John Lucas Avatar Posted on 10/23/2011 by John Lucas

The late arrival of Madden NFL 12 helped to save September from yet another abysmal month in sales.

Written by John Lucas (editor-at-large)

In Remembrance

2011 marked the 10th year since the September 11th tragedy. In the decade since those attacks, the United States has gone through drastic transformations in foreign policy, political discourse, economic strength, and national mood. The strained atmosphere that resulted from these changes was perhaps somewhat soothed at the September 11th Memorial. At the location of the former World Trade Center, surviving relatives read each and every name of their loved ones who lost their lives. All ethnicities, all religions, all walks of life honoring the memories of the family members they cherished together in unity. That moment reminded everyone what it was all about. Not the arguments and fights between each other. But the heart within us all. Hopefully that memorial can transform us into a people who value that heart more than how much we fought.

This September also marked an anniversary for the videogame industry. It has been one year since The NPD Group started the NPD Blackout. Ever since last September, NPD has masked the numbers and blurred the categories leaving industry observers in the dark. And each month since then, I have used themes of darkness, shadow, fog, and cloud to example the uncertainty these NPD reports represent. Estimates transformed into guesstimates and a former barometer of the videogame business transformed into a relic of growing irrelevance. Still the story must go on as the 7th Generation winds down. Maybe with the ongoing sales declines we can be reminded of what it’s all about. The fun. Now presenting the latest guesstimates in the 1st anniversary of the NPD Blackout.

Microsoft’s XBox 360 remained unforgettable with 438,000 geared up gizmos sold in the month of National Payroll Week. In the month of Dollar Day, Full Circle sold 308,000 of its in-the-lead kind showing a good increase. Another month with the 360 on top of the charts. That would make 9 months in a row for the 360 leading all home consoles. So comfortable in this position, Microsoft brushes off talks of price drops to match the recently discounted PS3. Within the last week of August, retail monolith Wal-Mart promoted a flyer with the 4GB Kinect bundle to be sold at $249 ($50 less than original price) starting August 28th. But soon Wal-Mart called this ‘rollback’ an error saying the ‘rollback’ was mistakenly labeled. And not coincidentally, Microsoft said that the retailer made an independent decision to implement this temporary price cut. Nevertheless, Wal-Mart promised to honor the flyer for the rest of the advertised week until September 5th (or until supplies lasted). But was this really a mistake or a retailer trying to force a manufacturer’s hand?

Well, either way you cut it Wal-Mart’s efforts must have had some small part in making the 360’s numbers for the month. September’s 5-week tracking period certainly added some oomph and the exclusive Gears of War 3 surely gave a boost. October brings in the multi-platform masterpiece Batman: Arkham City and the exclusive Forza Motorsport 4 to 360 fanbase. It will be certain that the 360 will be the year’s best-selling home console. The only question now is by how much?

Sony’s PlayStation 3 had misty water-colored memories with about 374,000 price-perfected PlayStations sold in the month of National POW/MIA Recognition Day. In the month of Kiss and Make Up Day, P.S. #3 sold 218,000 Kevin Butler keepsakes showing an amazing increase! Look at the magic that happens with a well-timed price drop! To see the strong effects of PS3’s price cut, let’s do a little math to account for September’s 5-week tracking period. If we take August’s 218,000 total and divide it by 4, we get 54,500. Add that weekly number to the original August figure and we get 272,500. If September was flat with August, that would pretty much be the amount. September’s total is over 100,000 over that. Imagine if Sony dropped the price by $100!

Now the console is much more competitive with its HD rival. And with newly installed Chief Information Security Officer Philip Teitinger on the job, Sony shouldn’t have to worry about any more PlayStation Network hacks to derail the momentum. He used to work for the Department of Homeland Security, don’cha know (as the Director of the U.S. National Cyber Security Center). Meanwhile, Toys ‘R’ Us made those ‘C-note drop’ dreams come true with an offer to sell the basic 320GB model for $249 instead of $349 (temporarily I’m sure). Gamestop aided PS3’s shot in the arm with a September deal for 50% off Move accessories and prices for select Move games for $9.99 (is this a clearance and if so does it mean Move’s not moving like it should?). Also helping this November will be the former Wii-exclusive GoldenEye 007 with the “Double ‘O’ Edition” Move bundle for the HD revamp, GoldenEye 007: Reloaded. The global competition will be heated up too when Sony unleashes PS3s in the colors of white, scarlet red, splash blue, and magical gold throughout Japan, Europe, and Australia before the end of the year.

In addition, Sony’s handheld sequel, the PlayStation Vita, will take up battle with the Nintendo 3DS and the smartphone gang December 17th beginning in Japan. And yes, import fans, it will be region-free. The coming year may be a good one for Sony if everything goes according to plan. If 2011 ends on a high note, then 2012 should run smoother. Can the PS3 finally surpass the 360’s worldwide total in 2012 or will 360’s American advantage keep that achievement just out of reach?

