By Barbara OrtutayNEW YORK -- Americans may be cutting back on holiday shopping, but they are still buying video games -- to the tune of nearly $3 billion in November, according to data from market researcher NPD Group. U.S. retail sales of video game hardware, software and accessories jumped 10% last month from the year-ago period to $2.91 billion, boosted by strong sales of Nintendo's Wii, Microsoft's ( MSFT) Xbox 360 and the alien shooter game "Gears of War 2." The availability of a broad range of games is one reason for the industry's ongoing solid performance, said NPD analyst Anita Frazier. Games also provide a relatively cheap form of stay-at-home entertainment. The industry, Frazier said, is still on track to rack up $22 billion in U.S. sales this year. November and December are crucial months for video game companies. Many of them make the bulk of their money during the holidays. This week, Electronic Arts ( ERTS), the publisher of the popular "Madden" football game series, warned that sales have been weak in North America and Europe. Without giving specific guidance, EA said its fiscal 2009 results will fall short of the forecast it gave in October. But EA's warning did not seem to signal a broader downturn for the industry. Hardware sales, which include gaming consoles like the Wii as well as handheld systems like Sony's ( SNE) PSP, jumped 10% to $1.21 billion. Nintendo enjoyed perhaps the greatest success in November, with 2 million Wiis sold -- the most yet in a month, according to Denise Kaigler, vice president of corporate affairs. The Japanese company boosted production of the easy-to-master gaming system in July to keep up with seemingly insatiable demand. Nonetheless, on Thursday afternoon, both Best Buy's and Wal-Mart's Web sites were out of stock.
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