Today we bring you a look into the long running tradition which keeps so many gamers frothing at the mouth, the Console Wars. Over the course of the year video games hit the headlines for numerous reasons, from the hard to find reports to the groundbreaking and highly-polished titles that we will be playing with for years to come. Despite all of this, there is a large number of gamers who enjoy nothing more than an argument over which platform is better than which. Many will claim it's the total system sales that define the clear winner, while others will simply says it's the software sales. The third camp will loudly state that which system you play the most is more important, but then they become hypocrites for not supporting one uber system but multiple systems, causing their opinion to be ignored completely. The fourth, and surely the most enlightened, realizes that it is not that simple, one factor cannot tip the scales completely in most cases. Instead the critical minds should take in all of these angles and analyze them as completely as possible which is exactly what we have done for you today.
The year of the Boar was the first full year that all three current-generation consoles were on sale, enabling one to compare the hardware sales a bit more evenly. As shown by the failure of the Sega Dreamcast, just selling systems is not enough to win the war, but it certainly does help! It should be no surprise to anyone that the media-darling Nintendo Wii stole the show, pushing some 6.29 million units in North America and raising their domestic total to 7.38 million. In a distant second was the Xbox 360 which managed to push 4.62 million units and brought their life-to-date total to 9.15 million units. The PlayStation 3, which has been struggling to meet expected sales quotas since shortly after its release, sold over 2.56 million units, almost 800,000 of which came in December alone, after the unit was discounted. Sony's little Blu-Ray player has sold more than 3.25 million units since its release in November 2006.
For those with good reading comprehension skills and a solid short-term memory you can see that the Wii kicked butt in the new-generation of hardware. Although the Wii lost to its little brother, the Nintendo DS, for the overall hardware title the little white box stomped the PlayStation 3's sales figures by more than double while managing to push 31% more units into the market than the Xbox 360. The success of the Wii hardware can be attributed to numerous things such as a great marketing campaign, innovative play mechanics, mass-market appeal and a good line-up of software (buried in a mountain of shovelware) but the biggest factor for many is the low, low, price when it is compared to the more technically advanced PS3 and 360.
The Nintendo Wii is still behind the Xbox 360 in sales for North America by almost 2 million units, but due to it's banner year, the Wii has taken over the lead for global hardware sales. It's obvious that the least powerful of the new consoles has taken the crown for hardware sales in 2007, but no console is dead by any means. All three machines were met with decent to solid to uncanny sales, and as shown by the PS3's sales push after it's price drop, ripe with potential. Nintendo of all companies missed out on much of this potential due to supply issues. If the Kyoto-based company could have kept the Wii in stock throughout the year they really could have had an astounding year with the Wii more than likely surpassing the Xbox 360 in sales in all territories. Now Nintendo will have to settle for second in North America for a few more months.
Analyst's Note: The NPD kind of fails analysts in this department since they only made the numbers for the top 10 best selling titles of the year widely available. Despite the lack of detailed, in-depth information we will read into what is presented as best we can.
For those who may not know, console manufacturers make their bread and butter off of the software that they and third-party companies sell. Every title sold has a licensing fee, allowing the title to be released on the machine(s) it was designed for, so when Capcom or Take-Two Interactive release a title for Xbox 360 or whatever, Microsoft gets a small fraction of the action, for EVERY copy. Therefore, they absolutely love filling up their platinum/greatest/player's hits rosters since it means that games have already sold very well on their respected system. The year of 2007 saw no shortage of best selling titles such as Activision's multi platform titles Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. But the multi platform sales are not really what one must compare when they are trying to determine which platform performed the best in a given year, instead one must look at the individual sales figures for each title broken up by platform. Therefore, in this manner the sales data of Madden '08 for PS3 will go up against the sales data for the 360 and Wii versions.
