Despite the global recession, videogames broke all records in 2008. According to the just-released December and 2008 total-year sales figures from The NPD Group, videogame hardware, software and accessory sales totaled $21.33 billion in the U.S. last year. That’s up 19 percent over the record-year totals of 2007.

The main driver for 2008 was top game franchises. Videogame software took in a record $10.96 billion last year, which is up 26 percent over the 2007 totals. Buoyed by Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS, total hardware sales for 2008 raked in $7.81 billion, which is up 11 percent over 2007, when Wiis were in scarce supply. Game accessories also continued to do well, finishing 2008 with $2.57 billion, which was up 14 percent from 2007.

"Sales were solid in December, especially with the recession and current weak retail industry sales," said Michael Pachter, videogame analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities. "In addition, hardware unit sales were up 8 percent year-over-year, with almost 8.8 million hardware units sold in December, giving us confidence that this month’s strong software performance is sustainable into 2009."

One of the key drivers for 2008’s record sales was Epic Games’ "Gears of War 2." That game has sold over 4 million copies worldwide in its first two months on the market. So far, "Gears 2" has doubled the amount of sales the original game had in 2006. "Gears of War 1" ended up selling over 5 million copies, with 2 million of those sales coming in the first two months.

In the U.S. alone, Microsoft sold 2.31 million copies of "Gears of War 2" in 2008, which was good enough for seventh place in the Top 10 list of games sold last year.

"Gears of War 2" also continued to help Microsoft move Xbox 360 hardware. Microsoft has sold 28 million Xbox 360s worldwide since launch, including 1.4 million consoles in the U.S. in December.

Nintendo topped hardware sales for 2008, however, with 10.17 million Wiis sold and 9.95 million Nintendo DS portables sold. Sony sold 3.6 million PlayStation 3s last year.

"Thirty-eight months into this generation of hardware, the three new systems have sold a combined 38.2 million units, whereas at the same point last generation, in December 2003, the three systems had sold 36.9 million units," said Anita Frazier, videogame analyst, the NPD Group. "Factoring in the continued strong sales of PlayStation 2 even after the new systems were released, 52 million systems have sold at retail since November 2005."

Nintendo dominated the 2008 games chart with four of the top five games, including "Wii Play," "Mario Kart Wii," "Wii Fit" and "Super Smash Bros. Brawl." Take-Two Interactive had success with "Grand Theft Auto IV" on both the Xbox 360 (3.29 million copies sold) and PlayStation 3 (1.89 million copies sold).

Activision’s "Call of Duty: World at War" on Xbox 360 sold 2.75 million copies, making World War II as popular as 2007’s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare." EA Sports proved that Madden isn’t getting old after 20 years, as the Xbox 360 version sold 1.87 million copies. Nintendo also brought up the rear with its Nintendo DS game, "Mario Kart DS," which sold 1.65 million copies.

"The variety of content on the Top 10 list shows just how viable non-traditional content has become," said Frazier. "Not only can these games succeed, they can end up on the Top 10 list for the year."

 Top 10 Games of 2008

  1. "Wii Play" w/ remote – Wii – Nintendo – 5.28 million
  2. "Mario Kart Wii" w/ wheel – Wii – Nintendo – 5.00 million
  3. "Wii Fit" w/ balance board – Wii – Nintendo – 4.53 million
  4. "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" – Wii – Nintendo – 4.17 million
  5. "Grand Theft Auto IV" – Xbox 360 – Take-Two – 3.29 million
  6. "Call of Duty: World at War" – Xbox 360 – Activision – 2.75 million
  7. "Gears of War 2" – Xbox 360 – Microsoft – 2.31 million
  8. "Grand Theft Auto IV" – PS3 – Take-Two – 1.89 million
  9. "Madden NFL ’09" – Xbox 360 – Electronic Arts – 1.87 million
  10. "Mario Kart" – DS – Nintendo – 1.65 million