April video game sales rose 20 percent

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - U.S. sales of video games and related hardware rose 20 percent in April from a year earlier, driven by strong demand for Nintendo Co. Ltd.’s Wii console and new Pokemon games for Nintendo’s DS handheld.

A Nintendo Co. Ltd. employee demonstrates the company's next-generation game console "Wii" before their corporate strategy meeting in Tokyo June 7, 2006. U.S. sales of video games and related hardware rose 20 percent in April from a year earlier, driven by strong demand for Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Wii console and new Pokemon games for Nintendo's DS handheld. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Total sales of $839 million compared with $699 million in April 2006 but were down from $1.1 billion in March, in line with a seasonal pattern that sees sales taper off after the holiday season, according to data from market research firm NPD released on Thursday.

The Wii was the top-selling new console for the fourth month in a row, with Nintendo selling 360,000 units of the $250 machine with a unique motion-sensing controller.

“The demand has just blown the doors off. We’re chugging along as fast as we can,” said Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo’s vice president of marketing.

Nintendo also had hits with its “Pokemon Diamond” and “Pokemon Pearl” titles for the DS. The latest pair of games in the popular franchise sold more than 1.7 million copies and spurred sales of 471,000 DS units.

“The ‘Pokemon’ titles drove hardware acquisitions,” said NPD analyst Anita Frazier.

Sony Corp. sold 82,000 units of its PlayStation 3, down 37 percent from the previous month as a lack of compelling new games discouraged potential buyers of the powerful-but-expensive system.

“The PlayStation 3 was obviously a little bit flat during the month. We didn’t have a lot of hardware drivers out during the month, we didn’t have any first-party titles,” said Sony spokesman Dave Karraker.

“But we’ve got a pretty robust library coming for the rest of this year ... so I think you’re going to see a real pick-up as these games start coming out,” Karraker said.

Microsoft Corp. sold 174,000 Xbox 360 machines, down 13 percent on the month, with sales supported by a new version with a bigger hard drive and black paint job that sells for $480.

“That’s a very strong number for us in the month of April,” said Molly O’Donnell, senior group manager for Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division. “A lot of this growth we think is fueled by our new Elite console.”

Microsoft launched the Xbox in November 2005 and has about 59 percent of the installed base of new consoles, which totaled 9.2 million at the end of April, NPD figures showed.

Nintendo and Sony, which launched their machines a year after Microsoft, have 27 percent and 14 percent, respectively, of the installed base. However, Nintendo accounted for 58 percent of April console sales, compared to 28 percent for Microsoft and 13 percent for Sony.

After the “Pokemon” games, the next two best-selling titles were also from Nintendo as “Super Paper Mario” for the Wii sold 352,000 copies and “Wii Play” moved 249,000 copies.

Activision Inc.’s “Guitar Hero II” sold 197,000 units for the Xbox 360 and 142,000 copies for PlayStation 2.

Activision’s “Spider-Man 3” sold 117,000 copies for the Xbox 360 and 105,000 copies for the PS2. The other top-selling games were Sony titles for the PS2: action game “God of War II” and baseball title “MLB ‘07: The Show.”