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Video game sales tumble 13 percent in January

After a record-setting month in December, the video game industry returned to its major 2009 pattern: sharp year-over-year monthly sales declines.

After the best month in its history, the video game industry in January returned to the pattern it followed throughout 2009: sharp year-over-year monthly declines.

According to a report Thursday from industry analyst, The NPD Group, video game sales across the board were $1.17 billion in January, down 13 percent from $1.34 billion a year earlier. Hardware sales were worst hit, down 21 percent year-over-year, while software was down 12 percent.

It's likely that the December numbers, when the industry turned in record sales of $5.53 billion, and January's poor performance are linked. Huge numbers of people splurged on video game consoles and software for the holidays, meaning that the potential customer base was much smaller in January.

Still, after a record month like December, such a poor January is a big hit for the industry, which had been reeling from months of reduced sales all throughout 2009. However, the industry posted a 13 percent year-over-year gain in January, 2009, further reinforcing that last month was a disappointment.

In January, Nintendo's Wii was once again the top-seller among consoles, with 465,800 sold. Microsoft's Xbox 360 came in second, with 332,800 units moved, and Sony's PlayStation 3 reversed months of positive news with a lackluster 276,900 sold.

On the software side, Nintendo's New Super Mario Bros. Wii topped the charts with 656,700 copies sold, while Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was close behind, selling a total of 585,700 copies, of which 326,700 were for Xbox and 259,000 were for PS3. Electronic Arts' Mass Effect 2 for the Xbox also did well, selling 572,100 units. And Nintendo's Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board also topped half a million units, coming in at 555,700 sold.

Nintendo and Microsoft certainly have the most to crow about during the mediocre month. Five of the top 10 selling SKUs in January were for the Wii, while four were for the Xbox, including its version of Modern Warfare 2. The only PS3 SKU to make the top 10 was that console's version of Modern Warfare 2.

All told, industry executives have to be scratching their heads after seeing sales take such a stumble. For the month, sales were lower even than January 2008, though its worth noting that all of 2008 was a banner year for the video games business. That, in the end, may be the only way to see positives for those charged with growing the industry.