Just about every third week of the month you can expect the NPD Group to report videogame hardware sales for the prior month in the US. December is always the biggest month of the year so we usually get to see the ultimate selling power of each console platform. This year though, there was the anomalous Wii sales throwing everything into disarray. Never before has a console been esentially sold out since the day it first hit stores. That means we still don’t know how much Nintendo can actually sell in a given month if they were able to produce enough consoles to meet demand. That data point makes any and all analysis of the videogame industry difficult and seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
With that in mind, here’s how things shook out for December. Note that it’s a five week month and three and a half of those fiscal weeks came before Christmas while another one and a half came after. In the game industry that might not mean too much because so many people get gift cards from parents/friends that don’t like to shop for games and would rather let the gamers get what they want. Click through for the numbers…
Nintendo DS 2.47 million
Wii 1.35 million
Xbox 360 1.26 million
PlayStation 2 1.1 million
PlayStation Portable 1.06 million
PlayStation 3 797.6 K
HW Sales Annual 2007
Nintendo DS 8.50 million
Wii 6.29 million
Xbox 360 4.62 million
PlayStation 2 3.97 million
PlayStation Portable 3.82 million
PlayStation 3 2.56 million
Nintendo obviously has had a fantastic year in 2007 and there are no signs of that slowing down. In fact, it’s probably only going to expand in 2008 as more and more people try the Wii for the first time and are able to finally find one in stores. With sales of 1.35 million Wiis in the US, it seems as though Nintendo has both upped their capacity to build systems since the summer and started shipping more of them to the US. Reports from Japan always seem to indicate that you can readily find systems there most of the time. But Europe is all over the map when it comes to availability in anecdotal reports from that area of the world.
And right there I’ve made the same mistake every analyst continues to make. I started out talking about the Wii when the Christmas and 2007 winner is Nintendo DS.
There is a fixation on the home console market among gamers, analysts, publishers, developers and the videogame media. That’s probably because the games are sexier. We’re all trained monkeys when it comes to graphics, but not so much when it comes to gameplay. Analysts should know better though. The battle for the living room is kind of a moot point when everyone’s carrying around a Nintendo DS, because its sales prove that games are reaching beyond a traditional audience. We don’t really know for sure yet how much that’s happening with Wii, 360 or PS3. They might be selling to all the same people that have always bought the latest console, and that’s a built-in market. We’re all a bunch of addicts and that’s our current place to get a fix. I think the way a single Xbox 360 game will often spread like a virus among its userbase is a clear indication of our addictive disease. Keeping up with the Joneses isn’t just a cliché, it’s an everyday stress building problem for hardcore gamers.
I guess the system that dominates isn’t as good a story as the TV console “war”, which is why it’s almost always relegated to a sidebar next to discussion of 360 and PS3? It’s definitely the bigger one in my opinion, because the DS is even outstripping sales of Game Boy Advance at this time in its life. Both DS and Wii are apparently ahead of PlayStation 2 numbers at this point in their respective lives too. That’s big news, and not something that should be glossed over by the press when talking about sales. For whatever reason though, the emphasis is almost always on 360 and PS3. Watching giant corporations smash their heads together over the same 18-36 market we’re all fueling is probably more exciting than the real winner.
So let’s talk about that excitement… Nintendo Wii is still selling every single piece that hits the shelf. Microsoft can’t outsell them even when Nintendo can’t meet the unprecedented demand. Sony is in last place and probably not going anywhere anytime soon. While I’m mildly enamored of PlayStation 3 as a console, the game lineup is awful. There just aren’t enough games worth owning on the system, especially if you already have 360 or a PC. The games are just too similar in type to what’s available there (or are 3rd party portfests), so it’s just not compelling. Sony also didn’t capitalize on the red ring of death disaster this summer. They should’ve been shouting from the rooftops that PS3 is reliable and maybe even pushed that in an advertisement or two on TV. Everyone knows the 360 is a piece of junk, and it’s a hell of a flip flop from last gen when PS2 was known as the console that breaks.
If Nintendo’s pace continues, they will have outsold Microsoft in the US by sometime this fall. If they continue selling at a Christmas-like rate all year (unlikely), then they’ll get there even sooner. Worldwide, they’re already in the lead and it’s only a matter of time here in the US. Even a 360 price cut probably can’t stem the tide at this point. Sony are the real story. With Blu-ray now looking more and more like the HD movie format victor, that can only become a feather in the cap of PlayStation 3 thus pushing some people Sony’s way. I think a lot of their userbase is already lost to Nintendo in some way, but the Sony brand should never ever be counted out. It means so much to so many people that they’re inevitably going to get some small bit of momentum. I don’t see any games in 2008 yet that can do that for them, but it’s still really early. We really don’t know much about the holiday season for 2008 yet, but it’s doubtful that it will be much different from holiday 2007.
Because you see, once the trends start, they rarely change throughout an entire generation. The only reason SNES ever pulled ahead of Genesis in the US is because Sega quit too soon thanks to their Japan-centric management who were watching Mega Drive (the name for Genesis in Japan) failing miserably next to Nintendo’s machine. So we really have no precedent for a system coming back from being behind and ever catching and surpassing the leading console as of a year or two into the respective lives of the systems. With Microsoft launching 360 a year early and still falling behind worldwide, it’s pretty clear that Nintendo is destined to be this generation’s “winner” while 360 and PS3 will contend for second. PS3 will probably end up with better worldwide numbers than 360, while 360 may hold on here in the US.
Finally, PlayStation Portable continues to confound me. Games just don’t seem to sell on the system in any meaningful quantities so everyone must be using it as a music player/pirate/emulation machine. They’re certainly not watching UMD movies on it. I’ve become mildly interested in the Remote Play feature of the PSP/PS3 and I’ll be investigating that further, but that’s not a system selling function either. As long as Sony is making a profit on the PSP hardware, I’m sure they could care less what people do with it. I do wonder what developers think about it, though? I have to dig around, but I made a bunch of posts about how PSP was poorly positioned as a game device and that game devs would be competing with other media for time and dollars on that platform and it sure looks like I was dead on with that. Games are practically an afterthought for those buying the device and that’s just… odd.
Another month and more Nintendo dominance. When will it end? Probably not for another two or three years. I can’t believe there was a report in the rumors column in EGM that Microsoft is moving development of a game to the next Xbox, though. If they’re looking at 2009 for the next machine, well, that’s insane. 2010 seems more likely, but even then, I’m not sure we’ll even be close to where people are done with this gen. Heck many are still happy with PlayStation 2. Accelerated console cycles seem like the entirely wrong approach to the current market, unless the Wii’s motion controls have them so spooked that they think they just have to counter that right this second. Time will tell where Microsoft goes next, but the here and now is Nintendo DS and to a lesser extent Wii. I’m pretty happy with our new Nintendo overlords. Gaming needed the shakeup they’ve begun and sustained. Let’s hope it continues to get that influx of new ideas because as much as I enjoy them, I honestly hope a steady flow of military shooters isn’t the pinnacle of game design.