The pattern is repeating itself once again, but this time the numbers are bigger: In North American retail stores, console sales rose by 136% (from $183.4 million to $432.7 million), but software sales sank by 36 percent (from $754 million down to $481.2 million this year). Granted, September 2013 was an exceptional month when you think about the massive sales of Grand Theft Auto V, so it’s logical that September 2014 would suffer by comparison. Still, it’s worth remembering that there’s not much profit in those game console sales, and the real profits come from the software sales.
The information that Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter provided earlier in the week, that Microsoft beat out Sony in terms of console sales, turned out not to be true, at least according to Sony.
“PlayStation led the month for next generation software, including selling the most copies of Madden NFL 15, NHL 15, and FIFA 15,” Sony Computer Entertainment America brand boss Guy Longworth said. “Thanks to the support from fans and the overwhelming popularity of the limited-edition Destiny PS4 bundle, PlayStation 4 won the month of September, with PS4 nearly tripling its August sales,” said Longworth. Estimates are that the PS4 sold close to 550,000 units in September.
That’s good news for Sony, which likely has Microsoft gritting its collective teeth and vowing to try harder. Still, the news is good for hardware manufacturers all around. “Since February 2014, monthly sales across hardware, software, and accessories have increased each month versus the prior 2013 monthly sales,” said NPD’s Liam Callahan. Year-to-date sales of hardware, software and accessories are up 7 percent vs. the same time period last year (January – September).”
The rise in hardware sales was given some detail by NPD, while of course staying away from precise numbers. “Hardware growth of 136 percent vs. September 2013 is the highest growth rate seen this year and, as seen in previous months, was driven by new console hardware sales of PS4 and Xbox One,” noted Callahan. “Console hardware, specifically, was up over 200 percent versus September 2013.”
The hardware sales were primarily that of the latest consoles. “Eighth generation console hardware represented over 85 percent of overall hardware sales in September, which is the highest percentage seen in a single month since the PS4 and Xbox One launched in November 2013,” Callahan pointed out. Which merely points part of the major decline in software – with fewer people buying or playing older consoles, games which had once been reliable sellers are slowing down.
Still, when it comes to the software, Callahan tried to sugarcoat the bad news. “It is important to note that September 2013 was the best performing September on record for new physical video game software sales, driven by the launch of Grand Theft Auto V, therefore making for difficult comparisons for this September to last;” Callahan said. Sure, but publishers are still unhappy with the way last-generation software sales have slowed, and that the new crop of consoles isn’t creating a software boom yet to go with the impressive hardware sales.
The biggest event in software for the month was clearly the launch of Destiny, even though the critics and fans have been somewhat disappointed so far given the reviews. “The launch of Activision-published and Bungie-developed Destiny in September 2014 proved successful in a number of ways,” said Callahan. “Year-to-date through September data it is the top-selling video game on a unit basis, making it the most successful launch of the year so far as well. But an even more prestigious feat was the fact that Destiny had the best launch month of all-time for any new IP in video game software.” Of course, the sell-in was not coupled with an equally impressive sell-through. But Bungie is hard at work rolling out changes to the game along with more content, and the game should be getting better from hear. How Destiny responds sales-wise over time is another question, and it will be interesting to see how the product fares on the bes-seller lists over the next few months.
Callahan provided a more detailed comparison of last year’s sales versus this years. “Demonstrating the size of Grand Theft Auto V’s success last year, the total units across the top 10 games this September totaled only 59 percent of the top 10 games last year,” Callahan noted. “Interestingly, when taking out Grand Theft Auto V and Destiny, sales increased when looking at top 2 through 9 games only. This is an indication that sales decline this year were rooted in a poor comparison to last September’s behemoth, Grand Theft Auto V.”
Callahan also noted one particular PC title had a good month:“The launch of EA’s Sims 4 ranked ninth across new physical game sales and helped improve physical PC Game sales by over 40 percent over last September.” And, throwing a bone to Nintendo, Callahan tried to say the best he could about one of the company’s key titles: “Hyrule Warriors would make the top ten software list when ranked on an SKU basis, and ranked number 11 when ranking by top titles.” Yes, but we can also see that Nintendo is having a hard time cracking the top ten without stronger Wii U sales, though Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS handily made the #4 position.
The Accessories category also fared well in September, driven no doubt by strong console sales. “Video Game Accessory growth rate of 33 percent in September 2014 was the largest year-over-year growth so far in 2014, and was driven by strong double-digit increases across four accessory types: Point & Subscription Cards, Gamepads, Headsets/Headphones, and Power Supplies,” said Callahan.
September 2014 Top 10 Games (New Physical Retail)
1. Destiny (XBO, PS4, 360, PS3)** Activision Blizzard
2. Madden NFL 15 (360, PS4, PS3, XBO)** Electronic Arts
3. FIFA 15 (PS4, 360, PS3, XBO, Wii, PSV, 3DS)** Electronic Arts
4. Super Smash Bros. (3DS) Nintendo
5. Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor (PS4, XBO, PC) Warner Bros. Interactive
6. NHL 15 (PS4, XBO, 360, PS3)** Electronic Arts
7. Minecraft (360, PS3) Microsoft / Sony
8. The Sims 4 (PC)** Electronic Arts
9. Disney Infinity 2.0 (360, PS3, NWU, PS4, XBO)** Disney Interactive Studios
10. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (PS4, 360, PS3, XBO, PC)** Activision Blizzard
**(includes CE, GOTY editions, bundles, etc. but not those bundled with hardware)