Sales of video game equipment and software in the United States rose 4 percent in December to a record $5.5 billion, research group NPD said on Thursday, as the industry closed out a difficult year on an upbeat note.
December was led by stronger-than-expected sales of game hardware, which jumped 16 percent. But software sales fell 7 percent.
Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter said a strong performance by Nintendo Co Ltd's Wii -- spurred by a holiday sales promotion at Wal-mart Stores Inc -- helped boost overall industry figures.
It was really all Nintendo, they won by a mile, he said.
The Wii sold 3.8 million units in December and set a record for monthly game system sales in the U.S.
We expected to have a good holiday and this was a great reaffirmation of that, said Cammie Dunaway, Nintendo of America's executive vice president of sales and marketing.
Sales of Sony Corp's PlayStation 3 jumped nearly 90 percent to 1.36 million units, followed closely by Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360 at 1.31 million.
Nintendo's New Super Mario Bros was the top-selling console and portable game of the month, and finished at No. 3 for the year. Activision Blizzard Inc's blockbuster Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was the 2009's best-selling game.
Video game sales struggled through much of 2009, as recession-weary consumers proved reluctant to spend on discretionary leisure items.
Overall for 2009, U.S. retail sales of video game hardware, software and accessories fell 8 percent to $19.7 billion.
Price cuts from all three console vendors in the second half of the year and a slew of big game releases in the holiday quarter were not enough to offset a precipitous sales decline in categories such as music.
December was just the fourth month in 2009 to show sales growth.
Hopefully, the big increase in the overall install base of hardware systems will bring good things for software sales in 2010, NPD analyst Anita Frazier said in a release, noting a strong lineup of games slated for launch early this year.
Pachter said the gaming industry will be carried by its traditional customer base for much of 2010.
We're going to have to rely on the hard-core gamer to carry us the first 10 months of 2010, and fortunately there's a lot of games that are going to make that guy come out and buy.
He named forthcoming releases in franchises such as Mass Effect, God of War and BioShock as big sellers in early 2010.
(Reporting by Gabriel Madway; Editing by Bernard Orr)