In November, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 accounted for roughly $360 million… (Activision )
The video game industry last month saw its usual holiday bounty replaced with a lump of coal.
Sales of video games and consoles fell 7.6% in November from the same month in 2008, despite the blockbuster release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which sold a whopping 6 million copies in the U.S. alone, according to figures released Thursday by NPD Group Inc.
The game industry sold $2.7 billion of consoles and games in the U.S. last month, down from $2.9 billion a year earlier, according to NPD estimates. From January through November, sales of $14.1 billion were down 12% from the same period last year.
For the industry sales to equal last year's, December sales would have to rise 36%, a feat experts consider unlikely.
Doing so "seems even more out of reach," said Anita Frazier, NPD's toys and games analyst.
The picture would have looked much worse last month were it not for Modern Warfare 2, which accounted for roughly $360 million in U.S. sales, or more than 25% of all game sales.
"This should not be viewed as a healthy start to the holiday season," said Jesse Divnich, analyst with Electronic Entertainment Design and Research. Divnich said the vast majority of Modern Warfare sales were not gifts, but rather purchases made by end users.
That suggests that the console business is being floated by avid, dedicated gamers eager to buy Modern Warfare 2, Assassin's Creed II, Left 4 Dead 2 and Dragon Age: Origins -- top titles in November.
"While still a positive for the industry, this does, unfortunately, indicate that sales from casual and nontraditional gamers shrank in November compared to last year," Divnich said.
To attract skittish buyers, retailers have been offering a plethora of discounts and specials. Wal-Mart, for example, last month gave away $50 and $100 gift cards to customers who bought Nintendo Co.'s Wii console or Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360.
Sony Corp. saw a lift in sales of its PlayStation 3 after slashing $100 off the console's price this fall. It sold 710,400 PS3s in November, up 88% from a year earlier. Nintendo, however, sold 1.26 million Wii consoles, down 38%. And Microsoft moved 819,500 Xbox 360s, roughly the same as a year earlier.