Monday, May 21, 2007

Next Generation Is Portable

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.


penpen said...

Are the figures stated in dollar terms at the start actually units? If they aren't then the figures you present later would be out quite substantially. The inclusions would probably still hold, but the how much would not.

GregT said...

Good catch. They are indeed units, not dollars - not sure why I added that. I'll fix it now. (See VGChartz for the original numbers if you have further concerns.)

lel said...

Hmmm. I own a PS2, but won't be thinking about a PS3 (there's too much stuff involved that makes me want to buy a 1000 dollar piece of equipment that I won't use as much as i could).
I agree though Greg. Considering that most people these days are on the move alot, a portable system would be handier. I mean, I own a GB Micro and it goes everywhere with me (even to work) because there is undoubtedly some moment when i can douse out the boredom with a quick game of Mario or Rayman. If i buy another console, it will be a portable one.
Portable is the way. I wonder how long it will take everyone else to realise it.

GregT said...

Well, the new Pokemon games certainly won't be hurting DS sales figures...

Phrancq said...

Congrats Sony. 21.33 million dissatisfied buyers can't be wrong, huh?

penpen said...

I just don't know if I could count out the PSP beyond hope before knowing if Final Fantasy Tactics is any good. Unfortunately I feel that sometimes even a crappy system can be saved by that one awesome game that's worth the game price + the price of the console.

Grant said...

I am inordinately happy with my PSP, although I use it as an MP3 and portable movie player as well as a games console, and I don't think I've bought a game yet that wasn't a port of an old retro game (or a compilation of them) from another console.

GregT said...

Grant - I'm no expert on media players, but surely there are cheaper and sexier options in both portable media centres and retro gaming? Ones where the analog joypad doesn't make your thumbs want to cry?

Penpen - I expect the FF:Tactics release for PSP, if and when the West ever sees it, will be largely comparable to FF Tactics Advance for the GBA. Which latter title, coincidentally, you can play on your DS.

I think what you mean to say is that a flawed or average console can be saved by a killer app. The killer app needs to be really killer, and exclusive to the console, and the console in the first place needs to have an unique edge over its competition. The PSP could have recovered from poor software support, unergonomic controls or hideous load times individually, but put together they're fairly crippling. The killer app was GTA, and Rockstar nixed that by releasing the PSP GTA titles for the PS2.