U.S. video game sales — including hardware and software — jumped 34 percent in February to hit $1.33 billion, even with two top-selling consoles in short supply, according to data from market researcher NPD Group.
Nintendo's Wii and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 have been in such high demand stores are having a hard time keeping them in stock. Microsoft spokesman David Dennis said the company moved up shipments during the holidays and hasn't been able to catch up since.
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He added "we should be in good shape" by the time "Grand Theft Auto IV," the highly anticipated latest installment of the Rockstar Games franchise, hits store shelves April 29.
The game, which will be available on the Xbox 360 and Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3, is expected to boost sales of both consoles. Pre-orders have been better than expected, according to its publisher, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.
Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan, expects the game to sell about 9 million units during the company's fiscal year, which ends in October. Roughly 6 million of this, he added, will be to Xbox 360 owners.
February is normally a slow month for video game publishers coming off holiday highs, and consumers have also been cutting back spending amid economic worries. Still, with "several marquee titles still to come in the front half of the year, the industry is poised to achieve another year of record-breaking sales despite difficult economic conditions," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier in an e-mail.
The sales figures surpassed what many analysts were expecting. Game hardware sales rose 19 percent during the month to $480 million, NPD said late Thursday. Of this, the portable Nintendo DS was the best-seller with 587,600 units, followed by the Wii at 432,000. The Xbox 360 sold 254,600 units even amid supply constraints.
"It appears that Wii and DS shortages abated in February, likely in anticipation of strong March software launches," Pachter wrote in a note to investors.
Going strong since its launch in 2000, Sony's PlayStation 2 continued to outpace its successor. The PS2 sold 351,800 units compared with 280,800 for the PS3.
February's software sales grew 47 percent to hit $668.7 million, with Activision Inc.'s first-person shooter "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" at No. 1 with 296,200 units sold for the Xbox 360. Capcom USA's "Devil May Cry 4" and Nintendo's "Wii Play," which comes with a remote and includes games like pingpong and fishing, also did well.