Led by stellar sales of Nintendo's games and systems, U.S. retail sales of video games jumped 57 percent to $1.7 billion in March, market researcher NPD Group reported Thursday.
"You'd never know that the U.S. economy was under distress by looking at the video games industry sales figures," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier in an e-mail.
Video game software sales jumped 63 percent from March 2007 to $945.6 million, blowing past analysts' expectations. Wedbush Morgan's Michael Pachter, for one, had expected game software sales to grow 47 percent over last year.
Nintendo's "Super Smash Bros: Brawl" for the Wii was the month's top-selling game with 2.7 million units sold.
Coming in a distant second was "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2" from Ubisoft with 752,300 units and "Army of Two" from Electronic Arts Inc. with 606,100. All three games hit store shelves in March.
Hardware sales grew 46 percent to $551.3 million from $377.9 million, with Nintendo's Wii and portable DS far outselling every other system. The Japanese company grabbed 58 percent of the game hardware market during the month as Wii shortages seemed to abate.
Americans bought 721,000 Wiis during the month, 67 percent more than in February. The DS was the second best-selling system with 698,000 units, and Sony Corp.'s handheld PSP came in a distant third with 297,000.
Game accessories, at times an overlooked category, reaped in $220 million, up 58 percent from a year earlier. Xbox Live points and subscription cards were among the top-selling accessories in March, along with the PS3 wireless controller, Frazier said.
"Grand Theft Auto IV," one of the year's most highly anticipated games, goes on sale April 29 and should boost sales of both Microsoft's Xbox 360 and the PS3. Microsoft said some "key" U.S. retailers were still experiencing Xbox 360 shortages going into March, but by the time GTA IV launches shelves should be fully stocked. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)