Unfortunately for all, we only have access to the NPD numbers for the top 10 best selling games of the year, but we can still gain a little insight from this and from how the console manufacturers spun the numbers they received. First and foremost Microsoft's flagship franchise, Halo, took the top-selling spot this year with the release of Halo 3 back in September. In just one quarter on sale the trilogy's closing chapter managed to sell 4.82 million copies, beating out Nintendo's Wii Play by about 700,000 units. It is worth mentioning that Wii Play has seen a sales push due to limited availability of the Wii Remote at times, as the game comes bundled with one, but nevertheless the mini-game package has managed to push some serious units since its February release in North America.
Outside of the top two titles, only four more current-generation releases make the list, with none of them being for PlayStation 3. Therefore the PS3 did not have a single title on the best sellers list, while its predecessor the PlayStation 2, had three titles including a game from 2006, Guitar Hero II. 360 grabbed the third and ninth slots with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and respectively, while the Wii captured the fifth and tenth spots with titles from the Mario franchise, Super Mario Galaxy and Mario Party 8 respectively. On the back of their most successful franchise Microsoft has managed to steal the top 10 chart away from Nintendo although only by the skin of their teeth. Cumulative sales for all titles on their respected consoles have Microsoft's Xbox 360 leading the Wii by only 3% in software sales but to reiterate we only have a very small amount of data.
Software Scores & Exclusivity
Software is the lifeblood of the console maker. Sony and Microsoft have been selling their consoles at a loss for years in hopes of making up the difference off of licensing fees from third party companies. On the flip side, Nintendo has stated that their little machine has been profitable since launch due the the low cost of the machine. Regardless of whether the company is losing tons on their machine like Sony, or making chump change on the sale, as in Nintendo's case, the bulk of profits will always come off the software. This brings about two different, but equally important topics. First off is the notion that the machine with the highest rated software will have an advantage. Lucky for gamers in this day in age there is an incredible amount of free resources to go to for reviews of the latest titles. Gone are the days of talking to people you barely knew at the local game store for their input thanks to the new invention of the Internet. Assuming the crazy little arrangement of tubes sticks around for the foreseeable future, gamers will be able to check out meta scores via sites like Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes and Game Rankings. Although meta-review sites shouldn't replace the act of getting familiar with certain reviewers (I am personally attached to this guy) as they can offer another facility for the learned gamer to judge a prospective purchases credibility by.
With that in mind this analyst decided to take advantage of such resources for ammo in the console war. First and foremost the Top 50 titles are selected from a pool of only PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360, downloadable games included. This means that although there were higher ranked games released for PSP, DS and PC, they were not counted. Therefore all 50 of the titles included in this breakdown are for the three platforms in the current generation's console war. As you can see below, Nintendo's little media darling, the Wii, fairs pretty badly when shown in this light. The little machine that leads the global hardware sales and continues to be hard to find only has 16% of the titles in the top 50. The PlayStation 3, which many have bashed since it's release and is currently in last for hardware sales, and by a good margin, managed a respectable 38% software penetration of the top 50. Xbox 360 took the cake in this category with nearly half of the top 50's titles at 23 of 50 including six titles in the top 10 to PlayStation 3's three and Wii's singular appearance. Of note is that the Wii did have the highest rated title of the year in Super Mario Galaxy.
But the kicker is that second topic that was so eloquently unmentioned above. When most buyers look into a new console they want to see what kind of exclusives the machine has to offer. In recent years exclusivity has become less and less of a worry, causing many publishers to release ports to everything under the sun be it console, handheld, PC or mobile. To be considered an exclusive here, is to be part of an elite club. Of this year's top 50 rated titles, only 21 are considered exclusive in our eyes. Our eyes are simple, the title in question only needs to be console exclusive, a PC port does not matter but the title in question must not be available to any other console, this generation or the previous one. We also feel that the 'windowed exclusivity' that has become popular lately holds no water when speaking in console war terms, therefore a title such as The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles which was released months apart for PS3 and Xbox 360 cancel each other out.
When taking exclusives into account we can see that the playing field becomes a lot more level. It's incredibly difficult to to call who would win this battle as even the placement of the exclusives in the Top 50 are spread pretty evenly between each platform. The most telling thing to gain from such a view is the realization that Wii's exclusives are generally the platforms high performing releases. At the same time the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 cannibalized each others software market just as Nintendo predicted back when they decided to leave the arms race and create the Wii. But in the end, despite the closeness of the numbers, Microsoft's Xbox 360 pulls away with the highest count again, barely.
