Video game sales, which have been anemic in the past year, were partially rescued in May by an Italian plumber and a gunslinger.
The dual debuts of Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Red Dead Redemption in May helped resuscitate game software sales, which rose 4% to $466.3 million from a year earlier, according to the market research firm NPD Group. The uptick was much smaller than many industry watchers predicted.
"The industry grew less than expected," said Evan Wilson, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities in Portland, Ore., who had predicted game sales would grow 15% in May.
"This reflects the continued choppy industry that we have witnessed this year and last," Wilson said. "There is no end in sight."
Topping the best-selling list was Red Dead Redemption, developed by Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.'s Rockstar Games studio. Take-Two sold 1.5 million copies of the gritty western title in May. The game's main character, John Marston, is a reformed criminal who hunts down his former compadres in order to save his family.
Next on the list is a game whose hero is the diametric opposite of Marston. Super Mario Galaxy 2, developed by Nintendo Co., features a mustachioed plumber who zooms around a cartoon universe.
Activision Blizzard Inc.'s debut racing game, Blur, failed to catch on, selling just 31,000 units. The Santa Monica publisher had purchased the game's developer, Bizarre Creations, in 2007 and hoped Blur would become a hit franchise on the level of its Call of Duty series.
Meanwhile, sales of consoles, the devices used to play those games, plummeted to $241.5 million, down 20% compared with May 2009. Overall sales of hardware and software plunged 5% to $823.5 million.
The dollar-figure decline can be blamed on console price cuts that Sony Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Nintendo have made over the last year.
On a unit basis, console sales rose. Sony sold 154,500 PlayStation 3 consoles, up 18% from a year earlier. Sales of Microsoft's Xbox 360 rose 11% to 194,600. And Nintendo moved 334,800 Wii consoles, up 16%.