"Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes" was among the top sellers in… (Warner Bros. )
The summer doldrums hit July video game sales, which fell 20% from last year, according to a monthly survey by NPD Group.
The game industry rang up just $548.4 million in U.S. retail sales last month, compared with $686.3 million a year earlier, the research group said Thursday. It was the eighth consecutive double-digit drop since November 2011, when game sales were flat compared with the prior year.
The numbers indicate a continued trend of gamers flocking online instead of buying console and computer games that used to dominate the industry.
"They're not buying as many games as they had before," said Michael Pachter, a media analyst with Wedbush Securities. "Unless publishers start charging for online play, sales will continue to suffer."
The NPD numbers omit revenue generated from online subscriptions for titles such as "World of Warcraft," mobile games including "Angry Birds," and social network games such as "FarmVille" and "The Sims Social." The research group reported earlier this week that sales from such online and mobile games grew 17% to $1.47 billion in the second quarter this year compared with the same period in 2011.
Pachter attributed the console sales malaise to "gamer fatigue" stemming from a dearth of new game franchises. Nine of the 10 top sellers in July, for instance, were sequels or based on an existing franchise. Only "Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition," a re-release of last year's zombie horror game, can be considered a new intellectual property.
Console games, which cost upward of $60 a disc, have also lost out to free or cheap mobile games on tablets and smartphones, as well as social games on Facebook.
When it comes to core gamers who like to play first-person shooters, Pachter believes that many are choosing to buy just one or two games a year, devoting most of their time to the online, multi-player portions of those games.
Each "Call of Duty" player, for example, spent 500 hours on average last year playing on Xbox Live, the online service for the Xbox 360 game console, he noted.