NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – Holiday video games sales in November showed marked improvements over last year's disappointing numbers, but failed to live up to Wall Street's expectations.
Analysts, quoting data from the NPD Group, report game software sales climbed 7 percent, as compared to November 2002. The 7 percent rise is in the mid-range of most analyst expectations, though falls far short of noted U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray analyst Tony Gikas' estimates of an 18 percent rise. On Monday, Gikas issued a note, lowering his expectations to a 12.5 percent year-over-year increase.
Game publishers make a sizable portion of their revenue and profits during the holiday season and investors closely follow the November and December sales numbers. Poor holiday sales can have lasting effects on a publisher's stock.
Activision (ATVI: Research, Estimates) showed the biggest gains, with "True Crime" and "Tony Hawk's Underground" leading it to a 46 percent increase. "True Crime" – a "Grand Theft Auto"-style game sold 603,000 units last month, making it the industry's best selling title. "Tony Hawk Underground" sold 554,000 units.
Electronic Arts (ERTS: Research, Estimates) also showed significant improvements, with software sales jumping 29 percent based on the strength of three titles: "Medal of Honor: Rising Sun" (580,000 units), "Need for Speed: Underground" (527,000 units), and "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" (435,000 units).
With the lack of a new "Grand Theft Auto" title, Take Two Interactive Software (TTWO: Research, Estimates) saw sales fall 47 percent year-to-year, a drop analysts were expecting, given the staggering sales of "Vice City" last year. The controversial series continues to be Take Two's chief source of revenue, though, with the recently released "GTA Double Pack" selling 391,000 copies for the Xbox and another 111,000 for the PlayStation 2. "Manhunt," the controversial new title made by the creators of "GTA" is not performing very well at retail, selling just 75,000 copies in November, lower than analysts were expecting.
THQ's (THQI: Research, Estimates) sales were relatively flat, rising just 3 percent, despite fairly strong sales for its recent titles including the latest installments from the "WWE" and "SpongeBob SquarePants" franchises.
The jump in software sales comes despite a lack of price cuts for the Sony (SNE: Research, Estimates) PlayStation 2 and Microsoft (MSFT: Research, Estimates) Xbox. Sales are more widely distributed this year, due to the lack of a true breakout title, like last year's "GTA: Vice City".
Shares of video game publishers have been taking a beating on Wall Street in recent weeks, due to fears of weak holiday sales. They bounced back slightly last week, after the CEOs of leading publishers expressed optimism at an analyst conference.