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Kerpow! U.S. video game sales took 26% hit in April

May 13, 2010 |  5:57 pm

SCL5_X360_BXSHT_RETAIL_US[1] Sales of video games plunged 26% in April, the fourth-largest percentage drop ever, as players had fewer new games to choose from and ardor cooled for Nintendo Co.'s new hand-held DS game console.

The game industry racked up $766 million in sales last month, down from $1 billion in April of last year, according to figures released Thursday from the NPD Group Inc., a market research firm.

Sales of consoles suffered a 37% decline to $249 million, mostly because of a steep decline in the sale of the DS. Nintendo sold just 440,800 of the hand-held devices last month, compared with more than a million a year earlier.

Game sales also took a beating. Publishers rang up $399 million in sales, down 22% from $512 million last year. The bestselling title for the month, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction, sold less than half a million units. By contrast, God of War III, the No. 1 title in March, sold 1.1 million units.

Anita Frazier, NPD's game industry analyst, said part of the decline came from Easter landing in March this year, shifting some of the gift-giving dollars to March. Easter was in April last year.

Another possible explanation for the lackluster month: There were only a quarter as many releases as in April 2009.

Analysts said consumers were turning to free social games or snack-sized iPhone games that cost a couple of dollars a pop instead of $40 to $60 per console game. The NPD figures reflect only console games sold on discs and cartridges, and do not count games played online or downloaded from the Web.

"There's a lot of competition for people's time," said Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets. "The idea of spending $60 on a game is appealing to a smaller market. The more mainstream consumer is turning to digital and casual games on Facebook and iPhone."

-- Alex Pham