Guardian Unlimited: Judging by figures that came out of the US this week, the going for Sony’s console could be tougher than it had expected.This Christmas was the first time that anyone could see the three next-generation console contenders – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii – taking each other on head to head. And in America, at least, Sony was left struggling.
According to statistics put together by US retail analyst NPD, it was Microsoft’s Xbox 360 that emerged the overall winner during the festive sales rush. The Xbox 360 – already on the market for a year and boosted by the best-selling title Gears of War – shifted 2m units across the US in November and December, narrowly ahead of the Nintendo Wii.
The Wii, revelling in a huge splash of media coverage, managed 1.8m in the same two-month period – despite not launching until the third week of November.In comparison with these two, however, the PlayStation 3 fared notably less well. Dogged by a lack of stock and higher price, the PS3 sold an estimated 750,000 units following its launch on November 17 – the same week that the Wii hit America’s streets.
Even the scalpers, usually one of the internet’s best early indicators, found the going tough with PS3. Videogame touts – who usually make a killing by scooping several machines on launch day and then flogging them off for enormous profit – found it a struggle to auction off their machines when the expected high street sell-out failed to materialise. According to figures put together by Michael Fahey, an editor at the Kotaku games blog, the average price of a PlayStation 3 on eBay plummeted from more than $2,000 (1525 EUR) before launch to just $724 (552 EUR) in the days before Christmas.
“In the days leading up to the PlayStation 3 launch, people all over the country lined up with dollar signs in their eyes, hoping to cash in on what was sure to be the most sought-after gift this holiday season,” wrote Fahey. “A week later those hopes and dreams were crushed as reports of plummeting eBay prices poured in.”
All this could mean very little of course, for European gamers who must wait until the spring for the arrival of PlayStation 3. But while analysts and market watchers admit that it is difficult to extrapolate these sorts of figures across the Atlantic and to the European market, there are warning signs elsewhere.
In Japan, where Microsoft has almost no market share, the new PlayStation is still in a distant second place to the Wii, with Nintendo reported to be outselling its Sony rival by more than three to one in the middle of December.
But there is at least one ray of light for Sony, however. PlayStation 2, the old-guard machine, continues to be the best-selling console in the market, regardless of its flashier competition.
As a result of low costs and the huge catalogue of games, Sony is on target to have shipped 11m PS2s this year.
Whether Sony finds any festive cheer at all in the numbers, executives could be looking at 2007 in hope rather than expectation.
The Christmas season is hugely important to the console industry, with around half of all sales arriving in the few short weeks running up to December 25.