Despite a strong push by Sony in June, Microsoft continues to dominate the video game console market in the UK according to the latest retail figures for the first half of 2013
, compiled by GFK Chart-Track and released via MCV.
Just as Microsoft's Xbox 360 has topped the hardware charts in the U.S. for the last two years, and been the leading platform for many games appearing on both HD consoles for practically the entire generation, so has the company made inroads across the Atlantic.
While Sony garnered reams of positive press for its PlayStation 4 console during and after E3 last month, the reality is that Microsoft has been a market leader for years in both the UK and the U.S. markets.
Perhaps the most dramatic showing of Microsoft's British strength was the news late last month that Xbox 360 system sales in the UK were finally surpassing the installed base of the Wii in that region
. Actually, I should say that the Xbox 360 was retaking the lead – it started out ahead, but was passed by the Wii in December 2007
. It only took five and a half years, but Microsoft finally got its crown back.
Of course, consumers buy hardware just so they can purchase software to run on those systems, so in many ways the software figures are more important. According to the latest figures, the Xbox 360 took 38 percent of the total software units sold in the UK during the first half of 2013, and accounted for over 41 percent of software revenue.
The two tables below, specially compiled by Gamasutra using the public data, break these figures out by month. Each table is ordered by the final column, where sales for 1H 2013 are shown.
The launch of The Last of Us
in the UK was clearly a big win for Sony's PlayStation 3, and made June the only month this year in which Sony's console surpassed the Xbox 360 in both units and revenue. My friends over at NeoGAF have worked out that The Last of Us
now has reached sales of around 200,000 units in Britain and that rough figure jibes with the unit figures above.
Below the battle between the last-gen HD consoles, the Nintendo 3DS has finally taken the lead over its predecessor, the Nintendo DS. Through April those two systems had sold approximately the same number of units of software this year, about 450,000 units each.
But total software unit sales for the 3DS were a whopping 350,000 units across May and June, blowing past the mere 150,000 units for the original DS. That burst of sales is surely attributable to the late-March release of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
and the June release of Animal Crossing: New Leaf
. And that doesn't include any digital copies sold directly to consumers through Nintendo's eShop. Comments by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata
a week ago suggested that there has also been a strong uptick in 3DS hardware sales in the past couple of months, and we'll surely get more information on that during his first quarter briefing later this month, along with more detail on how much their digital business is supplementing retail sales.
The bad news for Nintendo is that its new Wii U console has had a terrible six months, with a mere 179,000 units of software sold at retail so far this year. Even if digital sales added 10 percent to the total software units sold on the Wii U, its year-to-date results would just barely match retail software sales for the moribund PlayStation Vita.
Of course, the Wii U has its own set of Nintendo software coming in the months ahead, beginning with Pikmin 3
this month, The Wonderful 101
in August, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD
in October, and Super Mario 3D World
by the end of the year. Hopefully a raft of quality Nintendo software will increase the perceived value of the Wii U and justify its price to consumers ready for a new console.
As I said earlier, Sony has been the beneficiary of a lot of positive press regarding its PlayStation 4 while Microsoft has had to assuage concerns raised about its new Xbox One. However, when you have retailers picking sides, like yesterday's report that a major UK retailer expects that Xbox One sales will surpass PS4 sales this holiday
, it brings home the reality that Microsoft has been in the driver's seat for the console business for the past couple of years – at least in the UK and the U.S.
Now, the cynic will clearly say that the retailer likely has some relationship with Microsoft to help promote its system, but that in itself is an admission that Sony has work to do.
To put it bluntly, Sony needs to prove that it can not only score points in the press, but also entice lots and lots of consumers, some of them Microsoft users, to open their wallets and buy a PlayStation 4.
Let me give you some figures, for a sense of scale. In the U.S. there are currently nearly 15 million more Xbox 360 systems than there are PlayStation 3 systems. According to my estimates, Americans have bought over 380 million units of software for the Xbox 360 and over 220 million for the PlayStation 3.
Consumers have invested a lot of their money and lives playing games on an Xbox 360, and Sony will have to convince them that the PlayStation 4 is a viable alternative for their next console. On top of that, publishers and retailers have made a lot of money selling to those consumers. All three groups - consumers, publishers, and retailers - are predisposed to Microsoft products, and we'll get a sense of just how loyal they are when the race really begins in a few months.
Finally, you know that Microsoft won't cede any ground easily. If it sees Sony gaining an upper hand, it is likely to take action. That is certainly one interpretation for the company's recent turnaround on its Xbox One software licensing (DRM) policies. At the very least, the end of this year will be exceptionally fun to watch, especially as the two companies fight for consumers and the sales figures begin to roll in.