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Video game retail sales down 22 percent in 2012

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(Credit: AP)

It was hardly a secret that 2012 was a rough year for the video game industry. But exactly how bad was it?

The NPD Group has the answer -- and it’s not encouraging.

A 26 percent slump in software sales in December, the most important month of the year for game publishers, resulted in overall game sales for 2012 to be down 23 percent compared to the 2011 numbers.

Wrapping in hardware sales, the industry overall was down 22 percent in 2012, with total revenues of $13.26 billion, a $3.73 billion dollar shortfall for video game companies.

NPD analysts tried to spin the numbers as an improvement over a comparable period with the last generation of game hardware.

“An apt historical comparison for this month is December 2005, which was the first December of the previous console generation,” said Liam Callahan, an analyst for the NPD. “As a testament to how much the retail market has grown, overall physical dollar sales in December 2012 are up 10 percent when compared to December 2005.”

The race to the bottom by retailers during the holiday period, with many offering notably low prices on consoles – or bundled software – hurt the December numbers.

“As consumers look more and more for deals over the holidays while purchasing hardware, bundles which include software grew by 26 percent, while hardware selling alone with no games declined by 37 percent,” said Callahan.” Consumers are becoming more savvy and realizing they can get a lot more ‘bang for their buck’ with bundles typically offered for a limited time over the holidays.”

Retail sales, of course, only make up a portion of the overall video game market. But because reporting on digital sales is spotty at best, they are the only window of clarity for industry observers to get a sense of the industry’s overall health. NPD currently does not track digital game sales, including the likes of Steam.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II led game sales in December, as has each Call of Duty installment for the past four years. Below is a complete list of the month’s best-selling titles:

Rank Title Publisher
1 Call of Duty: Black Ops II Activision Blizzard
2 Just Dance 4 Ubisoft
3 Halo 4 Microsoft
4 Assassin's Creed III Ubisoft
5 Madden NFL 13 Electronic Arts
6 Far Cry 3 Ubisoft
7 NBA 2K13 Take 2 Interactive
8 Skylander Giants Activision Blizzard
9 New Super Mario Bros. 2 Nintendo
10 FIFA Soccer 13 Electronic Arts

Interestingly, the December list is quite close to the list of the overall best-selling retail games of 2012, with a few changes:

Rank Title Publisher
1 Call of Duty: Black Ops II Activision Blizzard
2 Madden NFL 13 Electronic Arts
3 Halo 4 Microsoft
4 Assassin's Creed III Ubisoft
5 Just Dance 4 Ubisoft
6 NBA 2K13 Take 2 Interactive
7 Borderlands 2 Take 2 Interactive
8 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Activision Blizzard
9 Lego Batman2: DC Super Heroes Nintendo
10 FIFA Soccer 13 Electronic Arts

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