Nintendo’s 3DS gave a memorable performance selling 260,000 red flamed rebounders in Self-Improvement Month. In the month of International Forgiveness Day, 3DS sold 235,000 aqua-cosmo combos showing a deceivingly weak increase. Compared to its monthly sales for most of this year, this is not that bad. But for a system that just got an $80 price drop these numbers are troubling. Using the same math we did with the PS3 above, take August’s 235,000 total, divide it by 4 and you get 58,750. Add this number to the original August total and you get 293,750 for a hypothetical 5-week total. September’s total is nearly 35,000 BELOW that. That means the 3DS is actually behind on a weekly basis. Now you know what I meant by ‘deceivingly weak increase’.

Flame Red paint jobs won’t be enough to turn the tide for the 3DS. Maybe Misty Pink ones will…at least for Japan anyway (on October 20th). Or maybe Monster Hunter will. Capcom will be making Monster Hunter 4 for the 3DS though no word on release date or exclusivity. Monster Hunter is the series that bolstered the PlayStation Portable against the DS juggernaut in Japan this generation. It sells best in portable format so it will be interesting to see what pops off when it’s released. Will Capcom test the 3DS as the future home for the series or will they have both the 3DS and Vita battle it out on the Japanese sales charts? In the meantime, Monster Hunter 3 {tri-} G, an expanded 3DS version of the Wii exclusive Monster Hunter 3 {tri-}, will come out on December 10th in Japan to test the handheld’s waters. And with this release simultaneously comes the odd Slidepad controller expansion for the 3DS. A clunky looking tacked-on analog nub device (with shoulder buttons) to give players dual analog control. Why wasn’t dual analog part of the original 3DS design? It’s not like Nintendo to release something so awkward. It seems like whatever it may be the second version of the 3DS will end up being the one to correct many of the problems of the original. Nintendo better hope so because this rushed handheld is getting off to a rough start. In the meantime, the holidays may be kinder to the system than the summer has been. Let’s see how much impact the price drop really has.

Nintendo’s Wii had a memory lapse with 240,000 Wii Whos sold in National Little League Month. In the month of International Clown Week, the disgraced generation leader sold 190,000 of its once-glorious kind showing a deceptively weak increase. Why ‘deceptively weak’? Once again, let’s do our 4-week to 5-week math. Take August’s 190,000, divide it by 4 and we get 47,500. Add this to the original August total and we get 237,500. September’s total is only 2,500 above this making this month virtually flat.

But what can you expect out of the Wii anymore? Once The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword comes out by the end of the year, it’s a wrap for this console. Prematurely killed off in its prime by an increasingly short-sighted company. It’s lucky to get these numbers at all the way Nintendo has abandoned it. Whew. For any remaining Wii fans looking for an interesting buy, September saw the release of Bit.Trip Complete, an enhanced disc compilation of the 6 hit WiiWare Bit.Trip games: Beat, Core, Void, Runner, Fate, and Flux. The 3DS’s version of this compilation is called Bit.Trip Saga. It’s nice to give developer Gaijin Games some higher profile and perhaps games like this will keep Wii propped up a little longer until it fades into obscurity. Zelda 25th Anniversary will certainly handle this job for the next few months.

Nintendo’s DS was utterly forgettable with 145,000 fast-fading handhelds in the month National Suicide Prevention Week. In the month of National Homeless Animal Day, the DS desperados sold 165,000 of the backstock showing a shocking…decrease?! WHAT?! The DS is dropping off FAST! Even with the extra week in the tracking period, DS drops by 20,000. Has the $99 DS Lite backstock finally sold off? They stopped production on those things this past April. Are the lost DS sales going towards the 3DS? Or are they just fizzling out of Nintendo in general? Let’s do some comparison math. Take August’s 165,000, divide it by 4 and we get 41,250. Add that to the original August number and we get 206,250. September’s amount is over 60,000 BELOW that. That 60,000 certainly did not go to the 3DS this month. The 3DS was also behind on a weekly basis.

It’s best for the 3DS to replace the DS in sales but either potential DS buyers are making up 3DS’s slightly improved totals or 3DS is just coasting off the boost from that $80 price drop. No matter which scenario you pick that’s bad for both handhelds. The first scenario shows that the $80 price drop had little effect and it’s just the dwindling DS buyers that are slowly migrating to the 3DS. The second scenario shows that there’s little migration from the DS to the 3DS and it’s just the $80 cut that’s giving off the illusion of 3DS’s improvement. 3DS is not rising fast enough and the DS is falling too fast. An ominous omen for Nintendo’s handheld future.

What’s Nintendo’s answer to all this? Colors. On September 18th Nintendo released the Metallic Rose color for the DSi XL. Just colors. No price adjustment given the fact that the DSi XL and more capable 3DS cost the same $170 price. No ‘Nintendo Selects’ program for the pricey DS titles. Just colors. Oh and Kirby’s Mass Attack, of course. At least the last sentence makes up for the rest. NOW I understand the purpose behind that “Metallic Rose” color. Kirby Pink wouldn’t sound as classy.

