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'Big Three' Spin Somewhat Subtler Strengths Alongside Slower August NPD

With August's NPD results relatively weakened, the Big Three's customary spin gets particularly interesting -- with a decline in hardware and Madden dominant, Sony, Microsoft
Although August's NPD results were somewhat weaker in general than in past months, showing slowed growth, the three console-makers each dig deep into the results to find some good news and offer new perspectives on the information. Nintendo highlights its hardware lead and the continuing performance of its first-party software. The DS and Wii led hardware with 518,300 and 435,000 units sold, respectively, and five games to chart in the software top ten were for Nintendo platforms -- three of them, Wii Fit, Mario Kart and Wii Play, Nintendo's own titles. As we reported yesterday, August saw game industry growth slow to single-digits for the first time in months amid a continuing decline for hardware. Hardware sales generally tend to slow in summer ahead of the holidays, and analysts have said supply constraints for Wii, a model transition for PS3, and a slowdown in Xbox 360 sales ahead of an anticipated price cut helped exacerbate the slowdown. Software sales continued a strong showing, led largely by Electronic Arts' Madden NFL 09, which swept the charts, taking four spots -- though its Wii edition placed ninth. Despite the fact that the Xbox 360 version of Madden came in first among all software, with the PlayStation 3 edition placed second, Sony claims a 33 percent higher attach rate for the game on its PlayStation 3. And although the PS3 version of Soulcalibur IV didn't chart in August -- the Xbox 360 version came in seventh -- Sony says that for July and August, that game also had a 38 percent higher attach rate on PS3. Xbox 360 outsold PS3 by only about 10,000 units for the month, as sales of the former are believed to have slowed in anticipation of the recently-implemented price cut. And according to Microsoft, that price cut doubled Xbox 360 sales over the September 5-7 weekend, while the lowest-priced Xbox 360 Arcade model sold at six times the rate of the weekend before. For Sony's part, it also has a reason for a less-strong hardware showing in August, what SCEA president and CEO Jack Tretton calls "short term inventory transitions" from the 40GB to 80 GB model. Coming in third among August hardware with 253,000 units sold, the PSP outdid both next-gen consoles and the last-placed PlayStation 2. Given that PS3 and PS2 Madden sales combined to top Xbox 360's, Sony customarily opted to highlight the strength of its PlayStation business overall, alongside its 92 percent year-to-date hardware sales growth for the PS3. "We had yet another strong month for PlayStation in August, which validates that consumers are indeed recognizing the long-term value that PS3 offers as both a gaming and home entertainment device," says SCEA president and CEO Jack Tretton, who indicates Sony's got faith in the strength of its software lineup for the holidays. As for Microsoft's seasonal outlook, the company says it's "on track for a record-breaking holiday" thanks to the "sweet spot in pricing" it hit with the $199 Xbox 360. Cowen Group analyst Doug Creutz suggests the weaker showing of Madden NFL 09 on Wii as compared to its chart leadership on other platforms may demonstrate a challenge for third-party publishers in finding success on Wii, but Nintendo sales and marketing EVP Cammie Dunaway says Madden Wii's entry into the top ten demonstrates "the wide and long-lasting appeal of Nintendo games." Microsoft, however, says that Xbox 360 "continues to move more games for third party publishers than any other platform," claiming $94 million in third-party game sales in August -- "more dollars at retail for third party publishers than any other console, to date generating $4.1 billion, or 58 percent of share."

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