Video: 'Splinter Cell' has conviction

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updated 5/13/2010 8:18:48 PM ET 2010-05-14T00:18:48

U.S. retail sales of video games fell 26 percent to $766.2 million in April from a year earlier, hurt by a lack of game launches and the Easter holiday falling in March.

Market researcher NPD Group said Thursday hardware sales plunged 37 percent to $249.3 million in April compared with the same month last year. Software sales dropped 22 percent to $398.5 million.

Sales of the handheld Nintendo DS tumbled by more than half to 440,800 from more than 1 million last April. Even with the big drop, the DS was still the month's best-selling system.

Sales of the Wii also declined, while both Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 saw upticks from a year earlier. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

"The portable side of the industry contributed more than its fair share to the industry decline," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier. She added that sales of portable systems — the DS and Sony's PSP — accounted for 61 percent of the month's total video game sales decline.

Just as it can hurt overall retail sales, the shift of Easter to March from April put a dent in last month's video game sales. Though not as big as the Christmas holiday season, Easter does give game sales a lift, said Jesse Divnich, an analyst with Electronic Entertainment Design and Research.

Delay in buying?
Consumers may also be putting off buying new portable game systems in anticipation of Nintendo's launch of its 3D handheld gaming device, the 3DS. Apple's iPhone and the iPad are also competing with portable gaming systems for consumers' time and money.

April is generally the slowest month of the year for video game sales, Divnich said. That's because the fiscal year ends in March for many game makers, who generally try to fit in new game launches before the year is up, leaving few titles for April.

There was just one big game launch last month, Ubisoft's "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction" for the Xbox 360. And it was the best-selling April title, with 486,100 units sold.

Even so, April sales were disappointing. Divnich said the 22 percent software sales decline was well below industry expectations of a 5 percent drop.

The analyst said, however, that new technologies, such as 3-D gaming and new motion-control technologies from Sony and Microsoft slated to launch later this year, are "looking to re-energize the industry."

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