The PS3 is nearing 6 years old with 64 million sales, and the Wii is also nearing 6 years with a whopping 95 million. The hype of these consoles is gone and new technology is long past this outdated hardware, especially the Wii. The hype of new machines and better graphics (even though PC gamers laugh at this notion) would be major selling points. Unfortunately only Nintendo seems to be focused on the next generation with the Wii U just around the corner. Despite a hefty dose of rumors the next Microsoft and Sony consoles won't be around this year, and middle to late 2013 could be the earliest release dates. Expect more weak hardware sales from current-gen consoles in coming months, unless price cuts occur.
Nintendo's Wii and DS units played a big role in the video game boom a few years ago, which boosted total sales numbers significantly. It wasn't going to last forever though, and the industry is feeling it now. Look at that big gap between the Wii and Xbox 360 totals, and the DS has sold more than 150 million worldwide. To say that the entire industry is falling down is kind of unfair, since Nintendo was the reason it got so unnaturally high in the first place. No one expected that after their brutal Gamecube era.
A lack of software releases in April hurt, too. Prototype is a known name, but the sequel seemed to come out of nowhere. There wasn't much word-of-mouth for it, and therefore explains the shockingly low number for a No. 1 spot. To put how low it is, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City sold over 250,000 in ONE WEEK in Japan recently, likely beating Prototype 2. Again, not pretty. The month of May should see an increase in software sales as higher profile releases like Diablo 3, Max Payne 3 and Mario Tennis Open hit shelves.
One knock against NPD is they don't record digital sales like from Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, which have their hot sellers, too. The highly-hyped Journey game broke records on PSN's service. Trials Evolution for XBLA broke records after its release, and right after that Minecraft shattered those with at least 400,000 sales in 24 hours. Digital sales are a big thing now, and there are tens of millions of dollars not even being accounted for each month.
While this terrible April is a cause for concern, it is by no means the future of the video game industry. Slumping times are going to happen, especially this late into the console cycle. It's usually a time when the focus goes toward next generation, and for Nintendo this is happening. We'll find out what Microsoft and Sony have up their sleeve soon at E3.
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