Hail to the King: Xbox 360 2011′s Top Games Console by a Mile

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Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters

Visitors play with Microsoft's Xbox 360 consoles at the Tokyo Game Show in Chiba, east of Tokyo, September 15, 2011.

Microsoft’s taking its annual video game victory lap, this time celebrating Xbox 360 sales for 2011, during which the 360 outsold both the PlayStation 3 and Wii (tied for second place) by over 2.7 million units.

And the company says December was the cherry on top: The Xbox 360 sold 1.7 million units alone in December 2011 (though down from the record 1.9 million units sold in December 2010) and accounted for roughly half of December’s total retail outlay on games, consoles and accessories, totaling more than $1.5 billion. According to Microsoft, “This marks the tenth consecutive month Xbox 360 has held more than 40 percent of the current-generation console market share, and twelfth straight month Xbox 360 was the top-selling console in the U.S.”

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NPD Group’s retail data shows the Xbox 360 was the fastest-growing console of the year as well, capturing 49% of consumer retail spend and accounting for a record $6.7 billion in total sales — about $4.6 billion on games and accessories and $2.1 billion on the Xbox 360 games console itself. Microsoft says that brings its worldwide Xbox 360 sales to over 66 million units, 16 million Kinect sensors and 40 million Xbox LIVE members (that’s counting both paying and non-paying members — the interesting takeaway here is that, for some reason, roughly one-third of Xbox 360 owners haven’t signed up for a basic, no-frills LIVE membership).

Sony PR’s version of damage control is to say as little as possible about the PlayStation 3, so we can’t do an apples-to-apples comparison. The company says it sold over 6.5 million PS3 units worldwide, but not how many it sold in the U.S. If we backtrack to Microsoft’s 2010 wrap-up, where the company said it sold 50 million Xbox 360 units worldwide by close of 2010, we can see Microsoft sold roughly 16 million Xbox 360′s worldwide in 2011. Sony, by comparison, lumps its PlayStation-brand devices into one number — 6.5 million units globally — and limits the window to “this holiday season.” If the goal’s to prevent a number-off by obfuscating, mission accomplished, guys!

In any event, pundits have long predicted the PS3 would eventually catch and bypass the Xbox 360 in global unit sales. I’d say Sony’s window to do so as we head into this generation’s final year or two has probably passed.

Overall, 2011 was a slump year for retail video game numbers. NPD says sales plummeted 21% in December 2011, year-on-year (from about $5 billion to about $4 billion) and 8% for the year total (from about $18.6 billion to about $17 billion). What we don’t know: How much of that drop involves the shift to online game sales. NPD doesn’t yet have all that sorted, so the retail picture’s misleading if you want to take the game industry’s pulse. I wouldn’t be surprised if that “missing” $1.6 billion (or more) were tied up in online spend, from online roleplaying subscriptions to full game downloads to content packs and more. I spent far more buying full versions of games digitally this year, for instance, than I did at retail.

Oh yeah, the top-selling game of 2011 was…Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, of course! In second place, we have Sky—I mean Just Dance 3. Yeah, I know, a dance game for the Wii outsold Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (which took third). Will wonders never cease.

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Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham, Google+ or Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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