In memoriam, the U.S. videogame industry recalled $1.13 billion ($1.16 billion including PC portion) in total sales for September, a 4% lapse from last September. Of this once-again billion-dollar figure, total hardware sales blanked 9% down to $349 million while total software sales recollected 3% up to $630.2 million. Meanwhile, total accessory sales amnesia-ed 14% down to $154.8 million. These software numbers have got to be due to Madden sales.

In the year to date, the industry loss 5% to $9.05 billion [$9.32 billion including PC portion] (hardware: down 4% to $2.98 billion; software: down 9% to $4.49 billion; accessories: up 3% to $1.57 billion). Keep in memory that all percentages refer to year-to-year comparisons between September 2011 and September 2010.

SIDE NOTE: Within this year-long period of the NPD Blackout, the traditional retail purchase model has seen steady erosion and decline. My suspicion has always been that there was collusion between influential console manufacturers/game publishers, and the NPD to control the flow of information to make those influential entities look good. Either doing this to stump their rivals or soothe their shareholders, I believe all the runaround we go through for this NPD data is nothing more than tactics to control the news cycle and give favorable headlines especially to American-based companies like Microsoft. There’s supposed to be a lock-out on all estimates (they even silenced Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter) yet somehow certain numbers “leak out”. NPD’s Anita Frazier herself tells the sales estimate of one game in this month’s software charts.

But with leader Nintendo essentially taking Wii off the field, the traditional retail model which NPD feeds on has been crumbling. High numbers for Microsoft consoles and the 3rd party games which sell highest on those consoles are not enough to dismiss constant “lowest month since October 2006” quips on the headlines. Suddenly the 3rd parties hail the digital distribution model as the promised land. And then NPD follows suit with plans to track “Total Consumer Spend” presumably including those tricky digital sales. In August, here come announcements about NPD teaming up with fellow videogame market tracker EEDAR (Electronic Entertainment Design And Research) to provide more complete expanded coverage of the videogame industry (check your GamePulse when Steam doesn’t cooperate). Then shortly after NPD announces that they will begin covering digital/mobile game sales in Europe (specifically the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) starting in the 4th Quarter of 2011 (October through December).

It seems to me that the digital route is the BEST way to hide flaws and promote corporate cover-ups. With traditional retail you actually have to see packages move and ship. You get to see anecdotal results on store shelves about what’s selling and what’s not. Sony couldn’t hide the PS3’s post-holiday 2006 failure when we saw those pyramids clogging up store aisles. You see how fast a game gets marked down for the bargain bin when it takes up too much space in the game case. With digital, much like with everything on the internet, anybody can say anything. We would just have to take their word for it without any independent information to dispute claims (the entire purpose of an independent market tracker like NPD). There’s a reason no one thought to formally divulge their digital download information when this kind of thing was starting out. But now that NPD is more willing than ever to collude with the influentials to present a favorable image, here comes digital retail on a pedestal. The masking of the truth has only begun.

Madden NFL 12 came late this year thanks to the potential NFL lockout but it came just in time to save September from yet another “worst month since October 2006” headline. The virtual football fantasy wasn’t alone in boosting this month’s software numbers. The rare XBox 360 exclusive Gears of War 3 muscled its way onto the charts in a major way. That’s a good way to end a trilogy, huh? GOW3’s performance was expected but no one expected Dead Island to do quite so well. The phrase ‘sleeper hit’ has become one and the same with the zombie apocalyptic tropical getaway. International football (AKA soccer) and national ice hockey (a thematically similar sport) made their presences known. Adam Jensen is still cyberpunking his way through the late 2020s. PS3 simply couldn’t resist a 3rd entry. A LEGO-based game makes the charts once again. Ops are still Black. And at last we have a game explicitly stating “space marine” in the title. Thought I would never see the day.

I hope this article has been a transformative experience for you. Keep it in your heart so that you can reflect on mem’ries of the way you were.

NPD’s Top Reported Hardware Sales in September

Microsoft XBox 360 – 438,000*
Sony PlayStation 3 – about 374,000†
Nintendo 3DS – 260,000**
Nintendo Wii – 240,000**
Nintendo DS – 145,000**

†deduction from Sony’s +20% factoid

NPD’s Top Ten Combined Software Sales in September

01. Madden NFL 12 (X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP) – 2,300,000*
02. Gears of War 3 (X360) – over 2,000,000**
03. Dead Island (X360, PS3, PC) – nearly 1,000,000*
04. FIFA Soccer 12 (X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, 3DS) – over 400,000*
05. NHL 12 (X360, PS3)
06. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (X360, PS3, PC)
07. Resistance 3 (PS3) – 180,000†
08. LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (Wii, DS, X360, 3DS, PS3, PSP, PC)
09. Call of Duty: Black Ops (X360, PS3, DS, Wii, PC)
10. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (X360, PS3, PC)

*Cowen and Company analyst Doug Creutz
**Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg through Twitter post
†NPD’s Anita Frazier

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