U.S. video game sales up 10 percent

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - U.S. sales of video game hardware and software rose 10 percent in November from a year earlier, market researcher NPD said on Thursday, as Nintendo Co Ltd 7974.OS reported its Wii console and DS hand-held system both set U.S. sales records in the month.

Nintendo Co's Wii game console is displayed at an electronic shop in Tokyo's Akihabara district in this January 24, 2008 file photo. Nintendo sold over 2 million of the video game consoles in the United States in November, setting a record for console unit sales in a non-December month, the company said on Thursday. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

NPD said the U.S. video game industry is set to top $22 billion in 2008, and Nintendo, Microsoft Corp MSFT.O and Sony Corp 6758.T said their strong sales in November showed that consumers are still spending despite the global economic crisis.

Rising unemployment and tighter credit have dented U.S. consumers’ purchasing power, and most retailers have posted dismal sales results in recent months.

But the U.S. video game industry “continues to set a blistering sales pace,” NPD analyst Anita Frazier said, with hardware and software sales strong even though this November had seven fewer shopping days than last year’s.

Nintendo’s Wii console sold over 2 million units in November, up from over 800,000 in the previous month, setting a record for console unit sales in a non-December month, Nintendo said. Nintendo’s Wii console has sold over 15 million units since its release in November 2006 and holds the title as the country’s best-selling video game console.

Nintendo’s DS hand-held system also set a record for U.S. sales in a non-December month, selling over 1.5 million units in November.

“It was a stellar month,” Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told Reuters. “It’s clear that the consumer demand is exceptionally strong.”

Frazier said the expanded inventory of Wii consoles in stores boded well for Nintendo at the beginning of the holiday season.

But even with more Wii consoles shipped to stores, Fils-Aime said the company still can’t keep shelves full.

“With all our activity and effort, we can’t commit that the product will be available up until Christmas Day,” he said. “We’re in uncharted territories when it comes to demand.”

Although Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 were both sharply outsold by the Wii, the two systems also boasted strong sales in November, according to NPD.

U.S. consumers bought 836,000 units of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console in November, up from 371,000 units in the prior month. Sales of Sony’s PlayStation 3 more than doubled month over month, rising from 190,000 units sold in October to 378,000 units in November.

“Despite the tough economic times, we recorded our largest November on record,” said Xbox 360 product management director Aaron Greenberg. “We sold more consoles and more games in November than we’ve ever done before.”

Microsoft’s “Gears of War 2” took the lead on the top ten best-selling games in November, selling 1.56 million units.

Activision Blizzard's ATVI.O "Call of Duty: World at War" came in second at 1.41 million units sold.

Nintendo’s Wii Play, Wii Fit and Mario Kart Wii filled out the rest of the top five, while Wii Music took the tenth slot.

Sales of hand-held devices picked up in November after dropping 14 percent in the prior month. Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s DS sold more than double the units in November they did in October.

The PSP hand-held sold 421,000 units in November, up from 193,000 units in October. Sales of the Nintendo DS tripled, from 491,000 in October to 1.57 million in November.

NPD said U.S. sales of video games hardware, software and accessories totaled $2.91 billion in November.

Reporting by Jennifer Martinez; Editing by Gary Hill