Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NPD: Sony's September Superiority

A funny thing happened on the way to the store…

Since the Nintendo Wii’s release on November 19, 2006, there have been only three months when the system wasn’t number one in console sales (in terms of overall system sales, the Wii has been frequently oscillating with Nintendo’s other mega seller, the handheld DS) – and two of those were November and December 2006, when, as is common with all console launches, the big N couldn’t produce enough units to satiate the demand of technological evangelists everywhere.

September 2009 is now the fourth month. And as if this weren’t surprising enough by itself, it is compounded by the fact that it isn’t Microsoft, the company responsible for the first three lapses in the Wii’s dominance, that has dethroned Nintendo.

It’s Sony.

To come from dead last place – the PlayStation 3 was typically outsold on a monthly basis not only by the Wii and Xbox 360, but also by Sony’s two other systems, the now-obsolete PS2 on the console side and the PSP on the handheld – to end Nintendo’s 22-month consecutive streak, and outselling the 360 by nearly 150,000 units in the process, is quite an impressive feat.

It’s a miracle the likes of which has been evading Sony since the PS3’s launch two days before the Wii’s, nearly some three years ago. So why now? What makes September any different from the previous 34 months, when the PS3 was in a sales slump so severe that it looked as if it were unending?

It turns out there are two possible reasons. First and foremost, Sony dropped the price of the system to $299 – finally – on the first of the month, making it half the price of the original (high-end) model, with 60 times the hard drive space, to boot. (It’s not all deals and sunshine, however; Sony has stripped some of that first iteration’s features over the years, including slots for PSX and PS2 memory cards and, much more importantly – particularly for a company that skewered Microsoft for omitting it – backwards compatibility.)

And then there’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, what just may turn out to be the PS3’s killer app, the next-generation equivalent of Super Mario Bros. or Halo (indeed, it was Halo 3’s release in September 2007 that caused the Wii’s last momentary tumble from the top of the sales charts). Although it didn’t ship until last week, on October 13, it may very well be that diehard gamers were already attracted to the title and they more than happily pounced on the opportunity to play it for a price point that was less than $460.

But U2’s release in and of itself probably isn’t enough to account for the massive surge in sales numbers, no matter how excellent the game may be – a point reinforced by two previous AAA titles that, while garnering critical praise and hardcore followings, still failed to break Sony’s behemoth of a console into the mainstream market: Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 4 (June ’08) and Sony’s own Killzone 2 (February ’09). And $300 is still a significant amount of money to spend, particularly if there are no up-and-coming titles to get the newly acquired userbase excited. It is more than likely the combination of the two, forming a one-two punch, that delivered Sony its single stellar month of sales (and less the nebulous lineup of 2010 software, as some venues are hypothesizing, even if that roster includes the likes of Gran Turismo 5, God of War III, and a new motion-sensing controller [assuming, of course, that it doesn’t get pushed back, as all Sony hardware inevitably does]).

A better question than why just may be what next? Will this prove to be an aberration, as with Microsoft’s sudden leap to the front of the line two years ago, or will it be the basis of a new trend: Sony resurgent, slowly but efficiently climbing past the formidable install base of the Xbox 360 and, perhaps, even beyond the unprecedented success of the Wii? Will Sony truly have the last laugh, riding the slower-but-stronger wave of a ten-year generational cycle, as it has been boasting since 2005, or will this merely be a flash in the pan, more a September “curse” for Nintendo than anything else?

Microsoft and Nintendo both have followed Sony’s suit in the several weeks since Gamescom, slashing their prices to $299 (the starting price of the original Xbox eight years ago) and $199 (the starting price of literally every Nintendo console for the past 24 years), respectively. Whether this affects the PlayStation 3’s sales or not, a financially scarred public, at the very least, will finally have the laws of economics on their side for the very first time this generation.

At a time when all previous console generations were ending, this one is finally getting started.

1 comment:

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