Until you break down titles by exclusives, then the playing field becomes more even, but Xbox 360 still claims this round either way.
NPD Spin Breakdown
Naturally with the release of the NPD numbers for the entire year comes the quick spin. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have all issued their usual spinmeister upon the data, claiming that each company is the ruler of the world, or will be shortly. For their part Microsoft details how video game consumers spent more money on their goods than any of their competitors. So much so that Microsoft claims to have captured 45% of all the industry's money with just the Xbox 360 alone. Nintendo on the other hand touts that their machines (the Wii and DS) were home to half of the top 30 best selling games of 2007, listing two Wii titles we didn't see on the top 10 list, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, as two of those fifteen video games. The big N closed their argument by confirming that the market grew 43% from 2006 to 2007 and added in that Nintendo alone was responsible for 60% of that growth. Sony's PR
department had a more difficult time spinning the year numbers in their favor though. As shown above, Sony did not manage to win a single category, although the last generation champion did come in a close second for software scores. Instead of playing with the 2007 numbers the firm decided to spin the December 2007 numbers, stating that the PS3 had it's best month since it's launch and that Sony's video game products pushed more than $714 million worth of merchandise, eclipsing Nintendo and Microsoft. So according to their press releases, everybody did win, somehow.
All three companies spun the numbers pretty well but it is all just spin really. While Sony touts that they pushed more PlayStation merchandise in December than their competitor's they did include all PlayStation merchandise in that fold, including the PS2 and PSP, and as far as we know, they only lead for that one month, even if it is a lucrative one. Microsoft probably didn't take into account that Nintendo's products cost far less than their Xbox 360 goodies. Nintendo's system is $30 cheaper than the cheapest 360 package, the Xbox 360 Arcade bundle, and $200 less expensive than the Xbox 360 Elite package. Add to that that Wii games still MSRP for $49.99 on average compared to the new generation price of $59.99 and you can see numerous reasons why Microsoft might have pushed more total sales than Nintendo. Although seeing as the PS3 stuff is on par or even more expensive than the Xbox 360 goods make it's numbers even less impressive compared to the Wii. Nintendo joined in on the spin as well, boasting that their platforms accounted for 60% of 2007's growth, yet the actual fact stands that the Xbox 360 still maintains the best attach rate for the new generation consoles with an impressive seven titles purchased for each machine.
Graph of current generation sales revenue. Red area of Wii column shows the discrepancy generated by how much less the Wii costs (doesn't include software differences) compared to it's competitors. All spin regardless, no one wins here.
And The Winner Is...
Despite what the Sony Defense Force may say and how the numbers are spun, certainly not the PlayStation 3. Although Sony's little George Forman Grill may be the best media hub available it has not performed up to expectations. Although the little black box can run Blu-Ray and bang out some serious number crunching for Folding@Home, the machine has not been privy to solid sales or a great number of exclusive hits. As the breakdown shows, the PlayStation 3 couldn't pull a win in any category that we covered but did perform well in overall title quality, crushing the Wii and grabbing a close second to Xbox 360. The picture did change a bit when one took into account exclusives but the PS3 still kept its second place finish. Overall though, PlayStation 3 would receive a somewhat distant third to the Wii and 360.
So this is really the hard choice. One the one hand the Wii managed to outsell the Xbox 360 throughout the year, even surpassing the worldwide sales of it's more powerful competitor despite launching a year later. But the 360 does not go down easy, picking up not only the higher selling games category but also better overall scores and two more exclusives. In the end that simply gives three victories for the 360 and only one for the Wii. The Wii really picked up some serious ground this year and could have taken the win if only enough consoles hit the market, along with solid titles to back up the new control scheme. Like so many other media darlings, it seems that the Wii could not live up to the hype this year but the Xbox 360 should have a hell of a fight next year as developers begin releasing titles for the Wii after having some time to get used to it's innovative controls and Nintendo continues to fill the hardware demand. Bottom line, Xbox 360 claims 2007 in our books.