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Video game sales keep bucking recession trend

Even as the recession sinks in, video games appear to be a bright spot for technology and the economy as a whole. But can it last past Christmas?

While you may think that the economic news is totally bleak, the video game industry seems like it may well be one very bright exception to the worldwide gloom.

Bolstering the theory that the industry may be recession-proof, or at least better positioned to weather the storm than most, the video game business posted a startlingly strong November, according to figures released Thursday by the analyst firm, NPD Group.

NPD reported that overall, the industry posted sales of $2.91 billion, up 10 percent from $2.64 billion in November 2007. And for the year, sales stand at $16.04 billion, up 22 percent from $13.14 billion through November a year ago.

This is good news, clearly, for those in video games, but also a rare ray of sunshine on an otherwise destitute economy, particularly, NPD pointed out, because the November sales numbers included seven less post-Thanksgiving days than last year.

Once again, the biggest winner was Nintendo, which sold an astounding 2.04 million Wiis, as well as 1.57 million Nintendo DS handhelds. By contrast, Microsoft moved what it said was a company November record of 836,000 Xbox 360s and Sony sold just 378,000 PlayStation 3s and 421,000 PlayStation Portables.

November, therefore, was a major vindication for Nintendo, whose Wii far outsold the Xbox 360, despite Microsoft's having dropped the price of its lowest cost console to $199, lower even than the Wii's sticker price of $249.

However, Microsoft can smile about the fact that the two top-selling console games SKUs in November were for the Xbox, Gears of War 2, with 1.56 million units sold, and Call of Duty: World at War, with 1.41 million moved. The PS3 version of Call of Duty sold just 597,000 copies.

Activision Blizzard also has bragging rights, however, as its World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King sold a record 2.8 million copies on its launch day, November 13, alone. Figures aren't available for the full month.

So, it's clear that video games are doing well right now. The question that faces the industry--now more so than other sectors, though--is whether it can sustain its success in the face of a global recession the likes of which haven't been seen since the Great Depression. It's one thing to sell well before the holidays. It's quite another to do well once the gifts have all been opened and people are realizing they have no jobs and their houses are worth less than their mortgages.

Still, it's nice to see a sign that consumers are still willing to spend their hard-earned and dwindling dollars. Let's hope that continues to be true.

Stay tuned.