Video game sales rise 57 percent in March

SEATTLE (Reuters) - U.S. sales of video game hardware and software rose 57 percent in March from a year earlier, industry data showed on Thursday, evidence that the industry has so far been immune to wider economic woes.

Nintendo Co's Wii game console is displayed at an electronic shop in Tokyo's Akihabara district January 24, 2008. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Sales of gaming hardware, software and accessories hit $1.7 billion in March, led by Nintendo Co Ltd's 7974.OS Wii console, which posted its biggest non-holiday month ever, according to market research firm NPD.

“You’d never know that the U.S. economy was under distress by looking at the video games industry sales figures,” NPD analyst Anita Frazier said in a statement.

U.S. consumers snapped up 720,000 Wiis, driven in part by the release of Nintendo’s critically acclaimed “Super Smash Bros. Brawl”, which was the top-selling game with 2.7 million copies sold.

“We believe that ‘Smash’ both gives the core and current Wii owner another reason to love their Wii, and brings new people into the Wii platform,” Cammie Dunaway, vice president of marketing for Nintendo of America, said in an interview.

Dunaway said Nintendo’s ability to keep Wii in stock was improving as the company prepared for the arrival of two more titles, “Mario Kart Wii” this month and exercise program “Wii Fit” in May.

Microsoft Corp's MSFT.O Xbox 360 regained its lead over Sony Corp's 6758.T PlayStation 3 after two months of sluggish sales the company blamed on supply constraints. Consumers bought 262,000 Xbox 360s and 257,000 PlayStation 3s.

“We said as our supply issue lifted that we’d be back in the game,” said Microsoft spokesman David Dennis.

“For the most part we’re in good supply throughout the retail channel. There are still pockets of shortages, but for most part you can go into a store and find an Xbox 360.”

PS3 sales doubled from a year earlier, and Sony said new and upcoming games such as its "Gran Turismo 5 Prologue" racing game and Konami's 9766.T "Metal Gear Solid 4" stealth action title would drive sales in the coming months.

“Our sales momentum continues to defy what is traditionally a sluggish sales month,” Sony Computer Entertainment America Chief Executive Jack Tretton said in a statement.

“It is proof that, in these economically challenging times, consumers recognize the long-term value of our platforms.”

The Xbox 360 version of "Rainbow Six: Vegas 2" from French publisher Ubisoft UBIP.PA was the No. 2 game in the month, selling 752,000 copies, while Electronic Arts Inc's ERTS.O "Army of Two" for the Xbox 360 came in third at 606,000 copies.

Nintendo also sold 698,000 units of its DS handheld, while Sony sold 297,000 units of its PSP device.

Editing by Carol Bishopric