December Video Game Sales Up 36%, Sony’s Lead Slips


More good news for the video game industry: Sales are up, the new generation of consoles is taking off, and higher game prices mean more revenue for software firms.

U.S. December video game software revenue jumped 36% year-over-year, according to retail research firm NPD Group, via a Goldman note issued this morning. These results are in line to some reported last week by retailer GameStop, which said holiday sales jumped 45% in 2007.

According to today’s report, Dec. unit sales increased 16% y/y and average selling price grew 18% y/y to $38.36 — thanks in part to the success of Activision’s “Guitar Hero III,” which costs as much as $99, and Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Viacom’s “Rock Band,” which retails for $170.

Big winners: Activision (ATVI) and Nintendo (NTDOY), which each had three of the top 10 games in December, including four of the top five. Activision’s “Call of Duty 4” for Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox 360 led sales with a 2.4% market share (by units) and a $54.17 average price. Activision also gained the most share year-over-year, from 14.7% of the market during Dec. ’06 to 20.1% of the market in Dec. ’07.

The latest console generations — Sony’s PS3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and Nindento’s Wii — commanded 63% of software sales. But Sony’s (SNE) lead in the console war slipped: Its PS2 format still led overall software sales with 34% of the market. And combined with the PS3’s 10% share, Sony still kept its lead (44% share) over Microsoft (27%) and Nintendo (30%). But its dominance has slipped from last year, when its console formats commanded 54% of the software market. Blame the PS3’s $400 retail price, which was even higher until cuts last fall.

And more evidence that the latest-gen consoles are succeeding: Software unit sales are already 43% higher this console “cycle” (Xbox 360, Wii, PS3) than the last one (Xbox, Gamecube, PS2). As console sales increase, gamers are also buying more games per console — Goldman expects that stat, the “tie ratio,” to be almost one full game higher this cycle than the last.

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