A lot of the time when I talk to game geeks these days, the debate is still whether the next-generation console of choice is the PlayStation 3 or the XBox 360. The answer, of course, is neither: it's the Nintendo DS. The debate has moved past them. The next generation is portable.
I refer you to the latest worldwide sales figures via VGChartz.
(EDIT: I originally for some reason put a dollar sign before these numbers; they should represent units sold and I have now correccted accordingly.)
Total units of console sold worldwide:
Microsoft XBox 360: 9.71 million
Nintendo Wii: 7.09 million
Sony PlayStation 3: 3.31 million
Nintendo DS: 42.50 million
Sony PSP: 21.33 million
Breaking that down in consoles first of all, the Wii has sold about two thirds as many units as the 360 in a third of the time, and outsold the PS3 better than two to one over the same period.
Looking at the portables, admittedly the DS has been out a year longer than even the 360, but if we assume growth for the 360 over the next year consistent with its showing to date, then the DS is outselling the 360 nearly four units to one. Bear in mind that the last generation winner (by sales if not profit), the PS2, has sold only 117 million worldwide over its entire lifespan. The DS is significantly outselling the PS2 over the same period since launch.
The real significance of this is attach rates. For those who aren't familiar with this term, it works like this. When a game is released for a system, the audience isn't an absolute figure, because not everyone who might potentially want to play the game owns the relevant console. Rather, it's expressed as a percentage of the total ownership of the console the game is released on. A good game might sell to 10% of owners of the relevant console; a bad game might only reach 1% or less.
It doesn't take a lot of maths to see that 1% of the 42.5 million DS owners (425,000) is a larger number than 10% of the 3.31 million PS3 owners (330,100). That is, it's more economically viable to release even a mediocre game for the DS than it is to produce a triple-A title for the PS3.
So why would anyone be developing for home consoles? When the leading attach rate goes to a portable system, where coincidentally development costs must also be significantly lower, you can expect to see more and more triple-A franchises jumping ship to portable waters. Dragon Quest IX is only the beginning. With so far only around 4% of PS2 owners making the jump to the PS3, sales figures for Final Fantasy XIII aren't going to be anywhere near as impressive as the staggering numbers for earlier titles, and it's my prediction that you're going to see DS iterations of the series taking the lead over next holiday season.
Lumbered with increasingly irrelevant and poorly supported hardware, console gamers are about to find out they have more in common with PC gamers than they think.