Global video game sales fell 7 percent in 2009

According to a report on software sales in the U.S., Japan, and the United Kingdom, 2009 was a poor year. But how could it not be? The year before was the best ever.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
3 min read
Though video game software sales were down globally, Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was by far the best-selling game of the year, despite only being launched in November. Activision Blizzard

Video game software sales across the world's three largest markets--the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom--fell 8 percent in 2009, according to a joint report issued Wednesday by a consortium of industry analyst firms. The UK led the way with a 14 percent plunge.

But one title that can't be blamed for the difficult year is Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The fastest-selling video game of all time turned in sales of 11.86 million copies in the three markets, despite only being released in November.

The annual Top Global Markets report, which is put together by The NPD Group, GfK Chart-Track, and Enterbrain, echoed NPD's study of the 2009 U.S. market, in which the firm reported that industry sales across the board--software, hardware, and accessories--dropped 8 percent, year-over-year. That was in spite of the fact that December was the best sales month NPD had ever recorded for the industry.

According to the Top Global Markets report, video game software sales in the U.S., Japan and the UK totaled 379.3 million units in 2009. Japan had the smallest decline, with software sales just 2 percent lower overall than 2008, though console game sales were down 5 percent. In the U.S., software sales were down 7 percent.

But the biggest blame for the slowing sales in all three markets was due to consumers' eroding interest in PlayStation 2 games. Across all three markets, PS2 software sales plummeted 57 percent in 2009. That's not a huge surprise, given that that console is now nearly 10 years old--Sony has long said the PS2, as well as its current flagship, the PlayStation 3, have 10-year lifecycles. But the PS2 is still selling, and people are still buying games for it, albeit at a much-reduced rate, as the Top Global Markets report indicated.

Tough to follow 2008
Throughout 2009, the video game industry, in the U.S. at least, saw one year-over-year monthly decline after another. And for the year, software sales were down 7 percent. But NPD analyst Anita Frazier tried to put a positive spin on those factors, suggesting in the Wednesday report that it would have been nearly impossible for the industry to show sales gains last year, given that 2008 was a record year across the board for video games.

She did conclude, however, that there is an established relationship between the number of software titles the industry turns out and the average unit sales per title. In 2004, she wrote, the industry had the lowest number of titles launched during the last seven years, but the highest average sales per title. Conversely, in 2009, it was the reverse: the highest number of titles released, and the lowest average sales since 2005.

Top-selling software
Clearly, 2009 was the year of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. But while its sales were significantly ahead of any other title's, it was not the only game that sold well last year. However, on a worldwide basis, it was the only title for either the Xbox 360 or the PS3 that cracked the top five.

The next four best-sellers were all for Nintendo's Wii: Wii Sports Resort sold 7.57 million units worldwide; New Super Mario Bros. Wii moved 7.41 million; Wii Fit Plus sold 5.80 million units; and Wii Fit rounded out the top five with a total of 5.44 million units for the year.