ONE OF the legends of Hollywood is that the Great Depression was good for the movies; a citizenry desperate for escapism flocked to theaters. The video-game industry is putting a 21st-century twist on that story: Despite the recession, sales of gaming hardware and software have skyrocketed. The marketing research firm NPD Group says sales of games and consoles in 2008 hit $16 billion, a 22% jump over '07. In November, as the grim economic news gained momentum, gaming companies pulled in $2.9 billion, 10% more than last year.
Nintendo's Wii has fueled the boom; with 2.04 million units sold in 2008, the Wii outpaced combined figures for the Sony PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 (1.4 million). The Wii's motion-based controls give the system appeal beyond the teenage-boy set. Wii games are easily grasped by kids and older adults—and, with the advent of the Wii Fit this year, fitness buffs. Centered around a pressure-sensitive balance board, the Fit features 40-plus exercises and workouts. It was the fourth-best-selling game last month, and websites such as wiiweightlossplan.com teem with testimonials from happy losers. The Fit won't replace the gym, but it's done wonders for the health of the game biz.