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December NPD: Black Ops II Leads The $3.2 Billion Month

More than perhaps any other year, it seems like 2012 is going to prove that NPD figures are currently and will continue to lose relevancy if they stay the way they are. And by that, I mean not including digital sales in the fray. Both the month of December and the entirety of 2012 are down overall from 2011 by 22 percent (from $4.1 billion to $3.2 billion and from $16.99 billion to $13.26 billion), but the industry seems as strong as ever. I’m still not sure EA’s estimations are spot-on, but retail and NPD are losing traction with analysts. GameStop’s declining holiday sales numbers seem to be a good indicator of that.

Another explanation could just be that software is in a bit of a slump. “A major culprit in the decline in retail sales in 2012 was the lack of new releases with 29 percent less SKUs across consoles, portables, and PCs,” said NPD analyst Liam Callahan, a likely sign that most studios and publishers aren’t sure how to handle this protracted console generation. “However, the SKUs that were released generated 8 percent more units per SKU and 11 percent more dollars per SKU.” That second part isn’t totally surprising. Some people are just hungry for games; they’ll buy whatever is out.

Or, more accurately, they’ll buy whatever is out that is in a big name franchise. Callahan said, “This is evident in examining the share of December dollar sales that the top 10 titles generated, which was 46 percent in December 2012, up 12 percentage points from last December.” This leaves the rest of the “middle-tier as well as catalog titles” high and dry. THQ, a publisher comprised almost entirely of middle-tier titles and franchises, is proof enough of that.

Hardware sales specifically seem to indicate a bit more trouble, though. Save for Microsoft, that is, whose Xbox 360 remains strong at 1.4 million units for December, the 24th consecutive month at the top spot for home consoles (17th for just hardware sales in general). Sony hasn’t released its official figures, but that’s not even close to being the interesting part. It turns out that the Wii U isn’t selling so hot. 460,000 is decent, but for the opening holiday season for the followup to the hottest console of the generation, that’s just horrendous.

It’s terrifying for everyone, but perhaps mostly for Nintendo (though I’m guessing they can find at least some comfort in 1.25 million 3DS and 475,000 Wii units moved). Their last generation cash cow is still selling like hot Wii cakes, which is unexpected but hardly surprising, but comparing the first-year December sales of other consoles? Not looking so hot. The Wii was sold out constantly and moved 604,000 its first December. The PS3 at $500 to $600 even managed almost 500,000. The Wii U is leading the charge on the new generation, and that usually also means a leading charge in sales. This may not bode well for when Microsoft and Sony unveil their new consoles this year.

Then again, this could just be an indicator once again of the overly long console generation. If studios don’t know how to react, consumers sure as hell won’t know what to do either. Overall hardware sales have been down 20 percent for the year compared to 2011. Callahan says this is mostly due to a decline in non-HD system sales, but most telling is probably the 37 percent increase in hardware bundles and 37 percent decrease in standalone sales. At this point, it’s likely consumers are just buying consoles once they’ve decided on their critical software purchase and the bundle saves them money. With so much time put into this generation (eight years!), games and deals are the only things that could possibly convince someone to finally pick up a console.

Software also sees a sizable drop, but like I said before, this doesn’t at all account for digital sales like through Steam or Origin which make up almost wholly make up the indie sector and a sizable chunk of the big league fellas now, too. From last year, we’re looking at 27 percent for December ($2.16 billion to $1.58 billion) and 22 percent for the year ($9.12 billion to $7.09 billion).

Predictably, we see Call of Duty: Black Ops II at the top of the monthly leaders, but two other games are of particular interest. Halo 4 is a platform exclusive to just the Xbox 360 and yet it still managed to outsell both Assassin’s Creed III and Madden NFL 13, two traditionally overbearing sales monsters. And Far Cry 3, which was released within the month on December 4th, still landed a spot on the list. Both feats are impressive to say the least.

And then when you look at the top sellers for the year, you get some additional surprises. Namely Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes are both on the list. Modern Warfare 3 came out last year and Lego games don’t traditionally make the list (though Lego Batman 2 is pretty much on every digital device ever to have existed). And notice that both for the month and the year, every top ten game is either a sequel or part of a franchise. Fresh-faced Dishonored and dusty-faced Spec Ops: The Line are nowhere to be found. Not surprising, but note the lack of Darksiders II, The Darkness II, Max Payne 3, Mass Effect 3(!), and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Even Paper Mario: Sticker Star, a hot new release on the second-best performing Nintendo 3DS didn’t make it.

I truly and honestly wish digital sales were accounted for. I’d love to see where Journey and The Walking Dead would have ended up, along with indie-er favorites FTL: Faster Than Light and Hotline Miami. Anyways, here are some lists.

Top Ten Best-Selling Games for December 2012:

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops II (360, PS3, Wii U, PC)
  2. Just Dance 4 (Wii, 360, Wii U, PS3)
  3. Halo 4 (360)
  4. Assassin’s Creed III (360, PS3, PC, Wii U)
  5. Madden NFL 13 (360, PS3, Wii, PSV, Wii U)
  6. Far Cry 3 (360, PS3, PC)
  7. NBA 2K13 (360, PS3, Wii, Wii U, PSP, PC)
  8. Skylander Giants (Wii, 360, PS3, 3DS, Wii U)
  9. New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS)
  10. FIFA Soccer 13 (360, PS3, Wii, PSV, Wii U, 3DS, PSP)

Top Ten Best-Selling Games for 2012:

  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops II (360, PS3, PC, Wii U)
  2. Madden NFL 13 (360, PS3, Wii, PSV, Wii U)
  3. Halo 4 (360)
  4. Assassin’s Creed III (360, PS3, PC, Wii U)
  5. Just Dance 4 (Wii, 360, Wii U, PS3)
  6. NBA 2K13 (360, PS3, Wii, PSP, Wii U, PC)
  7. Borderlands 2 (360, PS3, PC)
  8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (360, PS3, Wii, PC)
  9. Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (Wii, 360, NDS, PS3, 3DS, PSV, PC)
  10. FIFA Soccer 13 (360, PS3, Wii, PSV, 3DS, Wii U, PSP)

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