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Armchair Analysis: Making sense of January's video game sales data

Posted by: Peter Skeritt at 2/18/2011 3:17 AM
NPD has selectively released its video game sales data for January 2011. There's a lot missing from the hardware side of the equation, but the ten best-selling games for January are now public knowledge. Here's that list:
  1. Call of Duty: Black Ops (Activision for X360/PS3/Wii/PC/NDS)
  2. Just Dance 2 (UbiSoft for Wii)
  3. Dead Space 2 (Electronic Arts for X360/PS3/PC)
  4. Little Big Planet 2 (Sony Computer Entertainment America for PS3)
  5. Zumba Fitness: Join the Party (Majesco for Wii/X360/PS3)
  6. NBA 2K11 (Take-Two/2K Sports for X360/PS3/PC/Wii/PS2/PSP)
  7. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (UbiSoft for X360/PS3)
  8. Dance Central (MTV Games for X360)
  9. Michael Jackson: The Experience (UbiSoft for Wii/DS/PSP)
  10. DC Universe Online (Sony Online Entertainment for PS3/PC)
The first trend that should stand out to anyone is the commanding presence of dance games on this list. 40% of the list is made up of dance games, including yet another impressive showing for Just Dance 2. In fact, Just Dance 2 sold more units for one platform (Wii) than Dead Space 2 could muster across three platforms combined. Dance Central continued to sell quite well for a third consecutive month and the game continues to be the strongest performer for Microsoft's Kinect sub-platform. Although we're not privy to the platform breakdown for Zumba Fitness, it's likely that the Wii version is the best seller of the three, followed by the Kinect version. Lastly, the Michael Jackson game is doing surprisingly well given the direct competition with UbiSoft's other dance games for the Wii platform. It will be interesting to see how the Kinect and PlayStation Move versions fare when they see release in a few weeks. 

Looking at the top of the chart, Call of Duty: Black Ops sits at the top for the third consecutive month. There are several keys to the game's success in January, including sale prices at a few retailers, use of gift cards from the holidays to buy the game, and a bump in popularity just before the release of the First Strike DLC map pack on February 1st. There are indications that Black Ops will begin to slide down the chart in February, given that two new and significant first-person shooters will be vying for consumer dollars in Bulletstorm and Killzone 3, but the slide should be gradual given that the First Strike DLC will be available for the PS3 in March.

Dead Space 2 might not have been able to outpace Just Dance 2 in the battle of the sequels in January, but the game's debut in the third slot is pretty much in line with early predictions. Electronic Arts marketed the game well through many different methods, but there was some controversy with the Your Mom Hates This advertising campaign and the game just never seemed to get the buzz that AAA franchises like Call of Duty and Madden NFL get for their sequels. Dead Space 2 may stick around on the chart for February, but it's not a lock and the game certainly won't repeat its #3 ranking. 

Little Big Planet 2 had a strong debut, especially considering that it's an exclusive title for the platform with the smallest installed userbase. The delay of Media Molecule's follow-up title into January was likely a wise move as it's very possible that the game could have been buried under last holiday season's avalanche of software releases. Little Big Planet 2 is also the first of three high-profile exclusives for the PlayStation 3 in the first quarter (Q1) of this year: Killzone 3 is pegged for a similarly strong launch this month, and MLB 11: The Show will likely continue the series' success in March. 

NBA 2K11 was the only sports title to make the top sales list for January. This is a little surprising given that the NFL playoffs were in full swing and there tends to be one last push for Madden sales during this period. Part of the success here can be attributed to a lowered price point in some locations, which was later universally changed to $40 everywhere. NBA 2K11 has also received impressive review scores and the game's inclusion of Michael Jordan has helped to fuel sales and interest, even for more casual fans. 

On the hardware side of sales data, there's little to go on as NPD no longer shares hardware sales numbers with the general public and press. Microsoft sourced the NPD report and said that 381,000 Xbox 360 consoles sold in January 2011, which is 48,000 units higher than a year ago. Microsoft went on to claim that the Xbox 360 was the only platform to record increased year-on-year (YOY) sales. Nintendo and Sony did not disclose their hardware numbers, which could be interpreted as a sign of hardware sales weakness in January. Nintendo's silence is rather deafening, given that the company usually trumpets its hardware sales successes loudly. 

There continues to be a negative trend in general sales dollars. Sales were down by 8% overall versus the same month a year ago. Software was off by 5% and accessories were down by 6%. This negative YOY trend will likely continue through this month at the very least before Nintendo's one-two punch of Pokemon Black & White and then the 3DS platform in March. These two major releases bookend what should be a strong month of software releases as well, so it's possible that the bleeding will at least see a temporary stop... but that's a completely different prediction for a future story. For now, we'll be watching these trends and readying a few predictions for February's sales results that will be posted soon.