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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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December 11, 2008 3:55 PM

'Gears of War 2' sells 1.56 million units, powers record November for Xbox 360

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft's blockbuster first-party title for the holidays, "Gears of War 2," was the best-selling game last month, helping the company's Xbox 360 business turn in its best November yet. Microsoft moved 836,000 consoles in the U.S. compared with Sony, which sold 378,000 PlayStation 3s. But the big winner, according to NPD Group data released this afternoon, was Nintendo and its 2.04 million Wiis sold.

"Gears" sold 1.56 million units, just ahead of Activision Blizzard's "Call of Duty: World at War," which sold 1.41 million. Games for the Wii occupied five of the top 10 spots; four of them are from Nintendo itself. "Left 4 Dead" developed by Bellevue based Valve came in eighth, with 410,000 units. (You may have seen the creepy billboards around town.) Sony's one exclusive title on the top 10 list, "Resistance 2" sold 385,000 units.

"['Gears 2'] is on track to set records just like the first one did," said David Dennis, Xbox 360 spokesman.

I asked if he sees that momentum continuing into December, or whether there's an audience of hard-core fans who go buy titles like "Gears" as soon as they're available, leading to a fall off of sales after launch.

"It'll be interesting to look at December. Typically a game goes really strong its first launch month and then starts to taper off," he said, "but given December is such a strong holiday-buying [period] I would expect it ... will continue to have a strong run."

PS3 sales actually declined 18.9 percent relative to last November.

NPD analyst Anita Frazier glossed over the year-over-year sales decline in her comments about hardware sales:

"The 360 realized a nice unit sales bump over last November and the PS3 year-to-date unit sales growth is impressive. It's clear there can be more multiple victors this generation and while price is certainly a strong factor, particularly as the current economic situation continues to prevail, the most important factor that will drive success in 2009 will be the line-up of compelling games that will keep consumers involved in the industry."

In a statement, Sony focused on the year-to-date sales figure -- 2.8 million units, up 60 percent -- rather than the PS3's November performance.

Here are life-to-date U.S. console sales, according to NPD:

PS3: 6,068,800

360: 12,445,200
Wii: 15,401,000

Microsoft was happy to crow about extending its lead over Sony, which it sees as its chief rival. But if the company's goal is to reach a more mainstream audience, the relevant tail lights are in "Mario Kart," not "Gran Turismo 5."

Asked how Microsoft can match the Wii's mass audience appeal, Dennis said:

"The Wii has done an amazing job bringing in new kinds of audiences with the motion-based game play, but it's a very different experience that in many ways is complimentary to the Xbox."

He pointed to the additional non-gaming capabilities of the Xbox 360, such as video downloads. Microsoft is not ceding the mainstream market to Nintendo, however.

"There are certainly a lot of things we can do and that we're looking at. The Wii has tended to appeal to a mass audience, and it's certainly one that we're targeting as well, in just a different way," Dennis said.

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