After an endless series of articles reporting on the early lead taken over Microsoft and the Xbox One by Sony's rival PlayStation 4 - with Sony’s next-gen darling currently over a million sales ahead in the early going – Redmond might be forgiven for feeling a little put-upon.
However, Microsoft can take heart in retail reports from Chart-track in the UK, reported by title="Eurogamer - xbox 360 best-selling console">Eurogamer, which show that the best-selling full-size console in the UK in 2013 was an Xbox.
In the longer term, the performance of the previous generation of consoles is not a huge concern – both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 saw their sales drop by just over 30% as buyers held on for the next generation, and can be expected to fall further down that cliff in 2014. The good news for both Microsoft and Sony is that, despite launching late in the year, the next-gen consoles together represent two thirds of spending on gaming hardware in 2013.
The rising tide
The Wii U, the launch of which in late 2012 was relatively less explosive out of the blocks, sold less in a year than the PS4 and Xbox One managed in slightly over a month (the PS4 launched in the UK on the 29th November, a week after the Xbox One, reversing the situation in the US). Sales figures pegged the Xbox One’s first weekend sales at 150,000 and the PS4′s at 250,000, with stock shortages affecting purchase possibilities thereafter. By the end of the year, Chart-track figures had PS4 sales at 530,000 and Xbox One sales at 364,000, although the higher cost of the Xbox One meant a smaller gap by revenue than by volume - £180m (c. $295) to £140m (c. $230). The PS4 was initially hailed as the biggest-selling full-size console of 2013, demonstrating that Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4 sales were close to parity.
Nintendo can take comfort, however, in the fact that the best-selling handheld, and the best-selling piece of gaming hardware overall by volume, was the 3DS and its variants, as falling sales of the original 3DS model were offset by the tablet-style 2DS and the extra-large 3DS XL. With the 3DS, at least, Nintendo has found an upgrade path that actually works, and can also drive relatively high-margin software sales. Sony, meanwhile, has the inverse issue – although the PS4 is selling strongly, the PS Vita handheld, despite the release of arguably its first great game in Media Molecule’s Tearaway, continued to struggle, with sales falling 41% on 2012.
The arrival of the next-gen consoles helped to boost a somewhat moribund games market, pushing hardware sales up 5% by volume and 38% in revenue. This in turn helped to push the value of the UK entertainment market up 4% to £5.4 billion (c. $8.8bn), with videogames leading the trend with 6.6% growth.
Marketry in the UK
Where this all leaves Microsoft is an interesting question. The UK has traditionally been a stronghold for the Xbox, compared with the rest of Europe’s preference for Sony, but it would have been asking a lot to reverse the global trend that saw 4.2 million PS4s sold against 3 million Xbox Ones. However, both Sony and Microsoft can probably see the demand for their consoles as encouraging, and Microsoft will be planning a Spring offensive with the launch of Titanfall, Respawn’s much-touted multiplayer shooter and, more importantly, timed Microsoft platform exclusive.
Fans of Nintendo might have fewer reasons to be cheerful, despite the success of the 3DS and its variants. Sales of the Wii U were up 41.5% on 2012, but 2012 represented a single month of sales in the UK, so this is hardly a like-for-like comparison. A reported 685% spike in sales in the week of the release of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD must be seen in the context of a low sales base.