Game sales figures tell many stories

Market researchers NPD have released their estimates for video game sales figures for November. For what’s theoretically a simple enough figure – $2.7 billion – there are plenty of lessons to be learned:

Everything is a matter of perspective. If you’re feeling the blues, it’s a depressing 7.6% slump on last year’s November figures, suggesting “Christmas stockings are going to be a bit on the empty side this year.” But if you’re full of seasonal joy, it’s the second best November figure on record, beaten only by 2008 being an “incredible year”.

It may or may not have been the result of airport terrorism controversy, but Modern Warfare 2 was a true blowaway hit. With more than 6 million sales, it’s destroyed all records for a newly-released game. And without it, overall sales would have been down by a much more significant margin.

Online gaming is becoming more important in driving sales. While there are only about 25% more Xbox 360 users than PS3 users, Modern Warfare sold more than twice as many copies on the Xbox. A spokesman for Microsoft made the credible, if somewhat biased point that this may very well be down to the idea of playing the game online being more appealing to Xbox Live users.

The price cut that came with the PS3 Slim certainly seems to have done the trick, with sales almost doubled from last year. It’s still in third place, but at 710,400 sales for the month, it’s closing in on the Xbox at 819,000 (which is barely changed from last year). The Wii remains out in front at 1.26 million, though that’s down from over 2 million at the same point last year, despite a recent price cut.

Subjective game quality is not necessarily reflected in sales. A report by Metacritic for 2009 as a whole found that while the Xbox had the highest quantity of games rated highly, the PS3 had the highest average rating as well as making up five of the 10 best rated individual games. And while the Wii has far more titles released, a clear majority of them were poorly rated. The site takes its ratings by averaging the scores awarded by a range of game review sites.

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