Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Activision)
Although brick-and-mortar video game sales are down 14 percent year to date, a few titles have managed to stand apart from the trend, capturing players' imagination and cash—even when they're part of a 10-year-old franchise.
"Call of Duty: Black Ops II," which got off to a stellar start out of the gate hasn't lost much momentum. Catalog sales of the title have been much higher than 2011's "Modern Warfare 3." Plus, downloadable content sales have been strong enough to offset Activision's lost revenue from declining "World of Warcraft" subscriptions.
Take-Two Interactive Software, meanwhile, has seen big returns on the long-awaited "Bioshock: Infinite," which has shipped more than 3.7 million copies to date. And company management said reorders from retailers have been high— indicating the title may have legs.
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Overall, though, 2013 is shaping up to be another year of negative growth for the video game industry.
Gamers wait to buy 'Black Ops II.' (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
"The multiple high-profile March releases performed well below our expectations, with older catalog content performing poorly for the most part, as gamers appear to be waiting for next-generation consoles to launch," said Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities. "Only a deep price cut for current generation consoles is likely to spur sales over the balance of the year."
Grand Theft Auto V
Price cuts would certainly help—but there's one other gaming catalyst on the horizon that will likely result in sales gain: "Grand Theft Auto V".
Due this September, this will be the first full new "GTA" game in five years. The last installment sold more than 25 million copies—and was named the top game of this console generation. Take-Two is hoping the sequel can top those numbers—now that the installed base of console owners has expanded dramatically.
This fact that brick-and-mortar sales have continued to decline this year isn't surprising. This happens before a major console launch. What's more alarming is the way they've been trending down for several years.
Retail sales in 2012 came in at $6.7 billion—the lowest since 2002. And while digital sales have been an increasingly dominant form of revenue generation for games,overall software sales have still been declining since 2010, according to The NPD Group.
Year to date (through the end of April), retail sales are nearly $500 million behind last year's pace.
"I think it's the best of times and worst of times," said Eric Hirshberg, chief executive of Activision Publishing. "On one hand, gaming and interactive entertainment has become more mainstream, more mass market, more widely accepted than ever before. That, of course, brings with it a lot of opportunity, but it also brings lots of disruption. The move to mobile devices, the different economic scale, those are things the industry is responding to and grappling with."
By this time next year, the list of the year-to-date best-sellers will likely be for a mix of platforms. Games for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will have debuted and current generation consoles will still be strongly represented as the mass market waits for prices to drop on the new machines.
Many analysts expect that combination of systems to finally kick start a return to sustainable growth in software sales, the most important tracking number to the industry—and its investors.
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